With Curtis Granderson out for the next 10 weeks, everybody has been wondering who will replace him. There are a wide range of candidates from veterans Juan Rivera and Matt Diaz to younger players like Ronnie Mustelier, Zolio Almonte, Melky Mesa and Thomas Neal. No matter who fills in for Granderson, they will not replace his power or productivity. They just need whoever the replacement is to be a serviceable player for about a month until Granderson gets back. The key to surviving without Granderson is more about the other players in the lineup stepping up, rather than who Granderson’s replacement will be or what that replacement does.
Robinson Cano, Mark Teixeira, Brett Gardner, Ichiro Suzuki, Kevin Youkilis and Travis Hafner have to be healthy and productive until Granderson returns around the beginning of May. You could throw Derek Jeter in there as well, but you don’t really know what to expect in April from him coming off his broken ankle.
Cano and Texeira have the ability to carry the Yankees when they are hot. If either one of them have a red hot April, the Yankees should not miss Granderson too much. Both players are playing for their respective countries in the WBC, so maybe that will help them get off to a fast start, as they will be having at-bats in a competitive situation early. This could particularly help Teixeira, as he has been a notoriously slow starter in April throughout his career.
Cano and Teixeira were keys for the Yankees season to begin with because of the losses of Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, Raul Ibanez and Eric Chavez. Now the pressure on them is ratcheted even more in April without Granderson. Cano just needs to repeat his season from last season, but Teixeira needs to improve on his,
The Yankees need Teixeira to get back to the elite version of himself, rather than the very good, but not elite player he has been since 2009. His batting average will probably never be around .300 again, but an average around .275 with his power and RBI production would be great. His walk % was a career low 10.3% last season, which is something Teixeira should also improve on. They need his OPS back around .900 and his wOBA back around .400. Those numbers are more important than the batting average.
While Cano or Teixeira getting hot in April could help carry the Yankees without Granderson, Hafner and Youkilis could help a great deal in a short period of time. They will never have the same production as Cano or Teixeira over the full season, but the point here is that they only need a few people to get hot for a month without Granderson. Hafner and Youkilis have those capabilities.
First of all, Hafner and Youkilis must be on the field, as those two have combined to take an astonishing nine trips to the DL over the last three seasons between the two of them. Youkilis already was scratched from yesterday’s game due to a sore oblique, although it does not appear to be serious.
When healthy, Hafner had four outstanding seasons for Cleveland from 2004-2007, but since then the highest number of games he has played in a season is 118. Hafner still has solid power and the short porch in right field should be very inviting for him. He could easily get on a power surge in April to help offset some of Granderson’s lost power.
Youkilis does not have the power that Hafner does, but he can certainly get hot and be a key player for the Yankees without Granderson. He had two warning track fly balls and a line out to third in Sunday’s spring training game, so it appears he might be seeing the ball well early. Youkilis made some swing changes with Kevin Long over the winter, so it will be interesting to see how they impact him early in the season. Youkilis already has the responsibility of replacing Alex Rodriguez, but he has to be apart of the puzzle that replaces Granderson in April as well. Youkilis had a terrible year for him last season, but he is not far removed from solid production in 2011 (.258/.373/.459/.833) and elite production in 2010 (.307/.411/.564/.975), so hopefully he can get back to something close to either of those years again.
Gardner and Ichiro will have to step up in April for the Yankees to field a competitive outfield. It’s obviously extremely early, but Gardner and Ichiro are hitting .667 in their two Spring Training games. Their speed will be counted on more than ever, as will their defense to help prevent runs because the Yankees will not score as many. They can create runs via stolen bases and hit-and-runs, which the Yankees will need to do without Granderson. As the probable leadoff hitter vs. righties, Gardner will also have to keep his OBP at a very good rate.
The Yankees have a small margin for error this season, so they will have to keep afloat without Granderson. Brian Cashman has shown patience in these situations in the past, so he is unlikely to go out and overpay somebody to replace Granderson for a month. Granderson leads MLB in home runs the last two years, so nobody they replace him with will be capable of putting up his numbers. They will need the established players on their team to step up their performances in April to compensate for the loss of Granderson.