The New York Yankees are the hottest team in baseball. They have won 20 of their last 26 games, including an MLB-best 10-game winning streak along the way, and there have been no signs of them slowing down.
The team has been greatly aided by a string of quality performances by the starting rotation. Under the lead of Andy Pettitte—yes, Pettitte, not staff ace C.C. Sabathia—the rest of the rotation has really stepped up their game.
Ivan Nova is back on a winning streak, having won his last five starts with a 2.50 ERA. Hiroki Kuroda has started to attain a little more consistency, going 3-1 with a 2.06 ERA over his last five starts. Even Phil Hughes has shown signs of returning to his All-Star 2010 form, winning three straight decisions to the tune of a 1.69 ERA before a rocky outing against the Braves on Wednesday.
So, with these kinds of performances from the usual weak point—the starting rotation—coupled with the usual strong offense, what more could GM Brian Cashman hope to add to this team? The Yankees are the best team in the AL, and are just half a game behind the Los Angeles Dodgers for the best record in the big leagues. How could they possibly get any better?
Well, as much as it might seem like it, the Yankees are not perfect. What made those dynasty teams of the 90s so good was their depth. Those teams literally had no weak links, as there was always one player that possessed the skills to offset the weakness of another. They worked together to win the World Series, and with one or two new pieces, the 2012 Yankees could do the same.
I'm not about to say that the Yankees' bullpen is in need of a boost. No, quite the contrary, as Yankees relievers have been shutting down opposing hitters for the past few weeks.
With the return of dominant setup man David Robertson, the bullpen will be that much stronger. However, when it comes to the bullpen, you can never have enough quality relievers.
With more than half of the bullpen consisting of the likes of Cory Wade, Clay Rapada, Cody Eppley and Freddy Garcia, it's easy to understand my skepticism towards their ability to dominate opponents.
While Boone Logan, Robertson, and Rafael Soriano are all more than capable of taking on the later innings, the Yankees would be wise to acquire a power reliever that could be relied on to strike out a hitter when needed.
There are quite a few options for power relief pitchers, but the most realistic might be Royals closer Jonathan Broxton. Broxton has experienced a lot of success as a closer for both the Dodgers and Royals, and after a little bit of a misstep last season, he has redeemed himself with what could be an All-Star season this year.
The only better option might be Boston's flame-throwing reliever-turned-starter Daniel Bard, but it's well-known that trades between the Yankees and Red Sox are a thing of the past. So unless a "trade-and-flip" kind of deal is put together like the Blue Jays have done the past couple of years, I wouldn't expect to see Bard in the Bronx anytime soon.
As far as leadoff hitters go, Derek Jeter is pretty average. He hits well, but he's lost some of the speed he once had, and he isn't really much of a threat to bunt anymore.
What I was hoping to see this year was for Girardi to insert Brett Gardner at the top of the lineup and finally employ the tools that he possesses that would make opposing pitchers squirm.
The way I see it, Gardner is like an unpolished version of Atlanta's Michael Bourn. He doesn't have too much power, but he can hit for average and will steal you blind if you let him on the basepaths. Having a guy like that leading off a game can really get a team's offense going, because if he reaches base, he can easily distract the pitcher and cause him to make mistakes.
However, unfortunately for the Yankees, Brett Gardner has spent the vast majority of this season on the disabled list with a right elbow strain. Every time he attempts to rehab, he winds up re-injuring himself, further pushing back his estimated return date.
This has caused me to wonder if something more serious is going on with Gardner's elbow, and whether or not he may need surgery that could end his season. Obviously only the Yankees know what's going on with him, and they aren't saying anything, so all I can do is speculate.
But, if that is the case and the 2012 season is to be one without Gardner, the Yankees should look for a fill-in "sparkplug," a guy who could get the offense going and provide that spark.
The two most obvious choices would be the majors' steals leader, Tony Campana of the Cubs, or the always-speedy Juan Pierre, currently with the Phillies. I think the Yankees would have an easy time acquiring either of these players, seeing as they are both currently on the rosters of last-place teams and do not hold high value with their respective organizations.
Like I said, what made those Yankees teams of the 90s so great was their depth, and all of that started with the bench outfielders.
Guys like Ricky Ledee, Tim Raines, Darryl Strawberry, Shane Spencer and Chad Curtis were all part-time players, but were all valuable members of at least one of the Yankees' four championship squads from 1996 to 2000. They all spent a lot of time on the bench, but when they were called upon, they contributed to every game they played, including in the postseason.
Currently, the Yankees' bench consists of backup catcher Chris Stewart, infielders Jayson Nix and Eric Chavez and outfielders Andruw Jones and Dewayne Wise. However, due to Brett Gardner's nagging injury, Chavez and Jones see regular playing time, either at DH or at a position where a starter gets a DH day.
Raul Ibanez was supposed to be the everyday DH that could play the outfield when needed, but so far this season, he's been needed every day. Jones was supposed to be the fourth outfielder, and now that role seems to be filled by Wise, who might be a good defensive outfielder, but offers little production at the plate.
What the Yankees need is an outfielder who has the defensive skills necessary to be a late-innings replacement, but who is no slouch with the bat. The perfect player would be Arizona's Gerardo Parra.
Parra was a full-time player last season, and won a Gold Glove for the D-Backs while also hitting .292. However, he was relegated to bench duties this year after the acquisition of the power-hitting Jason Kubel. Still, the Diamondbacks might be hesitant to trade such a young, talented player, and the Yankees may have to look elsewhere.
If it is determined that Gardner's absence will be significantly longer, such as for the remainder of the year, the Yankees may want to look into re-acquiring Melky Cabrera from the Giants. That may be easier said than done, as the 27-year-old is having an All-Star quality year in San Francisco. Keep in mind, though, that the last time the Yankees won the World Series, Melky was a starter on the team.