Swisher, Granderson, and signs of life

(Jared Wickerham/Getty)

The Yankees won just four games during the recent ten-game stretch against the Orioles and Rays due in part to an offensive attack that scored more than four runs just four times in the ten games. Derek Jeter, Russell Martin, and Alex Rodriguez did all they could to carry the club with their bats, but the usually productive Nick Swisher and Curtis Granderson dragged the lineup down. The duo combined to go 8-for-65 (.123) with two walks and two hit-by-pitches (.169 OBP) during the ten games, including an ugly 0-for-28 stretch for Swisher.

The last few games have gone quite differently for those two, however. Granderson went 3-for-3 with a double and a homer off the bench against the Orioles on Sunday, two days after going 2-for-4 with a pair of singles. He did most of the offensive damage in last night’s win with two homers against the Red Sox, including another ball to the warning track that was hit just as hard as the two homers but a little too far toward center field. Granderson has three multi-hit games in the team’s last six contests (including three homers) despite not starting two of them.

“Everything still feels the same as it has before,” said Curtis after last night’s win. “It’s just a matter of …  I wasn’t able to get the consistent contact the way I wanted to. I don’t necessarily feel like I’m locked in by any means now. I didn’t feel like I wasn’t locked in before. Just, something wasn’t executing the way I wanted it to.”

As for Swisher, he’s been able to shake off that 0-for-28 skid to pick up five hits in the first two games against the Red Sox, including three doubles off the Green Monster. He also had a homer robbed in Baltimore over the weekend if you remember, so he’s starting to hit the ball with more authority than he did during the ten-game stretch. Then again, it would be tough for anyone to hit the ball with less authority than Nick did last week.

With Mark Teixeira out for at least another week and Derek Jeter now hobbled by a left ankle injury, the Yankees absolutely need Granderson and Swisher to pick up the offensive slack. Neither guy is hitting as well as he did a year ago (by wRC+) and it’s too late in the season to really change that, but these next three weeks are incredibly important to the club’s postseason chances. No one is expecting Granderson to hit two homers or Swisher to hit two doubles every night, but they can’t go through another ten-game slump like they did against the Orioles and Rays. These last two or three games have been very encouraging compared to where they were a week ago.

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Jeter & Swisher carrying Yankees offensively

Two-man army. (Jason Miller/Getty Images)

The Yankees plated just 18 runs during their six-game road trip through Chicago and Cleveland, and a third of those runs came in the very first game against the White Sox last Monday. They were held to three runs or fewer for four straight games before mustering four runs yesterday. Tough to win games when you’re scoring that little, which is why New York comes home today on the heels of a 2-4 trip.

The club’s two best hitters of late have been the one-two hitters in the lineup — Derek Jeter and Nick Swisher. That’s great not only because those two are coming to the plate more often than anyone else, and also because they’re giving the rest of the lineup opportunities to drive them in. Unfortunately, the other guys in the lineup haven’t held up their end of the bargain. Of those 18 runs scored on the road trip, 13 were either scored by or drive in by Jeter and Swisher. They did it all last week. Here’s a real quick breakdown of the offense during the last six games…

PA H 2B HR BB K AVG OBP SLG
Jeter 29 10 2 3 0 5 0.357 0.379 0.720
Swisher 26 9 2 1 5 4 0.429 0.538 0.667
Everyone Else 171 31 5 2 14 43 0.201 0.269 0.273

Jeter and Swisher were a two-man wrecking crew with the bats last week while everyone else contributed little. Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson have started to break out of their slumps, but it’s been a slow process. Eric Chavez has cooled off in a big way (three hits in his last 22 at-bats dating back to the Rangers series) and Raul Ibanez is in a similar major rut (one hit in his last 22 at-bats). Ichiro Suzuki reached base four times in the six-game trip, Mark Teixeira is still working his way back from left wrist soreness, and the catching tandem has done much of anything all season. That’s a recipe for not scoring runs.

There’s nothing worse than half the lineup running into a cold stretch all at the same time, but the Yankees have managed to keep their heads above water — they lost just one game in the standings last week despite the 2-4 record — because Jeter and Swisher have been so great. Six games in seven days at home will hopefully wake some of these guys up, as will some dates with below-average pitchers. The Yankees need a little kick-start offensively, and this coming week will afford them every opportunity to get things going.

Jeter, Chavez, Swisher leading offensive surge

When Derek Jeter took Fransisco Liriano’s first pitch over the wall in left field, it was not only his fourth leadoff homer of the year, but also his fourth home run since the All-Star break. That’s no small accomplishment, considering the 162 PA sample. In fact, Jeter’s second half as a whole had led the way for the Yankees offense.

Even though they’ve slowed the pace a bit since coming back from the break, going 20-18 against a 52-33 first-half record, little blame lies with the offense. They’ve improved a bit in terms of sheer numbers, a 120 sOPS+ vs. a 118 sOPS+ in the first half, and they’ve scored a few more runs, too: 5.16 vs. 4.85 per game. Much of that production comes from Jeter.

His .366 batting average leads the team by almost 50 points; the next closest is Alex Rodriguez, who got just 50 PA before Felix Hernandez hit him in the hand. He’s five OBP points behind Nick Swisher and 54 SLG points behind Eric Chavez, both of whom lead the team in those categories. But at 162 PA he has nearly double the number of Chavez, and has 33 more than Swisher (while having better numbers overall).

That isn’t to knock on either Chavez or Swisher. They’ve worked alongside Jeter to create a significant portion of the second half offense. Swisher in particular has been an enormous help. He got off to an awfully slow start, hitting .262/.336/.477 in the first half. Since the four-day vacation he’s hit .294/.403/.495, good for the third-highest OPS on the team. That turn around, and his placement behind Jeter in the order, has given the middle of the order plenty of opportunities to score runs.

Chavez has done his part to drive in those runners, producing a .949 second-half OPS, including six homers, after producing a totally respectable .839 OPS in the first half. The wrinkle is that he’s started only 21 games, so his impact has been limited. Despite those six homers and generally torrid production, along with his ascension in the batting order, he has driven in just 13 runs in the second half. For comparison, that’s as many runs as Ichiro has driven in for the Yankees during that very same span.

(While it’s not remarkable compared to expectations, Mark Teixeira has hit .282/.348/.530 in the second half. He’s not back to where the Yankees need him to be, but it does seem that he’s been rounding into form even with the wrist issue. Since his breather weekend against the Reds he’s hitting .277/.366/.546.)

If Robinson Cano weren’t mired in such a slump perhaps the Yankees would have scored even more runs in the past few weeks. He’s at just .285/.355/.438 since the break — not bad, but his recent 5 for 32 stretch, with no extra base hits, has hurt a bit. (Or has it? The Yankees are 6-4 in that span.) With Jeter and Swisher getting on base frequently, a streaking Cano can make a huge difference. With those top four hitting, and with Chavez often hitting fifth, that’s a pretty potent top of the order.

As it did at points in the first half, it seems the Yankees are playing well but having trouble firing on all cylinders. Once they get that going, the offense should continue rolling along. Now, if they can only find some consistence in the pitching.

The inevitable first report: Swisher wants Werth money

Via Jon Heyman, outfielder Nick Swisher is likely to seek Jayson Werth money when he hits free agency after the season. That means seven years and $126M. This was inevitable, Werth and the Nationals set the market for above-average corner outfielders and now Swisher is just playing along. He and his agent would be stupid not to.

I’m all for keeping Swisher at a reasonable price, which ideally would be a little more than Michael Cuddyer’s three-year, $31.5M deal with the Rockies. That’s not likely to happen because he’s a much better player than the former Twin, so it could wind up taking something like four years and $52M. That’s the same contract the Yankees gave Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui, and Jorge Posada a few years ago. That’s probably my upper limit, anything more would be really pushing it. Werth money ain’t happening, but it doesn’t hurt to ask.

Mailbag: Melky, Soriano, Swisher, Felix, Garcia

Got seven questions for you this week, so consider this a jumbo-sized edition of the mailbag. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us questions and whatnot.

(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Countless people asked some variation of: Can/should the Yankees sign Melky Cabrera to a cheap one-year deal after the season following his suspension?

Sure, it’s worth exploring. Based on my last few days at MLBTR, the fans of the other 29 teams are wondering the same thing as well. I suppose the Yankees may have a leg up considering their history with Cabrera, plus the fact that his good buddy Robinson Cano plays here. Either way, I’m sure the club can make a competitive offer if they’re so inclined.

The real question is what kind of hitter do you expect him to be going forward? I don’t buy that testosterone alone turned him into an MVP caliber hitter, but I also don’t think this season’s performance — .346/.390/.516 (146 wRC+) — is a reasonable expectation going forward simply because I don’t believe anyone is a true talent .346 hitter. Not Melky, not Mike Trout, not Miguel Cabrera, not Derek Jeter. No one. If he’s more of a .310 hitter doing forward, that’s still really awesome and shouldn’t be considered a knock. If they can get him for one-year at like, $5-8M to shore up the outfield next season, sure that’s something they should seriously consider. Whether or not it’s actually realistic is another matter entirely.

Daniel asks: The Cubs are offering to turn Alfonso Soriano into a $3M/year player. Any interest in him as a RF solution next season?

This is an unequivocal no for me. Soriano is having a real nice .263/.320/.448 (112 wRC+) year with the bat, but he’s a 36-year-old one-dimensional player. If he’s not hitting homers, he has zero value. Soriano doesn’t walk, doesn’t hit for average, doesn’t steal bases anymore, and doesn’t play much defense either. He’s under contract through 2014 so you’re talking about a $6M commitment for a player that is basically a bad HR/FB% slump away from a forced retirement. Soriano would be like, my Plan F for right field next season.

Brett asks: Let’s say the Yankees don’t re-sign Nick Swisher this offseason and then think like you and let Cano walk after 2013. With Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, and Curtis Granderson (Yankees sign him after Cano leaves) all two years older and currently not even performing that well, as well as a black hole offensively at catcher, do you really think the Yankees lineup will be good enough?

I spy a nice free agent payday. (Jim McIsaac/Getty)

Well that’s the thing, why are we assuming catcher is a black hole? If they let Cano and Swisher walk, the Yankees will have the opportunity to turn over the second base, right field, catcher, and DH positions in the next two offseason. If you think A-Rod is resigned to being a DH down the line, then you can bring in a new body for third base. That four of the nine lineup spots they have to work with. Plenty of room to add some offensive punch.

Bill asks: So with Swisher all but assuredly leaving next year, what do you think the chances are he ends up in Boston? The team needs some pop in right field and they need a good clubhouse guy, with everything that is going on in Boston right now. Think this is a possibility?

Absolutely. If for whatever reason the Yankees had declined his option last offseason, I think the Red Sox would have been the first team to call Swisher’s agent. Pretty much every contending team in need of a bat — the Rangers, Dodgers, Braves, Tigers, Giants, Reds, etc. — figures to have some interest because he’s versatile (corner outfield or first base) and a switch-hitter. Swisher could go 0-for-October and he’ll still have plenty of suitors on the free agent market after the winter.

Sal asks: Do you think we’ll ever get to a point where teams start structuring contracts so that players are paid appropriately in their peak years but the contract dollars are “tapered” in the end years so that they don’t over pay for a players decline?

No, definitely not. I’m sure the club would love it, but I highly doubt the players and agents would. I think it’s pretty normal to want to make more money the older you get, which is why most multi-year contracts include some kind of year-to-year raise. Another part of this is that most GMs won’t be around to see the end of the multi-year contracts they hand out, specifically the big six and seven-year ones. What do I care if I saddle the next GM with a back contract when I could win right now and enhance my reputation? It’s a good idea, but I don’t think the players and agents would go for it.

I found this floating around on Twitter and have no idea where it originated, but props to you good sir (or madam).

Tucker asks: This is a bit of a hypothetical, but would the Yankees even have the pieces to acquire Felix Hernandez if he were made available? Could the Rangers swoop in and nab him instead?

No, I don’t believe the Yankees have the pieces to acquire any kind of high-end talent like that right now. Not unless they’re willing to dangle Cano and the other club really values him despite being a year away from free agency. The lack of impact, near-MLB ready prospect really hurts them here.

The Rangers could certainly jump in and make a great offer for Felix if they wanted — if you’re Seattle, don’t you have to listen if Texas offers Jurickson Profar and Mike Olt? I have to think that would at least get their attention. The Yankees can’t put together any kind of offer like that right now, so they’re handcuffed on the trade market. As much as I’d love to see him in pinstripes, there’s just no realistic trade scenario for Justin Upton at the moment.

Craig asks: Do you think Freddy Garcia is now (or should be) in the post-season rotation?  Even if Andy Pettitte comes back?  I think I’d rather take my chances with him than Ivan Nova or Phil Hughes.

Right now, with both CC Sabathia and Pettitte on the shelf, yes Freddy would definitely be in postseason rotation. I’d probably have him start Game Two behind Hiroki Kuroda in that scenario, which is … yikes. If Sabathia and Pettitte come back, I would use Freddy as the fourth starter and stick Phil Hughes in the bullpen for October. I don’t see how they could trust Nova in the postseason given his current performance, but he does have about six weeks to figure things out.

Assuming David Phelps is headed back to the bullpen at some point, I’d rank the potential playoff starters are Sabathia, Kuroda, Pettitte, Garcia, Hughes, Nova. Just remove players and bump everyone else up as needed due to injury. I don’t think it’s out of the question that Phelps pitches his way ahead of Nova in the pecking order, but I wouldn’t count on it. I think he’ll run out of innings before that happens.