Curtis Granderson: His turn to make everyone nervous.
Last week, I talked about how even the threat of a minor injury to Nick Swisher exposed the Yankees’ lack of outfield depth. Now it’s Curtis Granderson’s turn to highlight the problem. Granderson, whose transformation last year from a player who needed to be platooned to an everyday threat with MVP potential was one of the keys to the Yankees' season, experienced soreness while working out yesterday and is being sent for precautionary MRI today.
The Yankees are in a better position to cover for the loss of Granderson than Swisher, since Brett Gardner, the league’s most overqualified defensive left fielder, can slide over to center field. However, that leaves the Yankees with no good way to cover left field. Sure, you can run Raul Ibanez or Andruw Jones out there on a platoon basis, but that leaves the designated hitter position almost literally naked given that the team’s best DH, Jesus Montero, is currently sitting in Tokyo in the uniform of the Seattle Mariners.
The average major-league left fielder hit .255/.320/.408 last season. The average DH hit .266/.340/.430. Granderson hit .262/.364/.552. This injury seems unlikely to sideline him for long, if at all—Brian Cashman didn’t seem particularly concerned—but the team’s shallow pool of replacements will raise blood pressure for as long as there is the possibility that the starters might be hurt, which is to say every inning and every at-bat of every game, even if all concerned stay clear of trampolines.
The Yankees made a minor move in the direction of designated hitter depth today, adding veteran left-handed hitter Jack Cust, who had been released by the Astros, on a minor-league contract. A former first-round pick of the Arizona Diamondbacks (way back in 1997), Cust was one of the ultimate Three True Outcomes hitters, walking, striking out or hitting a home run in most of his plate appearances. He wandered through several organizations before establishing himself with the A’s at 28 and gave them three very solid seasons in four years, hitting .247/.381/.457 overall. He also led the league in strikeouts in three of those years and walks once.
Cust is only 33, but hitters with “old player skills” tend to decline a bit early. Two years ago, Cust’s power seemed to ebb. Last season, with the Mariners, it vanished altogether, as did everything else except his walks. Extra bonus: Cust can neither play defense nor hit left-handed pitching (.228/.348/.362—he will still walk against them). Still, if anything like peak Cust still exists, he would be a more valuable platoon DH than Raul Ibanez; no questions asked.
Given the results of the last two seasons, this seems unlikely. Cust’s 1-for-25 for the Astros this spring may or may not be further evidence as to how this will all work out. Assuming the predictable end to the sagas of Cust and Ibanez, not to mention the possibility of injury, the Yankees would be wise to move some of their Triple-A pitching depth for something resembling a bat that can also do a passable job in the outfield—if not now, then by the trading deadline at latest. With today’s single, Ibanez has his average all the way up to .189.