Every year, the Spring Training ritual of players "never feeling better" in February is played out. This year, the Yankees go into the season with major contributors not yet 100 percent.
Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera, and Hideki Matsui are not yet ready to fulfill their anticipated roles. Chien Ming Wang cannot run in the field, as yet. Andy Pettitte ended 2008 shut down from playing. Brian Bruney came back from a torn Lisfranc ligament that he rested.
In this article, I weigh the comparative effect on the Yankees' chances to reach the postseason if any of these six players are sidelined for an extended period in 2009.
If his shoulder has a setback or has lost its firepower to second, he is useless as a catcher. The Yankees would be forced into a platoon of Jose Molina and Kevin Cash. They would need to make a trade for an over-the-hill type and pray it works out.
There is no way Posada can be replaced this season. His loss cost the Yankees the 2008 season.
The Yankees' option would be to move Bruney into closer and migrate Joba Chamberlain from starter to closer as soon as possible.
The loss could be survived, although at the price of as many as five less wins. At that amount of blown saves, the season is lost.
I'm troubled to hear that Wang is not yet running. It has been seven months since his surgery. Pitchers with foot problems tend to become pitchers with arm problems.
If Wang is not ready, the Yankees would probably go with Hughes. Failing his being ready, maybe Phil Coke or Alfredo Aceves.
I have not done the specific calculation, but my guess is that losing Wang last year cost the Yankees around four wins. He was not on his way to another 19-win season, anyway.
Four losses, once again, is not surmountable, but there is some hope in Scranton.
Bruney did not have his Lisfranc ligament repaired. He rested it and came back well.
If there is a weakness there that fails him, there is no bridge to Mariano—no setup guy. No way that they would return Chamberlain from starter to setup man. They would work on bullpen-by-committee.
I would think that Mark Melancon would be more likely to be in the late-inning mix. Edwar Ramirez gets another shot, too, although I hope he makes the roster anyway.
They can survive the loss of Bruney.
Matsui's legs may give him too much pain to serve as the DH. Not very likely, but it is a possibility.
Matsui is the Yankees' third best hitter after Rodriguez and Teixeira. As such, he is not easily replaceable. It would mean that Posada would DH on the days Molina catches.
Johnny Damon would get more breaks from playing left field while keeping his bat in the lineup as DH. Nick Swisher would get more at-bats at DH, playing either left field or right field when Damon is not on the field. The Yankees would have no decent bat behind Alex Rodriguez in the lineup.
Pettitte's shoulder starts barking again. This is a real possibility. The answers are the same as they are for Wang. Of course, conventional wisdom has Wang winning five more games than Pettitte, so substituting for Andy is not as dire.