Well Yankees fans, we are three weeks into the young 2013 baseball season. There has been turmoil throughout the offseason and preseason due to injury troubles (Derek Jeter and Curtis Granderson), bullpen shortcomings, and the always ever-present distraction of Alex Rodriguez. However, with solid starting pitching and the acquisitions of experienced (but not old) position players, the Bronx Bombers have been able to maintain a 11-8 start, good enough for third place in the AL East and only one and a half games back from first place.
While the Yankees are winning and are scoring a healthy amount of runs each game, it is intriguing to notice how often the Yankees run on the basepaths. The Yankees have stolen only ten times all year! And perhaps most peculiar of all are the team leaders; Vernon Wells, Travis Hafner, and backup catcher Chris Stewart all spearheaded the category until Eduardo Nunez swiped his second base of the season yesterday against the Rays. Brett Gardner has been a disappointment stolen base wise thus far with only 1 stolen base, but is hitting well for average and power and is the only real threat to steal a base consistently.
Fortunately, the Yankees are hitting wonderfully for both average and power, surprising some of the early season pessimists. Wells, Hafner, and (Don’t Ya Know!) Robinson Cano lead the team in homers. The trio is also walking at a decent rate and have 35 runs collectively. Obviously, when a team hits home runs, aggressive baserunning is not quite as important. But one has to ask what happens when the veterans are unable to stay healthy? Hafner has not had a 120 game season since 2007, and any Angels fan can attest to Wells’s inability to play well through injury.
The Yankees are not scaring anybody. It’s only a matter of time before the magic runs out and Cano is left to carry the team’s offense. When first baseman Mark Teixiera comes back, and hopefully he does soon, there is no guarantee he will be crushing the ball. Wrist injuries can be tricky for a hitter, and it always takes a while to get back to game speed. Plus, with the possibility of centerfielder Curtis Granderson returning from his forearm fracture, the outfield could be as crowded as the throngs of people waiting outside the stadium gates.
Including Granderson, the outfield would consist of Gardner, Wells, Ichiro Suzuki, Brennan Boesch, and Ben Francisco. While Francisco in all likelihood would be sent down, there would be a positioning dilemma. Who sits? Does manager Joe Girardi swap Gardner for Granderson? Is it possible to relegate Ichiro, one of the most respected athletes in the game, to a bench role? The most serious potential issue of all, though, is how the team will react to and with Granderson in the field and the lineup. As the great Yogi Berra said “Baseball is ninety percent mental and the other half is physical.” With the looming possibility of Granderson, who had only 10 stolen bases and 195 strikeouts last year, it is entirely possible that players like Wells will try to overperform to keep a starting role.
And who can forget El Capitan Derek Jeter? Arguably the greatest Yankee ever (or at least at shortstop), his leadership could be sorely missed if the team starts to slump. The Yankees may have veteran experience, but both Wells and Hafner have played for mainly losing ballclubs, and Kevin Youkilis does not always act like a veteran. As we all know, there are only two things worse than chaos and confusion ensuing in a dugout or a locker room: the Red Sox and the Mets.
Maybe you could say I am playing devil’s advocate and am blowing possible issues completely out of proportion. The Yanks are fine for now; why speculate? I certainly hope I’m wrong, but do not say there was no warning if the Yankees struggle. When the heat of the summer comes and the Yankees’ spirits are low and strained, anything can happen. For now, however, let’s just sit back and enjoy the wins, because we never know when they stop coming.