New York Yankees: Does Joe Girardi Have What It Takes to Manage This Team?
It's hard to be a baseball manager. It's even harder to manage in New York City. It's even harder than that to manage the New York Yankees.
With pockets deep enough to absorb almost any contract and make any change at any time, the Yankees possess power no team can match.
That power has helped them create one of the best top-to-bottom lineups in baseball. And all of that power rests in the hands of manager Joe Girardi.
For the Yankees to be 10-6 and in first place in the AL East is quite a feat considering even general manager Brian Cashman declared the rival Boston Red Sox to be the team to beat this year.
The Yankees entered this season with serious issues in their starting rotation, and have already had to send Phil Hughes to the DL with a "dead arm," replacing him with Bartolo Colon. Colon limited the Toronto Blue Jays to just two runs on five hits in 6.2 innings in his first start of the season Wednesday.
Throw in A.J. Burnett's 3-0 start (4.37 ERA), and the Yankees rotation has played better than most expected.
The lineup has relied a bit too heavily on the home run (they lead the AL with 30), but you can't argue with the results.
That said, this season is not without its problems for the Yankees, and Girardi seems unwilling, or unable, to take the necessary steps to fix some of them.
Case in point, the performances of Brett Gardner and Derek Jeter.
Coming off the worst statistical season of his career, many Yankees fans wanted to see Jeter dropped in the lineup. Jeter is batting just .219 this season with a .282 OBP, and Girardi has spent most of his time flip-flopping him between first and second in the lineup.
Gardner is off to an even worse start, batting a woeful .128 with a .196 OBP and three stolen bases in six attempts. The majority of Gardner's at-bats have come in the leadoff spot, but he has just one hit in his last 26 at-bats.
Despite the obvious struggles of both Jeter and Gardner, Girardi is completely unwilling to make a change. It's a small sample size and perhaps Girardi is taking his time, but no one would fault him if he dropped Jeter in the lineup.
Gardner, though, may need to take a seat on the bench. But Girardi has said he has no plans to bench Gardner in the near future. Part of Girardi's decision, or lack thereof, comes from a shortage of options.
If Girardi were to move Jeter down in the lineup and put Gardner on the bench, it would leave the Yankees without a true leadoff hitter and a suitable No. 2 hitter.
Nick Swisher would be the first choice to bat second, but he's only hitting .273 right now with no home runs, so there's no significant upgrade there—at least not right now. But it was Swisher who batted second in the Yankees' 6-2 win over the Blue Jays on Wednesday in Toronto.
Should Girardi drop Jeter in the lineup?
A leadoff hitter is much more difficult to find than a No. 2. Andruw Jones would seem poised to take over for Gardner in left field should Girardi make a change, but he certainly can't lead off.
Curtis Granderson is the only Yankee player who might be able to lead off, but his career OBP of .341 says otherwise.
Gardner's days of leading off are over for now, with Jeter back in that spot. For now, Girardi simply doesn't have any options that are solid enough to make any significant changes. But once he does, as the season drags on and if Jeter or Gardner don't show any signs up improvement, does Girardi have what it takes to make the "tough" decisions?
When the Yankees hired Girardi as manager, the biggest problem he'd have to deal with would be his relationship with Jeter. Girardi and Jeter were teammates from 1995 to 2003 and it's difficult to tell someone you used to share a locker room with that he doesn't have it anymore, especially with a player of Jeter's caliber.
When the time comes, and it might not this season, will the decision to move Jeter in the lineup (or to another position) come from Girardi or from the front office? The Steinbrenner brain trust already went around Cashman to sign reliever Rafael Soriano this offseason.
What makes anyone think they wouldn't go around Girardi when it comes to Jeter?
The decision surrounding Gardner shouldn't be nearly as difficult.
Despite the lack of a suitable replacement, Gardner doesn't exactly have the credit that Jeter does. If he continues to struggle and it starts to have more of a negative impact on the lineup, Girardi can't hesitate to bench him.
He can't say, "It's still early," for too much longer. The only thing saving Gardner from a bench spot is a lack of production from other potential replacements. If that changes, Girardi has to be ready to pull the trigger. The same goes for Jeter.
Whether Girardi can, or will, remains to be seen.
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