YANKEES 4, CARDINALS 0
TAMPA – The New York Yankees have seem to hit upon a great strategy to be successful in 2013 without most all of the power they had last season: Just shut out the opposition.
Kevin Youkilis hit his first home run as a Yankee and drove in two runs while Hiroki Kuroda dazzled the Cardinals with his split-finger fastball to rack up six strikeouts in four shutout innings as New York won its second consecutive game via the shutout by beating St. Louis on Monday at George M. Steinbrenner Field.
Youkilis, 33, put the Yankees on the board in the fourth inning with a high-arcing blast off the scoreboard in left-center off Cardinals starter Lance Lynn (1-2). He added an RBI sacrifice fly to score Brett Gardner in the sixth inning off Seth Maness, who the Yankees touched up for three runs on four hits and a walk in 1 1/3 innings.
Meanwhile, Kuruda (1-1) held the Cardinals off the board including stranding Shane Robinson at third base with one out by striking out James Romak and Pete Kozma to end the third inning. Kuroda, 38, threw 42 of his 63 pitches for strikes (66%) to lower his spring ERA to 1.59.
Joba Chamberlain, David Robertson, Dellin Betances and Shawn Kelley combined to pitch five shutout innings to extend the Yankees’ spring scoreless streak to 18 innings and the Yankee pitchers have only given up two runs over their last 30 innings this spring.
With the victory, the Yankees have now won two consecutive spring training games for the first time and improved their spring ledger to 5-11. The Cardinals dropped to 8-7.
- While the offense has struggled through most of the spring, the Yankees’ starting pitching actually has been quite good. Kuroda, David Phelps and Ivan Nova have combined to give up six runs (three earned) on 20 hits and five walks in 24 2/3 innings over eight starts. That is an ERA of 1.09 and a Walks-to-Innings-Pitched Ratio (WHIP) of 1.01. That is without CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte having pitched an inning yet.
- Youkilis got off to a slow start this spring, going 0-for-9 before delivering his first hit on Sunday against the Toronto Blue Jays in Dunedin. In his last two games, Youkilis is 2-for-4 with a home run, a double, a run scored and two RBIs. In addition, Youkilis played his first spring game at first base and flashed some Gold Glove-quality leather on a few plays there.
- Betances, 24, pitched two scoreless innings and gave up one hit and no walks. After being rated the team’s No. 2 prospect last season, the 6-foot-8, 260-pound right-hander is now trying to reinvent himself as a relief pitcher. If his performance on Monday is any indication, the Yankees might have found him a niche in which he can succeed after a terrible season in the minors in 2012. Betances was a combined 6-9 with a 6.44 ERA between Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and Double-A Trenton, where he was demoted late last season. Betances walked 99 batters in 131 1/3 innings.
- This is real picky point since the Yankees did win the game but the team was 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position. That just means they could have put the game way but failed to do so. Other than Youkilis’ two RBIs the Yankees scored runs in the seventh on a hit baseman and a walk with the bases loaded. So the 1927 Yankees they are not.
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman confirmed on Monday that the team has reached out to first baseman Derrek Lee and third baseman Scott Rolen to see if they would have any interest in playing for the Yankees this season. Cashman also said he would be interested in talking with recently retired third baseman Chipper Jones. The Yankees are in the market for a corner infielder while first baseman Mark Teixeira recovers from a strained left wrist. Jones shot the down the speculation about himself saying that he is “happy with life as a bad golfer.” . . . The Yankees announced on Monday that they have signed veteran outfielder Ben Francisco to a minor-league contract and he will have a chance to earn a roster spot with the team this spring. Francisco, 31, requested and was granted his unconditional release by the Cleveland Indians on Monday so he could sign with the Yankees. Francisco is a career .257 hitter over six seasons with the Indians, Phillies, Blue Jays, Astros and Rays. . . . Austin Romine’s bid to win the starting catching job this spring has come to an end. Romine 24, option was among 11 roster moves the Yankees made after Monday’s game. Romine, left-hander Francisco Rondon and right-handers Betances and Brett Marshall were optioned to Triple-A. Left-handers Manny Banuelos and Nik Turley, right-hander Jose Ramirez, and outfielder Ramon Flores were optioned to Double-A Trenton, while right-hander Chase Whitley, catcher J.R. Murphy and infielder Luke Murton were re-assigned to minor-league camp. The Yankees have 52 players left in camp. . . . Derek Jeter said on Monday that he believes he is ready to play shortstop for the first time this spring. Manager Joe Girardi said he possibly could play Jeter for four or five innings. . . . Right-hander Phil Hughes threw 26 pitches in a bullpen session on Monday and came out of it saying he was pain free. Hughes, 26, who has been sidelined since Feb. 18 with a bulging disk in his upper back, said he is still on target to be ready to pitch by Opening Day on April 1.
The Yankees will travel to Port Charlotte, FL, to face the Tampa Bay Rays on Tuesday.
Right-hander Ivan Nova, 26, will make his third start of the spring for the Yankees. He will be opposed by right-hander Alex Cobb.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and there will be no telecast of the game.
With the announcement of the signing of designated hitter/first baseman Travis Hafner to a one-year contract on Feb. 1, the New York Yankees are basically finished with their roster moves prior to the opening of spring training camp in Tampa, FL.
Hafner, 35, is a potential replacement for the loss of Raul Ibanez, who opted to sign with the Seattle Mariners this offseason.
Hafner hit .228 with 12 home runs and 34 RBIs in 64 games with the Cleveland Indians last season.
Though Hafner has played first base in his career, he has not played in the field since the 2007 season. So it appears he primarily will be the team’s left-hand DH and will play first sparingly, if at all.
To make room on the 40-man roster, the Yankees designated fellow former Indians first baseman/outfielder Russ Canzler for assignment. If Canzler is not picked up by another team he could be reclaimed and invited to spring training with the Yankees.
In addition to Hafner, the Yankees added to their spring roster by inviting a total of 43 players to spring training.
Among those is left-hand hitting first baseman Dan Johnson, who most recently played for the Tampa Bay Rays and Chicago White Sox, and outfielders Matt Diaz and Juan Rivera.
Diaz, 34, hit .222 with two home runs and 13 RBIs in 51 games for the Atlanta Braves last season. The right-hand hitting Diaz had his season cut short by a right thumb injury that required surgery in August.
Diaz is a career .291 hitter and he has an excellent chance to make the team as a backup corner outfielder and designated hitter.
Rivera, also 34, originally came out of the Yankees minor-league system and played for the team in portions of the 2002 and 2003 seasons before being dealt to the Montreal Expos in 2004.
Rivera hit .244 with nine home runs and 47 RBIs in 109 games for the Los Angeles Dodgers last season. He is a career .274 hitter.
Rivera is also a corner outfielder and he likely will compete with Diaz for a roster spot.
Johnson, 33, has an excellent chance to make the roster as a replacement for Eric Chavez, who signed in the offseason with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Johnson is a left-handed hitter who can play first and third base and as a corner outfielder.
He hit .364 with three home runs and six RBIs in late season call-up with the White Sox. But at Triple-A Charlotte, Johnson hit .267 with 28 home runs and 85 RBIs in 137 games before being recalled in September.
With Hafner and Johnson both having good shots at making the team and Diaz and Rivera competing for a backup outfield and right-hand DH spot, the other battles for bench spots will come down to backup catcher and a utility infield spot.
The Yankees lost starting catcher Russell Martin to the Pittsburgh Pirates as a free agent so the starting catcher spot will come down to a battle between Francisco Cervelli, 26, and Chris Stewart, 30. The loser of the battle likely will be the team’s backup.
The Yankees also invited former Los Angeles Angels catcher Bobby Wilson, 29, to camp as a non-roster invitee. However, Wilson likely will be sent to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre just in case Cervelli or Stewart are injured and he will back up rookie Austin Romine, 24, who is coming off a lower-back injury.
The backup infield spot will be a rematch of last season’s battle between speedy Eduardo Nunez, 25, and steady Jayson Nix, 30.
Nunez is a career .272 hitter with 38 steals in 46 attempts. He is the team’s second-best base-stealer behind Brett Gardner and is perhaps the best athlete on the team.
However, his glovework the past two seasons has been so bad the Yankees want him to primarily play shortstop and second base, which gives Nix a huge edge despite the fact he arrives in camp as a non-roster player.
Nix hit .243 with four home runs and 18 RBIs in 74 games with the Yankees last season. He is able to play second, third, shortstop and the corner outfield spots.
Nunez possibly could make the team as a right-hand DH and he could play a lot of shortstop this season in place of 38-year-old Derek Jeter, who is recovering from a fractured left ankle he sustained in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series.
Another option for Nunez is that he could be traded this spring if general manager Brian Cashman feels the need to add a player before the season begins.
Along with Johnson, Wilson, Nix, Diaz and Rivera, the Yankees invited the following players to camp:
CATCHERS: Francisco Arcia, Kyle Higashioka, J.R. Murphy, Gary Sanchez.
INFIELDERS: Gregory Bird, Cito Culver, Walter Ibarra, Addison Maruszak, Luke Murton, Jose Pirela, Kyle Roller, Gil Velazquez.
OUTFIELDERS: Abraham Almonte, Tyler Austin, Adonis Garcia, Slade Heathcott, Ronnier Musteller, Thomas Neal, Rob Segedin.
PITCHERS: Corey Black, Juan Cedeno, Preston Claiborne, Matt Daley, Nick Goody, Shane Greene, David Herndon, Tom Kahnle, Jim Miller, Bryan Mitchell, Mark Montgomery, Zach Nuding, Mikey O’Brien, Kelvin Perez, Brandon Pinder, Ryan Pope, Josh Spence, Matt Tracy, Chase Whitley.
Happy New Year to all my fellow fans. I recently posted a three-part series looking at the Yankees from their pitching, their bullpen and starting lineup. Now I intend to zero in on a look at them from a position-by-position standpoint. With spring training mere weeks away it seems an appropriate time to do this. Enjoy!
FIRST BASE – MARK TEIXEIRA (24 HRs, 84 RBIs, .251 BA)
The one thing you could count on every season from Mark Teixeira was 30 or more home runs and 100 or more runs driven in. He had, after all, done it in eight consecutive seasons when the 2012 season began.
But for the first time since his rookie season with the Texas Rangers in 2003, Teixeira failed to reach those totals for the New York Yankees. A pulled calf muscle that limited him to only four at-bats in September took away any hope that Teixeira had to extend the streak.
It was hardly the season Teixeira had envisioned for himself after taking a lot of criticism for batting .256 in 2010 and a career-low .248 in 2011. Teixeira had pledged that he try to go back to hitting to “all fields” instead of the pull-happy approach he had developed with that inviting short porch in right-field at Yankee Stadium.
He even said he might bunt against the exaggerated shifts teams had employed against him when he was batting left-handed.
That never happened, however.
In fact, once Teixeira got off to another one of his annual slow starts in April (three home runs, 12 RBIs and a .244 average), he abandoned the “all fields” idea altogether and just hit. There is no doubt he would have likely reached 30 home runs and 100 RBIs had not suffered the injury, but Teixeira decision was also directed to Yankee fans.
He basically was telling them he was not going to be hitter that hit a combined .306 with the Rangers and the Atlanta Braves in 2007 and .308 with the Braves and Los Angeles Angels in 2008. He even was not going to be the player that hit .292 in his first season with the Yankees.
Nope. If Teixeira was to be the productive hitter the Yankees wanted him to be Yankee fans would just have to settle for .250 batting averages from now on. That is just going to be the way it is.
Teixeira, 32, is reaching the same stage Jason Giambi did after his Most Valuable Player season with the Oakland Athletics in 2001 when he hit .342 with 38 home runs and 138 RBIs.
Giambi hit .314 with 41 home runs and 122 RBIs in 2002 in his first season with the Yankees. Then his batting averages fell off a cliff to .250, .208 (in an injury-racked 2004 season), .271, .253, .236 and .247.
Teixeira is headed to similar fate and, though it does not make Yankee fans happy, it appears they will have to accept it because Teixeira has another four years on the eight-year, $180 million contract he signed with the team in 2009.
Yankee Stadium has actually become somewhat of “The Killing Fields” for Teixeira. He hit just .218 with 12 home runs and 33 RBIs in 2012 while he hit .277 with 12 home runs and 51 RBIs on the road. That does not bode well looking ahead to 2013.
Teixeira is also having problems hitting right-handers. He hit only .239 against them last season while he hit .269 against lefties. That also does not look good when you consider he will bat a lot more left-handed than he will right-handed because of the dearth of quality left-hand pitching in baseball.
Like most of the Yankees last season, Teixeira also failed to hit well with runners in scoring position (.230) and with two outs in an inning (.190).
Unlike Giambi, however, Teixeira actually can play a little a defense and that is putting it mildly.
Teixeira is the gold standard of fielding first basemen. Last season he collected his fifth Gold Glove Award and his third since joining the Yankees. But the real story is how he won the award.
Teixeira committed just one error in 1,055 total chances for a fielding percentage of .999, which broke a Yankee record of .998 established by Don Mattingly in 1994 (two errors in 989 total chances). In fact, Teixeira’s .999 mark was the tenth best fielding mark recorded in the modern era (after 1900).
So to say Teixeira can play a little first base is like saying Jimi Hendrix could play a little guitar. Teixeira is simply the best fielding first baseman of his generation and there aren’t as many who are close.
Tex combines the range of the former third baseman he was and catlike reflexes that allow him to stop line drives and grounders that other first baseman would have left on the board as doubles down the line. Combine that with the fact that Teixeira saves his fellow Yankee infielders numerous errors by scooping and snagging poor throws to first, you have pretty much summed up what makes Teixeira special with the glove.
Here is another statistic for you: Teixeira committed 10 errors with the Rangers in 2004. In all of his major-league seasons since, Teixeira has not committed more than five errors. In his four seasons with the Yankees he has not committed more than four. Any way you slice it, Teixeira is very special as a fielder.
The biggest concern about Teixeira in 2013 has nothing to do with Teixeira himself. It has to do with who will back him at the position this season.
When Teixeira was injured last season, the Yankees had the luxury of being able to slide Nick Swisher in from right field or they could used veteran Eric Chavez if they needed another left-handed bat.
They will not have that ability this season. The Yankees elected to let Swisher sign a free-agent contract with the Cleveland Indians and Chavez opted to sign with the Arizona Diamondbacks. So the Yankees find themselves very thin at first base.
Of course, Teixeira has been somewhat durable throughout his career. He has played less than 145 games only twice in nine seasons. Last season was one of those.
Still, Yankee fans would feel more comfortable if the Yankees had someone like Swisher (24 home runs, 93 RBIs, .272 BA) or Chavez (16 HRs, 37 RBIs, .281 BA) playing behind Teixeira just in case they are needed.
For now Yankee fans have to hope that the acquisition off waivers of Cleveland Indians utility man Russ Canzler is the answer.
Canzler, 26, had three home runs, drove in 11 runs and hit .269 in just 98 at-bats in September with the Indians in 2012.
The right-handed Canzler can play first base, left field and serve as a designated hitter for the Yankees. He does have power in that he hit 22 home runs and drove in 79 runs in 130 games with Triple-A Columbus before being called by the Indians as a late-season addition to the roster.
Though Canzler did lead the International League in doubles (36) as well as home runs and RBIs, he is still a far cry for a proven veteran backup at first like Swisher and Chavez.
General manager Brian Cashman may still be looking to find a veteran to come into camp and bolster the bench.
Slick-fielding Casey Kotchman, 29, and Lyle Overbay, 36, are still available on the free-agent market. Of course, so are former Yankees Giambi, 41, and Nick Johnson, 34, but they are real longshots.
The Yankees also might look to the trade route. The point is don’t expect Canzler to be handed the backup job. He will have competition.
Of course, that competition will not be forthcoming from the Yankees’ minor-league system.
Steve Pearce, 29, came up for a brief period with the Yankees last season and hit .160 with one home run and four RBIs in 25 at-bats after he was released by the Houston Astros and he hit .318 with 11 home runs and 30 RBIs at Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre.
He signed a free-agent contract with the Baltimore Orioles for 2013.
Russell Branyan, 37, was invited to spring training in 2012 by the Yankees as a non-roster invitee but a back injury shelved him throughout camp and he played in only 36 games last season, hitting .309 with 11 home runs and 39 RBIs with Scranton.
However, Russell and his muscle bat have taken their act to spring camp with the Angels in 2013.
Addison Maruszak, 26, hit .276 with 16 home runs and 59 RBIs in 117 games at Double-A Trenton. Maruszak, a right-hand hitter, split time at first base with Luke Murton, 26, a left-hand hitter who hit .249 with 25 home runs and 68 RBIs in 126 games.
Though Murton led the Yankees’ minor leaguers in home runs, his and Maruszak’s advanced age at the Double-A level do not make them future prospects for the Yankees.
Kyle Roller, 24, hit .266 with 18 home runs and 85 RBIs in 121 games at Class-A Tampa in the Florida State League. He is perhaps worth watching in 2013 but he does not carry a high prospect label and he is several years away from helping the Yankees at the major-league level.
Because the Yankees do not have a proven major-league backup to Teixeira and their minor-league talent is severely lacking at first base, the position ranks as one of the weakest on the roster. Cashman is aware of this and it would seem to be a priority in the coming weeks to shore up the position before camp opens.
Nonetheless, the Yankees are lucky to have a durable starter in Teixeira to man the position. If he can be forgiven for hitting .250, his 30-plus home runs and 100-plus RBIs will be vital to the Yankees’ success in 2013. His glove actually is an even bigger asset.
Teixeira will likely bat between third and fifth in the Yankee lineup and with the loss of power hitters such as Swisher, Chavez, Raul Ibanez and Russell Martin and Alex Rodriguez on the shelf for at least half the season, Teixeira is a vital piece to the Yankee puzzle in 2013. Let’s hope he can stay healthy.
There is not much behind him on the depth chart.
NEXT: LEFT FIELD
The New York Yankees have reached the end of the regular season as champions of the American League East and they have the best record in the league. It was not easy but they are now ready for the playoffs. It is time to look at the players that got them there and give them grades for the season.
FIRST BASE – MARK TEIXEIRA (24 HRs, 84 RBIs, .251 BA)
When you look at Mark Teixiera’s career numbers you see the amazing consistency he has provided since 2004, his second season in the majors. He entered the 2012 season as the only active player who had hit 30 or more home runs and drove 100 or more runs for eight consecutive seasons.
Teixeira, 32, was on track to make it nine this season when on Aug. 27 he incurred a Grade 1 strain of his left calf.
He returned to the lineup Sept. 8 and re-injured the calf trying to beat out a double-play grounder that ended a loss against the Orioles in Baltimore. He did not return until Oct. 1, when the Yankees opened their final series of the season against the Red Sox.
Though he blasted a two-run home run in his first game back, Teixeira’s contributions at the plate during the playoffs may be limited. It is unclear how long it will take him to sharpen up his stroke from both sides of the plate.
But Teixeira’s presence in the lineup means far more than what he actually contributes himself. The lineup deepens when he is back in it and, no matter what Teixeira delivers at the plate, he provides world-class defense at first base and saves the pitchers runs and his infield teammates errors.
The only real knock on his game has been the steady decline in his batting average since he signed with the Yankees as a free agent in 2009.
After hitting .259 in his rookie season with Texas, Teixeira batted .281, .301, .282 and .306 in his next four seasons. Teixeira hit .306 and .308 in combined seasons with Texas and Atlanta in 2007 and Atlanta and the Los Angeles Angels in 2008.
But when he joined the Yankees in 2009, Teixera found the short porch in right very inviting, much like his predecessor Jason Giambi did. He hit .292 in 2009 but since then he has hit .256, and .248.
The criticism of his low average stung a bit and Teixeira vowed this season that he would take a new approach into the season with him. He would not be a strict pull hitter, but try to go the other way with pitches. This, he hoped, would raise his average while not hurting his production.
But it was obvious early in the season that Teixeira was struggling with the new approach. In his typically slow April, he hit .244 with three home runs and 12 RBIs.
Teixeira abandoned the approach altogether in May and by the All-Star break he had 14 home runs 46 RBIs and a .247 average. Teixeira basically said: “I do not care what my batting average is. I am paid to hit home runs and drive in runs and that is what I am going to do.”
Judging by his numbers, Teixeira was on a pace in which he would have reached 30 home runs and 100 RBIs had he not been injured. Injuries are new with him, too.
Teixeira had not played less than 156 games since 2007, when he played in 132 games.
So you take two things out of Teixeira’s injury this season: No. 1, it a rare occurrence and No. 2, it is just bad luck it happened so late in the season.
Though Teixeira has fallen a notch below the elite first basemen in baseball such as Cecil Fielder of the Detroit Tigers and Joey Votto of the Cincinnati Reds, he is still one of the most productive hitters at his position and he is still considered the elite fielding first basemen in the game.
The proof of his fielding prowess is that Teixeira set a career low by committing only one error all season. That is not a fluke either. He has not committed more than five errors in a season since his rookie year in 2004, when he was shifted to first base by the Rangers for the first time and he was charged with 10.
The error totals don’t really measure how good Teixeira is at first base. He has unbelievable range, cat-quick reflexes, an accurate arm and an uncanny ability to scoop bad throws out of the dirt.
Over the years, the Yankees have gotten excellent glove-work out of first baseman such as Don Mattingly and Tino Martinez. Teixeira could be considered as good as those two if not maybe a bit better. The errors he saves his fellow infielders have become part of his legend now.
So even when Teixeira is slumping at the plate, he contributes so much in the field that it does not show unless he is gone for periods of time like he was this season.
Though Nick Swisher is above average at the position, Teixeira’s defense was missed when he was gone.
MIDSEASON GRADE: C
SECOND HALF GRADE: I
OVERALL GRADE: C
BACKUP – ERIC CHAVEZ (16 HRs, 37 RBIs, .281 BA)
Despite the fact that manager Joe Girardi elected to use Swisher as Teixeira’s primary backup when he was injured, Swisher’s report card will be with the outfielders.
Chavez, 34, made six starts at the position and played in 10 games here during the season. The Yankees also used Casey McGehee and Steve Pearce at the position during Teixeira’s stint on the disabled list.
But Chavez is still considered the primary backup at first base and his season was magical. He avoided injury, which is always a plus considering he has not played more than 137 games since 2006.
Chavez was signed primarily as a backup at third and first base and an occasional designated hitter against right-handers. In those roles Chavez seemed to thrive because, though his midseason numbers were good (six home runs, 16 RBIs and a .270 batting average), his second-half numbers were even better.
He had 10 home runs, 21 RBIs and raised his season average 11 points.Chavez made 50 starts at third base and that is the position for which he collected six consecutive Gold Gloves with the Oakland Athletics from 2001 to 2006. First base is a little tougher for him though he committed only one error at first in his limited time there.
No one can come close to providing the defense Teixeira can at the position but Chavez does not embarrass himself either.
MIDSEASON GRADE: B
SECOND HALF GRADE: B+
OVERALL GRADE: B
The fact that the Yankees were forced to trade for McGehee and sign Pearce as a free agent shows just how devoid of talent the Yankees are at the position in the minor leagues.
Pearce, 29, and former major league slugger Russell Branyan, 36, played the position at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. They combined for 22 home runs (11 apiece) there but neither obviously are considered are long-term solutions at the position for the Yankees.
Of course, Teixeira is signed through the 2016 season but the Yankees still need to be looking at grooming a replacement soon.
At Double-A Trenton the Yankees had a pair of powerful right-handed-hitting first basemen in Addison Maruzak and Luke Murton.
Maruszak, 25, had 16 homers, 59 RBIs and hit ,276 and Murton, 26, put up 25 home runs, 68 RBIs and batted .249. But the Yankees do not consider either player a prospect because they are playing at the Double-A level at a decidedly advanced age.
The Yankees do not have a first baseman among their Top 20 minor-league prospects so this position could stand to be strengthened.
OVERALL POSITION GRADE: C
As long as the Yankees have Teixeira they can count on 30 home runs, 100 RBIs and a batting average in the .240s or so. In addition, they will get Gold Glove defense from arguably the best-fielding first baseman in the game.
Teixeira’s consistency is his hallmark. Up to this season, he also has been quite durable. But the Yankees are going to have to admit that as Teixeira gets older he is going to be more susceptible to injury and he will require more rest during the season.
What Teixeira will able to contribute in the playoffs is questionable right now. Because Teixeira has always been a slow starter when the season begins, it stands to reason he might be real rusty when the playoffs begin. He also is not playing at 100 percent on his left calf now.
But just having him in lineup makes it stronger and there is no doubt Teixeira can save runs and errors with is glove. So the sum of all the parts adds up to being a huge positive for the Yankees.
The New York Yankees have reached the halfway mark of the season and they are comfortably in first place in the American League East. This is despite some injuries to some keep players such as Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Michael Pineda, Brett Gardner and Joba Chamberlain. As we do every year, let’s look at the individual components of the team and issue grades for the first half.
FIRST BASE – MARK TEIXEIRA (14 HRs, 46 RBIs, .247 BA)
When Mark Teixeira arrived at the Yankees’ spring training complex in Tampa, FL, he vowed we would see a whole new player this season. He said he would bunt against the shift teams employ against him and he would look to go the opposite field to bring his batting average up to his career average of .280.
But that never really happened.
Teixeira, 32, junked that strategy early in the 2012 season because it was not working. He decided the old way would produce home runs and drive in runs. Of course, that is the reason Teixeira is being paid by the Yankees.
What we have left in Teixeira is just a shell of what he was when he hit a combined .308 with 33 home runs and 121 RBIs for the Los Angeles Angels and Atlanta Braves in 2008, a year before he signed his lucrative seven-year contract with the Yankees.
Teixeira has altered his stroke to take advantage of the short porch in right-field in Yankee Stadium. The result is the same thing that happened to Jason Giambi when he signed a lucrative free-agent contract with the Yankees in the winter of 2002.
Giambi was coming off a season in which he was the American League’s Most Valuable Player after hitting .342 with 38 home runs and 120 RBIs in a not-so-hitter-friendly Oakland Coliseum for the Athletics. Giambi’s career with the Yankees was marked by precipitous drop in batting average while he remained productive in hitting home runs and driving in runs.
In his final season with the Yankees in 2008, Giambi hit .247 with 32 home runs and 96 RBIs.
Teixeira not only took the reins at first base from Giambi in 2009, he became Giambi – even down to Giambi’s annual slow starts in April.
It is a shame that such a talented switch-hitter that could hit with power to all fields has become a “pull-happy” hitter prone to pitchers who feed him a steady diet of breaking pitches in the dirt. But that is pretty much what Teixeira has become.
His numbers this season are just horrendous, too. He is on a pace to hit 28 home runs and drive in 92 runs after hitting 39 home runs and driving in 111 runs last season. Of course, Teixeira was plagued for more than a month with a bronchial infection that did sap him of some strength. He is fine now.
Of course, is does not mean Teixeira can’t go on a tear in the second half and improve those numbers. But he better get busy.
The issue with Teixeira is not just the drop in batting average and production, though. It is his .216 average with runners in scoring position.
He is not alone with this problem. It is pretty much team wide. But Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez and Robinson Cano are the players who are expected to drive the big runs and it did not happen, for the most part, in the first half.
For the Yankees to be able to succeed in winning the American League East and getting deep into the playoffs, Teixeira is going to have to step it up big time. Home runs are nice but it also comes down to hitting that two-out double in the seventh to tie a game or a single with the bases loaded to give the Yankees a lead.
Those hits are important and Teixeira has just not been getting them with regularity this season.
What you can count on with Teixeira is his exceptional defense. He nearly made it through the entire first half without making a single error. His first was on Monday and it cost the Yankees a game against the Tampa Bay Rays.
But that was the small exception to what has been a huge rule.
Teixeira’s glove at first is simply golden and he been decorated with four of them. If I was doing the voting this season, he would win his fifth.
Teixeira plays with exceptional range around first and his quick reactions allow him to stop a lot of line drives that would be rattling off the right-field wall if he was not there.
You add to that his ability to scoop bad throws to first out of the dirt and you have the consummate first baseman. In this respect, Teixeira is not anything like his predecessor Giambi. But the Yankees have come to expect flashy defense from their first baseman since they got so much of it from Don Mattingly and Tino Martinez.
Teixeira also is a durable player. He has started 74 games at first base and played in 77 of the team’s 81 games. At age 32, he can use a day off here and there to keep him sharp. But the Yankees really need his defense at first.
MIDSEASON GRADE: C
BACKUP – ERIC CHAVEZ (6 HRs, 16 RBIs, .270 BA)
Chavez, 34, is primarily a third baseman by trade and he has played more this season there to back up Rodriguez.
But he also can play some first and he has made four starts there.
After a 2011 season in which he missed more than two months with a fractured bone in his left foot, Chavez has provided the Yankees with quality work off the bench this season.
He is hitting for a decent average considering he does not get regular at-bats and he is providing some power at the bottom of the batting order.
Chavez also has six Gold Gloves in his trophy case when he was third baseman with the Athletics so his value is immense with the Yankees needing to rest Rodriguez a lot and Teixeira some.
There is no way Chavez will provide Teixeira’s level of defense to first base. But he will hold his own here and he really is not needed to play the position much.
The Yankees are also fortunate to have Nick Swisher available to play first on occasion. Swisher has also started three games at first and there is no dropoff in offense when he is there. Oddly, enough Swisher is not really that bad a fielder either. He is no Teixeira, but then who is?
MIDSEASON GRADE: B
The Yankees do not have a high-ranking young first baseman in the minor leagues. At this time, they are fielding a platoon of former major leaguers at first base at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
Lefty slugger Russell Branyan, 36, is hitting .298 with 10 home runs and 35 RBIs. Righty slugger Steve Pearce, 29, is hitting .321 with 11 home runs and 30 RBIs.
Branyan, who has the two longest home runs in the new Yankee Stadium, was invited to spring training as a non-roster player but injured his back as was unable to play in any exhibitions. Pearce was acquired a free-agent out of the Pirates’ organization.
Both are there as insurance in case of injury to either Teixeira or Chavez.
At Double-A Trenton, the Yankees have a right-handed line-drive hitting first baseman in Addison Maruszak, 25, who is hitting .278 with seven home runs and 32 RBIs, and a right-handed power-hitter in Luke Murton, 26, who is hitting .257 with 16 home runs and 42 RBIs.
Neither is considered a top prospect.
OVERALL POSITION GRADE: C
The Yankees’ success in the first half has been tempered by the slow starts of Teixeira, Rodriguez and Cano and their lack of production with runners in scoring position.
I guess the Yankees are just going to have to accept Teixeira as a 30 home run, 100 RBI player who is going to hit below .260 for the rest his stint in pinstripes.
That said, Teixeira can certainly improve on the 14 home runs and 46 RBIs he has produced thus far – not to mention his horrible .216 average with runners in scoring position.
Though Teixeira’s defense is exceptional, the Yankees need his bat if they want to succeed heading into the postseason. Teixeira’s season will be judged harshly if the Yankees fail to make it to the World Series.
He has got to step it up if he wants to bring a 28th world title to the Bronx.