New York Yankees: 5 Ways the Bombers Can Turn Their Season Around
The New York Yankees have had a relatively strong season so far, spending most of 2011 in or around first place in the American League East. Still, the road ahead will be a difficult one, with the Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays rebounding tremendously from their slow starts.
More importantly, the team as it currently stands has some evident flaw—or, to be a little more positive, several areas in need of improvement.
Here are a few ideas as to how to turn this season around—not in the sense of gaining ground (the Yankees currently sit atop the division), but to avoid the inconsistency that has plagued the team through the first seven weeks of the season.
You will notice that none of these suggestions concern the starting pitching. While one may argue that the rotation needs work, particularly at the back end, the results so far indicate that the starters have been serviceable. It is fair to predict that Freddy Garcia and/or Bartolo Colon will not be mainstays in the Yankees rotation come August, but this article will focus on changes which appear more imminently helpful and necessary.
1. Move Brett Gardner to the Leadoff Spot
I’m still wondering why manager Joe Girardi abandoned this idea so quickly. Yes, Gardner had a slow start to the season, but he’s picked it up of late, raising his batting average 74 points since the start of May and registering nine hits in his last five starts.
Gardner is the closest thing to a prototypical leadoff hitter that the Yankees have. He has brilliant speed, as most know, and he can be a pest on the bases and in the batter’s box. (Might I draw a comparison to former Yankees leadoff man Chuck Knoblauch?) While his bat can be inconsistent, when Gardner finds his way on base, the Yankees can make noise right away without having to rely on the home run.
Obviously, this would shake up the rest of the lineup a bit, most pertinently with Derek Jeter and Curtis Granderson. Some analysts have speculated (justifiably) that Jeter should be moved towards the bottom half of the lineup. While that would be too drastic a move (albeit for the sake of respecting Jeter and avoiding further controversy), it also isn’t necessary. Jeter can still perform as a valuable No. 2 hitter, particularly as his bat has heated up in May.
With Gardner not running as consistently as he has in the past (he’s currently eight for 14 in stolen base attempts), the Gardner-Jeter arrangement would open the door for more hit-and-run scenarios. And that, if the “classic Jeterian swing” (as Yankees’ television play-by-play announcer Michael Kay calls it) truly returns to form, will make for a lot of first-to-third opportunities for Gardner when Jeter shoots a base hit through the hole on the right side of the infield.
Granderson, meanwhile, could settle into the sixth spot in the lineup. Given his run production so far this season (he leads the Yankees in home runs, RBIs, and slugging percentage), this may be a more fitting place for him than the table-setting two-spot.
Of course, with Gardner usually sitting against left-handed starting pitchers, this change would not be employed in every game, anyway. But Girardi was originally going to go this route, so why not give it another chance now that Gardner is hitting with more consistency?
2. Acquire a Left-Handed Reliever
This seems to have been a need for the Yankees ever since Mike Stanton left. Many southpaws have since come through what has become a revolving door of relievers. (Felix Heredia? Buddy Groom? Ron Villone?)
This year, the curse has continued, with Damaso Marte and offseason acquisition Pedro Feliciano potentially done for the season. Boone Logan has been left (no pun intended) as the lefty specialist and, while he hasn’t been awful, he hasn’t been all that great. He’s currently giving up a hit per inning and has seven strikeouts compared to five walks.
He could use help, especially with apparently no reserves on the way. It seems unlikely that the Yankees would call up super prospect Manny Banuelos from the minors, so the most realistic solution would be to look for a trade.
Perhaps one option would be current Oakland A’s closer Brian Fuentes. He’s having a miserable season (and he criticized manager Bob Geren today), so it doesn’t appear unreasonable that Oakland would be interested in moving him. If he could turn his year around in New York is a whole other issue, however.
3. Acquire a Veteran Bench Player
I know, I know—the Yankees are old enough already, right? Well, that may be true, but one more veteran presence in the clubhouse might just do this team some good.
This certainly does not imply that the plethora of veterans on the team can’t handle their leadership positions. But a reliable, experienced bench player who can contribute on the field and off could be a truly valuable asset. (I know I’ve already cited the late ’90s already, but we all loved Luis Sojo, didn’t we?)
My vote would go towards Willie Harris, currently on the Mets. He is a 32-year-old journeyman who provides versatility (he can play in both the outfield and the infield) and some speed (102 career stolen bases). His bat isn’t much, but he can come through with a timely base hit now and then.
Harris has little pop at best, but the Yankees do not need a power-hitting bench player. They have enough of that in the starting lineup, and I think we all remember the Richie Sexson experiment, right?
4. Run Curtis Granderson More
Why should Granderson, brought to New York in part because of his power/speed combination, have the same number of stolen base attempts (and stolen bases) as Yankees back-up Eduardo Nunez, who has played 26 fewer games than the centerfielder?
Your guess is as good as mine. But regardless of where Granderson hits in the lineup, he should utilize his speed more. Much like Gardner, he can create havoc with his legs, which would help bring balance to this often one-dimensional Yankees offense. Granderson has already demonstrated his willingness to play small ball this season, with two sacrifice bunts to his credit.
Of course, if by some chance he keeps up this home run pace, he’ll probably be trotting a lot more than running.
5. Avoid Media Scrutiny Surrounding Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada
Okay, this one seems fairly impossible if the Yankees plan on staying in the New York market. While media attention is to be expected, the main victims this season are unfamiliar ones: “Core Four” members Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada.
Constant questions, attention and concern surrounding two of the team’s most historic figures certainly affect the team more than, say, that involving media darling Alex “Lightning Rod” Rodriguez. Jeter and Posada are probably the two most important leaders on that team (along with Mariano Rivera), and seeing them face the controversy that has followed them cannot be good for team chemistry, morale and focus.
The Yankees, for their part, do a good job of keeping certain things out of discussion when they could serve as a distraction. The impending free agents last year (including Jeter, Rivera and Girardi) did not publicly talk about contract negotiations during the season, and this year, ace CC Sabathia is keeping mum as well about the opt-out clause in his contract that kicks in at the end of this year.
A similar approach should be taken with the media harassment of Jeter and Posada. They are dedicated to their common goal of leading the Yankees into the postseason, and the best way they could show that would be to eliminate anything that only gets in the way. Stop talking about Jeter’s decline (you know he’s not going to say much, anyway) and Posada’s alleged gripe with Girardi and/or the Yankees. It’s surely not going to help anyone to perpetuate what the media has already beaten to death.
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