Even before Teixeira was diagnosed with a strained tendon that will sideline him for 8-10 weeks, the Yankees’ Opening Day lineup figured to be one of their weakest in recent history. That was partly due to injuries, but also the result of the team’s frugal off season. During the winter, the Yankees embarked on a penny wise approach to building their roster, opting to save money at the expense of building depth. Now, with the injuries piling up, that philosophy has already proven to be pound foolish. And, the ultimate irony is the Yankees may now be forced to spend even more, both in terms of money and prospects, to supply the deficiencies that their short sighted approach helped create.
Over the past year, Hal Steinbrenner has repeatedly stated that you can build a championship team on a $189 million budget. However, what you can’t do as easily is build a perennial winner capable of withstanding several significant injuries. That’s why the Yankees can’t play the health card if the team gets off to a slow start. Sure, losing Curtis Granderson, Alex Rodriguez and now Teixeira would be a blow under any circumstances, but the team’s current predicament isn’t borne out of injury, but rather a failure to prepare for it.
The Yankees have no one but themselves to blame for the grim outlook that currently hangs over the team. Now, the question becomes what are they going to do about? Based on Brian Cashman’s initial response, the Yankees basically plan to cross their fingers for the first two months of the season and hope the team can remain in contention until their injured players get back. However, if the Bronx Bombers stumble out of the gate, Cashman’s arm could wind up twisted behind his back. Playing the kids or salvaging another club’s washed up veteran might be palatable on March 6, but that approach could be tough to swallow in May.
Is Cashman bluffing by downplaying the Yankees’ response to Teixeira’s injury? If so, the Yankees can take two approaches. The first would be to trade for a pricey veteran to serve as a stop gap solution. The Twins’ Justin Morneau immediately comes to mind. The lefty slugger will make $14 million in the last year of his contract, so it stands to reason that Minnesota would at least listen to an offer. Although the Twins will likely demand a top prospect, if the Yankees agree to take on the entire contract, GM Terry Ryan might be willing to set his sights lower.
The Tigers’ Victor Martinez is another potential finger in the dam. Over the next two seasons, the switch hitting catcher/first baseman/DH is owed $25 million, making him a luxury on a Tigers’ team that won the A.L. pennant without him. On the Yankees, however, his flexibility would fulfill several needs. As the reigning league champion, Detroit won’t be as eager to make a trade, but with the Tigers in need of relief help, and the Yankees having depth in that department, perhaps the two teams can agree to a rare spring training deal among contenders?
There are some drawbacks to trading for a veteran, not the least of which is the combined cost in money and prospects. However, there is also the issue of how those players would fit into the team when the Yankees’ injured incumbents return. Although that is a legitimate concern, the Yankees are not in a position to be so discerning, especially considering the injury risks associated with many of the healthy players on the roster. Would acquiring Morneau, for example, create a log jam when Teixeira returns? Perhaps, but that not only assumes Teixeira will be back in 10 weeks, but Travis Hafner won’t suffer an injury of his own.
Instead of trading for a stop-gap solution, the Yankees’ could scour the market for a more long-term option. This would be a much more difficult trade to make, but there is one obvious place to start: San Diego. During the offseason, the Padres were unable to sign third baseman Chase Headley to a contract extension, so they might be amenable to an offer. Are the Yankees prepared to sell the farm for Headley? If Cashman and his major league scouts believe he could be the team’s third baseman of the future, Headley becomes an ideal solution. Not only would he fill a long-term need, but for the first two months of the season, he’d allow the Yankees to slide Kevin Youkilis over to first base and strengthen the team’s bench when/if Teixeira gets back. Under this scenario, acquiring Headley would be a win-win, so if the Yankees do wind up trading top prospects, it would have to be for a player like him.
Can the Yankees afford to stand pat while Arod, Granderson and Teixeira rehabilitate? Will the team, as constituted, be good enough to make up lost ground once they reach full strength? With all of the older players on the team, can the Yankees really expect to field their A team? These questions exist because the Yankees’ brain trust failed to provide answers during the off season. Cost cutting usually comes at a price. Soon, the Yankees will find out just how expensive.