Monday, May 16, 2011

Quarter-season state of the New York Yankees

(photo courtesy of

The Yankees have had an eventful weekend, and not for good reasons. In addition to being swept by the hated Boston Red Sox to fall two games behind Tampa Bay and stay just a game-and-a-half out of last in the AL East, Jorge Posada's refusal to bat ninth on Saturday has caused much backlash throughout the organization.

Posada is hitting just .165 this season and, while his average has been low since Opening Day, hasn't shown the same power he flashed early in the season, which made his low average bearable in a small sample size. Manager Joe Girardi tried to bump him to the ninth spot in the order and Posada balked at his former teammate's idea.

Rumors have since flown about the Yankees' next move. The team nearly released Posada immediately but thought better of it, yet he sat again on Sunday against left-hander Jon Lester. A switch-hitter, Posada has yet to record a hit batting right-handed and yielded his lineup spot to Andruw Jones, who homered.

Many fans and people who follow the team, including myself, have been clamoring for top catching prospect Jesus Montero to be called up. I scouted Montero in person about a month ago when he played in Rochester; his defense could still use work, but the Yankees wouldn't be calling him up to catch. They have Russell Martin and Francisco Cervelli for that.

Despite just two home runs in Triple-A and plate discipline questions (he's drawn only five walks), Montero's bat is ready. I think he's just bored and what better way to rejuvenate a talented player than with a big-league audition. He'll respond.

The Yankees haven't made a move towards calling up Montero just yet, however, and many within the organization don't see it happening before the June 15 Super 2 deadline, if at all. So where would that leave the Yankees?

Derek Jeter came to the defense of his long-time teammate on Sunday, saying he didn't see what the big deal was that Posada said he didn't want to play. None of us know how the conversation truly went, but it has certainly become a distraction.

A team captain like Jeter isn't going to throw a teammate under the bus within earshot when reporters move from Posada's locker right near Jeter's. Regardless, the organization wasn't happy with Jeter's comments. If we thought the bitterness between both sides stemming from this winter's contract squabble was through, apparently it's not.

The Posada situation isn't the only issue dogging the Yankees right now. Derek Jeter used his breakout performance last weekend to take the attention off of his slow start but now it's Alex Rodriguez creating worries for the Yankees.

A-Rod's swing mechanics have been all over the place of late and his numbers have dropped across the board. I think he'll be just fine, but it's nothing like the New York media to stir the pot over a few poor weeks.

Like Jeter, Brett Gardner was an issue in the early season but he has picked it up of late, bringing his average back over the .250 mark. Nick Swisher's struggles are probably the second-biggest issue with the Yankees lineup right now; after hitting .225 with one home run and 11 RBI in April, Swisher is at just .200 with one homer and 2 RBI halfway through May. At least he's still smiling.

The back end of the bullpen, which was viewed as a strength before the season and in the first few weeks, has turned sour. Rafael Soriano has struggled without the pressure of ninth-inning work on his shoulders, while Joba Chamberlain struggled with gopheritis against Boston and has an ERA in the mid-4s. Maybe it's time New York gave David Robertson and his 1.76 ERA a seventh-inning look.

Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia were rotation savers in their first few starts, but both have fallen back to earth of late. With Phil Hughes still on the disabled list, the Yankees' starting rotation remains laden with question marks, including C.C. Sabathia. I actually heard a New York sportswriter say, speaking on ESPN, that A.J. Burnett is looking like the Yankees ace. Burnett has pitched well, but why overreact to C.C. Sabathia's "struggles" early?

The panic over Sabathia's issues is unwarranted; he has a respectable 3.47 ERA and is a notorious slow starter in April and May. Over the last three seasons combined, would you like to know what his high ERA for any of the final four months is? It's 2.98 in July; the rest are under 2.60 and for August and September, he's under 2.40. He'll be just fine.

Overall, I still think the Yankees are in good shape. They have a few contracts attached to veteran players (Jeter, Rodriguez, Sabathia) that may come back to haunt them, but that won't be an issue for at least a few seasons. This season, the Yankees need a healthy Hughes back and to sort out the back end of their bullpen.

The Yankees also need a new DH unless Posada gets going in the next week or two and Montero is the answer, even just as the right-handed side of a platoon with the lefty-killing Jones. Montero also has the ability to spell the fatiguing Martin behind the plate, although I've always liked the spark Cervelli gives the lineup once or twice a week.

Despite a .249 team batting average and no .300 hitters (Curtis Granderson leads the team at just .281), New York is still third in the league in runs scored thanks to a league-leading .445 slugging percentage and the third-best team on-base percentage in baseball (.336). Even with a few players struggling they have so much talent that this lineup should never be worrisome.

This team's recent issues have been overblown, partially because no one involved with the Yankees likes being swept by the Red Sox. Both the starting pitching and the bullpen remain an issue, but that surprises nobody.

If the Yankees can fix their staff with one or two low-profile moves (please don't trade any big-name prospects) they will be fine, especially if Montero gets the call and fixes the Posada problem. Other than that, I'm not sure the panic is warranted.

If the Yankees miss the playoffs, it will be because Tampa and Boston are just better. There's no quick fix for that.

No comments:

Post a Comment