11:45 am Mar. 29, 2012
The New York Yankees possess a deeper, more talented roster than just about any other in baseball.
Their starting pitching staff is so strong that one of their better starters from last year, Freddy Garcia, may wind up in the bullpen, despite a strong spring training and $4 million salary.
Another five starters, including recently unretired Yankee hero Andy Pettitte, are waiting in the wings at Triple-A, to join the Yankees when they're deemed ready or, in Pettitte's case, whenever he says he is.
The offense, despite a number of older players, looks somewhere between solid and spectacular, depending on whether Derek Jeter is more like his first-half performance last year, when he looked finished, or his second half, when he played like vintage Jeter. Assuming Alex Rodriguez limits his further regression, a lineup with Robinson Cano, Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher is going to score plenty of runs.
But unlike the pitching, New York doesn't have much in the way of a fallback plan for their offensive leaders. The second baseman, should Cano get hurt, would be either Eduardo Nunez, Ramiro Pena or non-roster invitee Bill Hall, who may not stick around in Triple-A waiting for the opportunity. That's essentially the plan at shortstop as well, with the oft-injured Eric Chavez backing up Teixeira at first and Rodriguez at third.
And the issue is more complex in the outfield, where the only backups for Swisher, Granderson and Brett Gardner in left field are Andruw Jones, Raul Ibanez and, as of now, Justin Maxwell.
Most baseball fans have heard of the first two, but they're not the players they once were. Ibanez, who will be 40 in June, has been a suspect fielder for years, while his splits at the plate suggest he'll be stretched in any role other than facing righties. His awful spring hasn't promoted hopes of a revival, either.
As for Jones, the once-tremendous defensive center fielder is now a defensive liability, and his offensive game has deteriorated to the point that he's little more than a right-handed complement to Ibanez.
Maxwell seems like the perfect solution. A former top prospect with the Nationals, Maxwell has power and speed, can play center field as well as the corners, and slugged .588 last year in Triple-A for the Yankees before a shoulder injury ended his season. But his remarkable spring training has put worries about his recovery to rest.
Maxwell, however, would be the sixth outfielder on a team with five outfielders already signed to guaranteed contracts. Maxwell is also out of options, meaning that the Yankees would need to expose him to waivers, where another team could pick up Maxwell for free- and almost certainly would. And the Yankees lack credible outfield alternatives at the upper end of their minor league system as well.
This being the Yankees, the problem isn't an insurmountable one: should they lose Maxwell, and one of their outfielders went down, they could simply trade one of their ludicrous surplus of pitchers for another one. But the idea, at least in theory, of a $200+ million payroll is to fulfill the basic needs of the roster.
If that means cutting bait on either Ibanez or Jones to keep Maxwell, making certain they deal Maxwell for an outfielder who can be stashed in Triple-A, or dealing a pitcher now for a surer bet to back up their outfielders than Maxwell, they ought to do it.
But a team like the Yankees should be able to afford the luxury of a safety net, shouldn't they?