The Future of Right Field

(Brian Bissell/Future Star Photos)

Earlier today I wrote about the importance of having Nick Swisher in the lineup, and that got me thinking about the future of right field in general. Obviously Swisher will become a free agent after the season and with the 2014 payroll plan looming, he might not fit into the team’s plans going forward. He’s going to make it very hard for the team to let him walk given his early-season performance, but parting ways with a soon-to-be 32-year-old corner outfielder isn’t the craziest thing in the world.

The problem is that the Yankees don’t have an obvious in-house candidate to step into the outfield. Zoilo Almonte had an outside chance at being that guy, but that looks unlikely at this point. Melky Mesa is another Greg Golson/up-and-down type, ditto Colin Curtis to a certain extent. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the Yankees moved prospects Rob Segedin and Tyler Austin (pictured) to right field on a full-time basis this season, but those two are still in Single-A and are years away from the bigs. Hopefully they become factors down the line, but they certainly won’t help next year or even the year after that.

If the Yankees do let Swisher walk, the best way to replace him probably involved a platoon of some sort until Segedin and/or Austin pan out, if they do at all. Andruw Jones seems like a logical candidate for the right half of that platoon assuming he doesn’t completely fall off a cliff this summer, but finding a lefty to go with him will be easier said than done. I’m partial to Kelly Johnson, who played the corner outfield earlier in his career and has everything the Yankees look for offensively: left-handed power, the willingness to take a walk, and the ability to steal double-digit bases. Would he take a one or even two-year deal to change positions for the Yankees at age 30? I highly doubt it. Heck, he might require a bigger contract than Swisher, but I digress.

The 2014 payroll plan is really going to throw a wrench into the team’s roster plans going forward, but frankly I think there’s a pretty good case to be made for keeping Swisher at say, something a little north Michael Cuddyer money (three years, $31M) and skimping elsewhere (coughsecondbasecough). He already has the “old player skills” that tend to age well and has been very durable throughout his career, which sounds kinda funny after he just sat out a week with a hamstring issue. There’s value in reliability, and it’s hard to find a more reliable and consistent Yankee over the last three years than Swisher. The best bridge from Swisher to the theoretical Segedin/Austin era just might be Swisher himself.

The Importance of Nick Swisher

(REUTERS/Dave Kaup)

Aside from yesterday’s blowout win, the Yankees slogged through a dreadful offensive slump last week that saw them score just 13 runs in six games. Six of those 13 runs came in Friday’s game, so the other seven were spread across five games. The lineup came back to life on Sunday, scoring ten runs in the win over the Royals thanks in part to the return of Nick Swisher, who homered after sitting out most of the week with a low-grade left hamstring strain.

Obviously Swisher’s presence alone did not account for the offensive outburst, but it didn’t hurt. He’d hit six homers with a .408 wOBA in 93 plate appearances before the injury, joining Curtis Granderson as the club’s second best bat behind the resurgent Derek Jeter in the early going. A player performing like that was going to be missed no matter what, but even moreso when seemingly everyone else in the lineup was battling through some kind of slump, either recent or extended. It was hard not to notice the big gaping hole in the offense last week.

Alex Rodriguez, Robinson Cano, and Mark Teixeira have shown flashes of breaking out recently, but nothing more. Swisher’s return adds a little more thump to the offense and I think the Yankees should consider bumping him up in the lineup, at least temporarily. Batting order doesn’t mean much over 162 games, but in an individual game — especially when the 3-4-5 hitters as a whole haven’t been producing — it can make all the difference. Moving Swisher to, say, cleanup will put him in position to do more damage given how Jeter and Granderson are setting the table. Once the usual 3-4-5 guys get going, they can return to their regular lineup spots.

Just to be clear, I don’t think simply rearranging the batting order will spark A-Rod‘s, Cano’s, and Tex’s bats. I don’t buy into the idea that players perform better in specific lineup spots. I believe those three will improve their offensive performances (to various degrees) in the coming weeks, but right now they’re not getting it done. Swisher has been and moving him a little closer to Jeter and Granderson could actually lead to some more sustained rallies in lieu of stranded runners and frustration. It’s a crazy concept, I know.

The Yankees do a great job of remaining patient and avoiding knee-jerk moves these days, but at the same time they don’t have to ignore little tweaks. It’ll suck seeing Teixeira making $22M+ to bat sixth, but is that really worse than watching him make outs in big spots with men on base? I certainly don’t think so. Winning the division is too important this year for the Yankees to go through another week or two like last. Moving Swisher up will create a little more continuity among the team’s best hitters and hopefully leads to more runs on the scoreboard. If not, then no big deal. Real easy to go back to the way things were.

Swisher back in lineup at DH

After a full week on the shelf with a low-grade left hamstring strain, Nick Swisher is in this afternoon’s lineup at DH. He’s been hitting in the cage/batting practice for a few days and tested his leg running the bases yesterday. The Yankees can certainly use the lineup boost, so Swisher’s return is very welcome.

The bad news: there are severe thunderstorms in the forecast today and the Yankees don’t play in Kansas City again this season. They’d have to sacrifice a scheduled day off and travel to make this one up if the rain forces a postponement.

Injury Updates: Swisher & Gardner

Via Bryan Hoch, outfielder Nick Swisher is likely to miss a week after suffering a low-grade hamstring strain in yesterday’s game. Joe Girardi said they’re going to try to avoid placing him on the DL, which I honestly don’t understand. Minor hamstring strains can become major hamstring strains very easily, especially if they aren’t given the proper time to heal. Just sit him down for the 15 days and make sure he’s healthy without handicapping the roster.

In other news, Hoch reports that Brett Gardner again took his hacks in the cage today. He will take batting practice on the field tomorrow and is on track to be activated when his DL stint is up on Thursday. Until then, the Yankees appear content to use a 13-man pitching staff and a two-man bench.

Update: Swisher has low-grade hammy strain

4:43pm: Swisher has a low-grade hamstring strain and will miss “more than a few days” according to Joe Girardi. He might not need a DL stint, however. Three healthy outfielders with Eduardo Nunez as the backup won’t cut it, the Yankees are going to have to abandon the 13-man pitching staff at some point.

3:19pm: The team says it’s a tight left hamstring and Swisher will head for a precautionary MRI. Hopefully it’s not a strain or anything and he won’t miss more than a few days.

2:13pm: Nick Swisher was lifted from this afternoon’s game with an apparent left hamstring injury. Replays showed him flexing his leg and grabbing at it following a swing then again on first base after drawing a walk. Andruw Jones replaced Swisher off the bench. Hopefully it’s just a cramp. We’ll update this post with more as it comes in.

Update: Nick Swisher leaves game with right groin tightness

8:38pm: The Yankees announced that Swisher left the game with tightness in his right groin. Last week it was his left groin that was bothering him. Swisher told Erik Boland that there are no tests plans and he will rest for “a couple of days.”

8:05pm: Nick Swisher left tonight’s game after reaching base on an error in the third inning. This was a first game back after dealing with a groin issue, and he walked off the field gingerly. Justin Maxwell took his spot on base. We’ll update this post with more info once it’s available.

Injury Updates: Jeter, D-Rob, Martin, Swisher

The agony of da feet. (/crickets) (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

The Yankees seem to be losing the Spring Training injury war at the moment, but thankfully they haven’t run into anything too serious yet. Here’s the latest news on the walking wounded…

  • Derek Jeter has a “tender” right calf and will be shut down until Tuesday. This is not the same calf that caused him to miss a month last season. [Mark Feinsand]
  • David Robertson still feels “a little” soreness in his bone bruised right foot. He’s been running on a treadmill but has yet to get outside and really test it out. Robertson did play catch yesterday though, and that’s good news. [Jack Curry & George King]
  • Russell Martin has some tightness in his left groin, so he’s going to be held out of action for a few days. It’s unclear if it happened when he nearly collided with Chien-Ming Wang at first base yesterday. [Bryan Hoch]
  • Nick Swisher‘s sore groin is feeling better, but the team is giving him an extra day off just as a precaution. [Feinsand]
  • Eduardo Nunez is going to swing a bat tomorrow after doing nothing the last three days. He hasn’t played since getting hit by a pitch in the right hand last Monday, and was scratched from a game earlier this week after testing it out in batting practice. [Curry]
  • Russell Branyan is getting an epidural for his sore back. He hasn’t played at all this spring and was barely able to take batting practice before it flared up. There’s a pretty good chance he’ll get released before he ever gets into a game. [Chad Jennings]
  • Manny Delcarmen (remember him?) has started throwing off a half mound as he works his way back from a lat strain. [Jennings]

Just as a quick recap, here’s a list of the walking wounded: Jeter (calf), Robertson (foot), Martin (groin), Swisher (groin), Nunez (hand), Branyan (back), Delcarmen (lat), Joba Chamberlain (elbow), George Kontos (oblique), Ramiro Pena (ankle), Freddy Garcia (hand), Austin Romine (back), and Dan Burawa (oblique). Given all the injured shortstops, we’re going to be seeing a lot of Doug Bernier over the next few days.