12:12 pm Apr. 19, 2012
Brett Gardner's wrist injury, which landed New York's left fielder on the disabled list Wednesday night, came at a remarkably unfortunate time for both Gardner and the Yankees.
The injury occurred just as it appeared manager Joe Girardi was beginning to trust Gardner against left-handed pitchers, giving him a shot at the full-time left field job. The trust was warranted: Gardner has an .857 batting average this season against lefties.
The reality is that Gardner is roughly as effective a career hitter against lefties as against righties, with a .697 OPS against lefties, .731 against righties. His excellent defense, and the lack of better alternatives, mean that Gardner should be playing every day for the Yankees anyway.
For now, however, Gardner will sit. If he is out for an extended time, New York missed, by a matter of days, the chance to bring in Johnny Damon as a replacement. The former Yankee left fielder is 38, but still posting strong offensive numbers, with an OPS+ of 110 last year for Tampa Bay. But Damon signed a minor league contract with Cleveland just this past weekend.
Had the injury occurred the week before, New York could have kept Justin Maxwell, a strong fielder who was the team's best offensive player in spring training. Instead, with no roster spot for him and with Maxwell out of options, the Yankees put him through waivers on April 8, where he was quickly claimed by the Houston Astros. Maxwell offers depth to an Astros team that needs it; don't be surprised if Maxwell is starting in Houston soon. He'd have been a perfect medium-term replacement for Gardner.
Instead, Raul Ibanez and Andruw Jones are likely to split time in left field. Both can hit one side of a platoon, but both have gloves that are far better placed in storage at this point. The Yankees are also asking Eduardo Nunez, an infielder by trade, to start learning the outfield. That decision probably has more to do with the need to back up Derek Jeter at shortstop than confidence that Nunez is a long-term answer in the outfield.
Outfield was always going to be the place New York could least afford an injury. This one just happens to be particularly ill-timed.