It would seem that the baseball gods have a goal in mind for this season: keeping the New York Yankees out of the playoffs.
Their means of achieving that goal is apparently a pinstriped voodoo doll.
As if they didn't already have enough wounded soldiers to worry about, the Yankees added another to the list on Tuesday when veteran first baseman Mark Teixeira suffered a right-wrist strain swinging off a tee in preparation for a World Baseball Classic exhibition game.
According to Andy McCullough of The Star-Ledger, the initial prognosis was that Teixeira would need to be out at least 10 days.
But that's if the Yankees were lucky. The word from Bryan Hoch of MLB.com is that the Yankees' luck has instead gone from bad to worse:
That puts Teixeira's return somewhere around early May, perhaps a little after center fielder Curtis Granderson will have returned from a broken forearm.
In between now and then lies April, which is going to be a tough month for the Yankees' offense. With Teixeira and Granderson sidelined, Joe Girardi's batting order is going to be without two guys who combined to hit 67 home runs in 2012. Power like that doesn't grow on trees (that I know of).
It's also not a given that Teixeira will be in the clear when his eight-to-10 weeks are up. Assuming that he will is to assume that his wrist is going to behave, and wrist injuries don't have a strong track record in the behavior department.
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman is aware of this.
“I’m obviously worried about it,” Cashman said about Teixeira's injury (via The Star-Ledger). “Because wrists are very unpredictable. Even if you can get a positive diagnosis back...that still doesn’t mean you’re out of the woods.”
Teixeira is a power hitter, and that only makes his situation more discouraging. The conventional wisdom—which McCullough noted, as well as Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports after Jayson Werth broke his wrist last season—is that wrist injuries can linger and sap a slugger's power.
If, by some miracle, the Yankees are lucky, Teixeira will take after Ryan Braun in 2010 and Carlos Beltran in 2011 and shrug off his injury with no trouble at all.
Per Baseball Prospectus, Braun came down with a bad left wrist in August 2010, but he still posted a 1.011 OPS and hit nine homers down the stretch. Beltran did just as well following a wrist strain in 2011, posting a 1.029 OPS and hitting seven homers in 33 games. Between the two, Beltran's recovery is particularly encouraging in light of Teixeira's injury because Beltran's injury actually forced him to spend a couple of weeks on the DL.
But if the Yankees' bad luck holds, Teixeira's wrist injury will proceed more along the lines of Jose Bautista's wrist injury from this past season. The Toronto Blue Jays' slugger suffered what he initially deemed to be a strain of his left wrist on a swing at Yankee Stadium last July, and he was only able to play in two games upon his return from the DL before he had to go in for season-ending surgery.
Jonah Birenbaum of Baseball Prospectus pointed out that David Ortiz suffered a similar injury to Bautista's in 2008. The injury kept him on the disabled list for close to two months. And though he eventually found his stroke at the end of the season, he first went through a stretch of 37 games following his return in which he hit only four home runs.
The last thing the Yankees need is for Teixeira's wrist to become a lingerer like Ortiz's or Bautista's. Such an outcome would make life much tougher than it needs to be for a lineup that was already set to be less potent than usual in 2013.
Nick Swisher and Russell Martin took 45 home runs with them when they left as free agents over the winter. Though they were only part-time players, Eric Chavez, Raul Ibanez and Andruw Jones took a combined 49 home runs with them into free agency as well.
Then there are the preexisting injury concerns. Alex Rodriguez, for all his faults, had an OPS of nearly .800 in 2012. He may miss the whole season while he recovers from hip surgery. In his place will be a hitter in Kevin Youkilis who is not without upside, but who has also had trouble of his own staying healthy and productive in recent years.
Elsewhere, Derek Jeter is coming off a fractured ankle that has thus far kept him from participating in Grapefruit League action . Even if he does recover well, he still has age to worry about. It's not often that players hit over .300 in their age-39 seasons. That same concern applies to Ichiro Suzuki as well.
The Yankees went into spring training knowing that free agency and injury/age concerns had rendered their supporting cast a lot weaker than usual. Because of that, there always was going to be pressure on Teixeira, Granderson and Robinson Cano to pick up the slack by keeping the power coming.
Now, the only one of them that's truly a sure bet for 2013 is Cano, and you can't help but fear for his health as he gets ready to play for the Dominican Republic team in the World Baseball Classic. Even if he does survive, he may only be so good without Teixeira there to protect him in the Yankees' lineup.
Bear in mind that it's not just Teixeira's bat the Yankees would be missing if his wrist does indeed end up being a lingering problem. Unlike Granderson, Teixeira is a difference-maker on defense, as well as at the plate. Though he logged about 200 fewer innings in the field than Adrian Gonzalez, Teixeira still led all first basemen with 17 Defensive Runs Saved in 2012 (see FanGraphs).
When Teixeira had to spend time on the DL with a calf injury last year, the Yankees had Swisher to play at first base. With Youkilis stuck at third base in A-Rod's stead until at least the middle of the season, now all the Yankees have to put at first base are the likes of Juan Rivera and Dan Johnson.
Neither of them has Teixeira's glove. Or his bat, for that matter.
So, in summation, here's what it comes down to.
Without Teixeira's bat, the Yankees' lineup will be operating at a fraction of the capacity it otherwise would be, which isn't good seeing as how the club's run output declined by 63 from 2011 to 2012 and was already due for a further decline in 2013. Without his glove, the Yankees will have only one above-average defender in their infield (Cano), which isn't very encouraging considering their three best starting pitchers tend to keep the ball on the ground (FanGraphs).
Meanwhile, around the Yankees will be the AL East, which is as deep this season as it's been in years. The Yankees didn't stand out as the best team in the division even before they started falling apart this spring. Now we know that they're in for at least a tough April, and they'll be working with a disadvantage for longer if Teixeira's wrist issues linger.
This disadvantage would make repeating as division champs rather difficult. And given the depth of not just the AL East, but the AL West as well, even earning a wild-card berth would be no easy task.
It's been a long time since the Yankees have even seen rock bottom from a distance. But that's the direction they're trending in now, and Teixeira's wrist injury could be the nudge that puts rock bottom in sight.
Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
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