When the New York Yankees take the field on a given day, they send out a starting squad with a mix of older veterans, seasoned players and “peak” performers. The youngest players on the field on a regular basis are Russell Martin and Robinson Cano, both 29-years-old with Martin being four months Cano’s minor. Of course, the Yankees’ brass knew this going into the season, so their desire when building the bench was to have players who could not only fill in on occasion, but could handle lengthier periods of time on the field if required. The Yankees hoped that if there was a need to play a reserve on a more regular basis, they would not hinder the team’s overall performance. This Yankees’ bench has done that and more in 2012.
We can begin with the injury to left fielder Brett Gardner (he turns 29 in August, so the point is further emphasized). Much has been written over the last few days about Gardner’s never-ending issues with returning to the field after suffering an elbow injury in mid-April. During that time Raul Ibanez and Andruw Jones have been the predominant benefactors of playing time in left field. On Tuesday, I delved deep into the mix of players who have done a remarkable job while playing left field in Gardner’s absence. I further argued that they’ve been good enough that general manager Brian Cashman has the ability to keep his hands in his pockets instead of on the phone looking for an outfielder.
Ibanez or Jones, who were expected to be the primary DH’s, are now penciled into left field on a fairly regular basis. The injury to Gardner has also created more space than initially expected for manager Joe Girardi to give days off to his veterans, especially Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter, in efforts to keep them fresh for the season. Both Ibanez and Jones have provided lifts to the team at varying points of the season. Ibanez was on fire in April and Jones is blazing right now. Even better for the Yankees, when one is in left field, the other may be at DH and their performance there has been excellent.
While it is great to have the capability to rest players (all teams literally have the ability, but can’t rely on their players for long periods), the Yankees don’t just want to do it for the sake of the extra time off for the aging vets or the star players, and put themselves in a position where they are fielding a mediocre team. Fortunately for the Yanks, this has not been the case. When A-Rod or Mark Teixeira has received an off-day or a DH-day, Eric Chavez has stepped in and done an excellent job overall filling in at third and first base. Chavez is performing above and beyond last season’s results which were enough for the Yankees to re-sign him. Chavez has a triple slash of .284/.338/.511. He’s ripped eight doubles and eight home runs in 157 plate appearances. He’s recorded a wRC+ of 122 and a WAR of 0.8, which is excellent for a reserve.
Jeter has played 11 games at DH and missed two games entirely this season. In the beginning of the season Eduardo Nunez received the starts at shortstop. Once the Yankees tired of his erratic (I’m being kind) play on the field, they signed and brought up Jayson Nix, who has become a fill-in for not only Jeter, but also for A-Rod and Cano. He has also played 11 games in left. Nix has provided steady defense at each position with an average bat, but has been able to come through with some timely hits as well. Nix is hitting .256 with six doubles, three homers, seven RBI and a .759 OPS in 86 plate appearances.
There is no denying that Martin could end up with his worst professional season, unless there is some sort of miracle in the near future. With him scuffling for the entire season, the Yankees’ backup catcher, Chris Stewart, has taken on an expanded role, more so than anyone in the organization imagined. He has become much more than CC Sabathia‘s personal catcher. Stewart has been taking starts away from Martin here and there, beginning 27 games to date with a touch more than half the season left to play. Stewart is hitting .258 (Martin sits at .182) and playing similar defense to Martin’s behind the plate. Again, the point is Stewart is far from a detriment, in fact a case can be made that Martin is turning into the disability. I digress.
Perhaps the biggest surprise has been the play of journeyman Dewayne Wise. Wise seems to be doing a little bit of everything and maximizes his performance in limited playing time. He receives pinch-running duties, occasionally pinch-hits, enters as a defensive replacement and gets a start here and there in the field. What has Wise done with 56 plate appearances? How about .278/.307/.534 with three homers, ten runs, eight RBI and seven stolen bases combined with above average fielding. He’s produced a wRC+ of 142 during that his minimal chances and a 1.0 WAR.
The Yankees have benefited from a total team effort. It is expected out of the regular position players as they are paid handsomely for their efforts. The bench has generated much more than foreseen on the diamond and it’s alleviated the need for drastic measures off the field. With the non-waiver trade deadline approaching the Yankees are in one of the best situations a team could ask for. They have a massive lead in the toughest division in baseball and the major league’s best record. They could try to upgrade in spots, but are not forced to, due in large part to the play of the entire bench.
This allows the Yankees many luxuries. One, resting veterans to keep them fresh for the late season run into the postseason and two, provides the team with the benefit of saving their cash and player commodities by withstanding the urge to jump into a trade market that may only marginally help them. Brian Cashman’s choices for his bench spots during the offseason and into April have paid dividends on the field and they are allowing him piece of mind as the trade deadline nears.