A Bat Before The Deadline?
Conversation about the Yankees this spring has been dominated by pitching. Bolstered by the acquisitions of pitchers Michael Pineda and Hiroki Kuroda, the 2012 rotation appears to be the strongest that the Yankees have possessed since the championship season of 2009. In addition to the strengthened rotation the Yankees possess one of the best, if not the best, bullpens in baseball. There is plenty to be optimistic about in regards to the arms the Yankees will rely upon this season.
With all of the pitching talk there has been less discussion of the Yankee lineup. Part of the reason for that is that there isn’t much new to discuss about this veteran lineup where the youngest player will be twenty-eight year old Brett Gardner. The only other Yankee in the starting lineup under the age of thirty will be Robinson Cano. Jorge Posada’s retirement in January lead to last week’s signing of Raul Ibanez, who will be part of a platoon at DH. Ibanez is expected to be in the lineup at DH vs left-handed starters. Andruw Jones is expected to be in the lineup vs. right-handed starters along with some appearances in the DH slot by Alex Rodriguez when he gets rest from playing the field. Other than the change at DH, the Yankee lineup will be same as it was in 2011.
2011 was a good offensive season for Yankees. They finished second in the AL in runs scored with 867, fifth in the AL in batting average at .263, second in the AL in OBP at .343, and third in the AL in slugging percentage and OPS at .444 and .788 respectively. A similar performance by the Yankee offense this year would figure to make them tough to beat with their improved rotation. So why does it feel like something is missing in the Yankee lineup?
Although Jesus Montero only appeared in 18 games last season, his absence from the Yankee lineup feels bigger than that of the loss of a player who only appeared in September. Montero displayed opposite field power and vast potential while hitting .328/.406 last September. His power/BA/OBP blend was expected to give the 2012 Yankee lineup a big boost and an injection of youth this season. With Montero now a member of the Seattle Mariners after being the centerpiece of the Pineda deal, the Yankees will have to look for stability and improvement in the lineup from the same group as last year. This has some folks nervous, as this lineup has failed to get the job done in the postseason the last two years and is now a year older.
Do the Yankees have enough firepower in the lineup to win it all this year or will GM Brian Cashman look to make a deadline deal for a bat?
The answer to that isn’t as simple as it sounds. A-Rod, Texeira, Jeter, Cano, and Granderson aren’t going anywhere. Russell Martin, Brett Gardner and Nick Swisher are on one year deals and none would be likely trade chips at the deadline. Of those three, Gardner would be the likeliest to draw attention, but with the Yankees having little depth at the left field position, the deal would have to be a swap of left fielders.
The only real flexibility that Cashman has to make a move would be at the DH position. Despite interest from both Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui in returning to the Yankees in 2012 to DH, Cashman signed Ibanez. Part of the reason for that signing was probably so that the Yankees could keep their options open to add a bat to DH before the trade deadline. Ibanez is on one year deal of only 1.1 million dollars and would be much easier to release than either Damon or Matsui would have been with the sentimental ties that they have to the organization and fans.
While Cashman has kept his options open to make a move at DH, it seems unlikely that a big bat will be added to the Yankee lineup before the trade deadline. In addition to management’s indication that they don’t wish to add to the payroll, the prospect of an extra wild card team being added to the playoffs in each league this year could have huge ramifications on the willingness of teams to trade productive players at the deadline.
While MLB has already approved a plan to expand the playoffs to include an additional wild card team in each league no later than the 2013 season, MLB commissioner Bud Selig is pressing hard to institute the extra wild card teams this season. In accordance with terms of MLB’s new labor deal, an agreement between MLB and the player’s association must be reached by Thursday to expand the playoffs this year. If such an agreement is not reached by Thursday, the expansion of the playoffs will not take place until the 2013 season.
Last year on the date of the trade deadline, the team with the fifth best record in the AL was the Angels. Only five teams in the AL would have been further than four and a half games behind the Angels in the standings at the deadline. Last year in the NL only seven teams would have been further than six games behind the Diamondbacks at the deadline, who at the time possessed the fifth best record in the NL.
If these additional wild cards are added this season it will increase the number of teams in the playoff hunt and only the very worst teams will be likely sellers at the trade deadline. Management of teams in playoff contention are under pressure to keep their teams in the chase and give fans a reason to watch and attend games in August and September. The demand for impact players at the trade deadline is likely to greatly exceed the supply under a system with two additional wild card teams. Deadline sellers will be in a powerful position to ask for even greater returns for impact players. This would make the addition of an impact bat by the Yankees a very unlikely scenario.
Cashman has consistently shown a strong reluctance to give in to excessive trade demands at the deadline. A perfect example of this occurred in 2010 when the Mariners increased their demands on the proposed Cliff Lee trade. Even for a player as good as Cliff Lee, Cashman refused to cave in to what he felt were excessive demands. Cashman has consistently used deadline deals to acquire smaller complementary pieces as well as players he feels are undervalued rather than make huge moves.
Injuries and lack of production from key players are part of every season and both can spur unforeseen trades. While it’s not impossible that Cashman could look to add an impact bat before the trade deadline out of necessity, it’s not likely. The Yankees have clearly made pitching the focus of 2012 and the bats they have now will probably be the bats that will have to produce through season’s end.
Yankee fans hoping for the addition of a bat before the trade deadline should be watching Thursday’s announcement regarding the status of the playoff expansion with interest. The addition of two more wild card teams for the 2012 season would turn something unlikely to begin with into something even more unlikely.