New York Yankees: Top 5 Last-Minute Moves That Could Help Their Playoff Chances

Josh HousmanCorrespondent IMarch 21, 2013

New York Yankees: Top 5 Last-Minute Moves That Could Help Their Playoff Chances

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    On Opening Day in April, the New York Yankees will have more holes and uncertainty than they have had in almost any season since the mid-1990s.

    In a year where the American League East division looks to be as competitive from top to bottom as it has ever been, the Yankees will need to fill major holes and avoid major roadblocks if they want to make the playoffs.

    Who will play catcher? Will Derek Jeter be able to replicate his stellar 2012 season? 

    The above questions are just a few of the many that need to be answered. The most urgent and important situations that need to be addressed concern injured players in the starting lineup who cannot be replaced easily, while bench issues should also be addressed. 

    Ahead is a list of the top five last-minute moves the Yankees can make to bolster their chances of making the postseason. 

5. Sign Ryan Theriot

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    While the Yankees already have Eduardo Nunez and Jayson Nix as backup middle infielders, questions about each could make Joe Girardi uneasy sending either of them out for regular duty in Derek Jeter has to miss extended time.

    Nunez, a poor fielder, made 28 errors in 159 games in the infield, according to Baseball-Reference.com, while Jayson Nix is a .214 career hitter and has never topped his .243 batting average in 2012 in any season of his career. 

    Enter Ryan Theriot, the World Series Champion San Francisco Giants' starting second baseman of 2012. Theriot is a free agent and has not drawn much interest. If the Yankees can sign him on a cheap, one-year deal, he could provide a lot of value. 

    Theriot is a very capable singles hitter and has a triple-slash line of .281/.341/.350 over his career. What makes Theriot valuable is that he is a better hitter than Nix, while he is also a better fielder than Nunez. He averages 0.107 errors per game played at shortstop in his career (58 in 530 games), less than half of Nunez's 0.22 average. 

    While signing Theriot is not urgent and does not fill a major hole, he could prove more valuable than Nunez or Nix in a starting role, in the event that Jeter misses extended time.

4. Sign Carlos Lee

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    Mark Teixeira's wrist injury that will keep him out until at least mid-May gave Brian Cashman yet another problem on his seemingly infinite list of issues to address this offseason.

    The Yankees are currently without a first baseman, as Juan Rivera is on the top of their depth chart, according to MLB.com

    Carlos Lee could be a valuable acquisition for the Yankees if they choose to sign him to a one-year deal. Once a powerful 30-homer, 100-RBI hitter, Lee has deteriorated and cannot produce in the middle of the lineup anymore.

    However, he still has power left in his bat, and from the right side he is a capable hitter to the opposite field, spraying 25-percent of all of his balls put in play to the right side in 2012, according to ESPN insider

    Lee's ability to hit to right field in Yankee Stadium would compensate for his diminished power, and he could greatly benefit the team by spelling Mark Teixeira at first base and providing a right-handed alternative to Travis Hafner at DH. 

3. Selecting David Phelps over Ivan Nova for the Last Rotation Spot

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    One of the biggest position battles this spring is the battle between Ivan Nova and David Phelps for the fifth spot in the Yankees' rotation.

    The first four are set: CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte and Phil Hughes—the same front four who led the Yankees to 95 wins last season. 

    Nova burst onto the scene in 2011, winning 16 games to the tune of a 3.70 ERA, and looked to be a promising middle-to-front-rotation arm for years to come for the Yankees.

    However, last season, Nova faltered as his ERA rose above 5.00 and his WHIP rose 0.14 to 1.47. What was more troubling was that his WHIP rose while he walked one less batter in five more innings than in 2011, according to ESPN.

    While Nova is prone to allowing hits and gave up 194 in 170.1 innings, Phelps was very economical and pitched to a 1.19 WHIP in the 2012 regular season. Even in Nova's breakout year, his WHIP was over 1.3, showing his tendency to allow numerous baserunners. 

    In a year that the Yankees expect offense to be down from previous years, keeping runs off the board will be of extra importance.

    If they want to have the best shot of holding the other team to minimal runs, Phelps will give them a better chance than Nova every fifth day. 

2. Trade for a Catcher

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    The already-debilitated Yankee offense cannot afford to go into the season with a catcher whose bat justifies no more than a backup role on a major league roster.

    Currently, Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart are just that, while the consensus in the organization seems to be that well-regarded prospect Austin Romine is not yet ready for the big leagues. 

    In an article I wrote on January 23, I referenced numerous options for the Yankees to fill their hole at catcher that are cost-efficient and potentially available through trade.

    Exploring any of these options and dealing for an established catcher is of great importance to the Yankees' success this season, due to the injuries and lack of depth at so many other positions. 

1. Keeping Derek Jeter off the Field Until He Is 100-Percent Healthy

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    For 17 years, Derek Jeter has been the heart and soul of the New York Yankees.

    Their season was effectively ended when he fell to the ground with a broken ankle and had to be helped off the field in Game 1 of the 2012 ALCS, with three more games yet to be played. 

    Although there are many other impact offensive players and a strong pitching staff to carry them, the Yankees are hopeless in a season with such competitive parity without their future-Hall of Fame captain and shortstop. 

    Recently, it has become public information that Derek Jeter may miss the start of the season due to inflammation in his surgically repaired ankle. For the Yankees, this should be welcome news. Rushing Jeter back for the irrelevant symbolism that is playing the first game of the season could be a costly decision. 

    The trade-off could play out as follows: Have Jeter back on opening day, but have him miss extended time in the middle of the season, or let Jeter miss a few weeks in April until he is 100-percent healthy, and retain him on a healthy ankle all season and postseason long. 

    Obviously Jeter, who is 38 years old, could still get injured in a number of other ways, even if his ankle is healthy. However, it makes no sense to risk him re-injuring a surgically repaired ankle to have him play in what many people call the most meaningless games of the season. 

    The best decision the Yankees can make before the season starts is to keep him off the field, even against his will, until he is absolutely, 100-percent healthy.