- Wallace Matthews, ESPN Staff Writer
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NEW YORK -- Only the Yankees could go out and spend $438 million in the off-season and neglect to pick up a backup first baseman.
(I would have said, "You could expect something like that from the Mets," but where would they get $438 million without Bernie Madoff's help?)
It's actually not all that surprising, really, when you consider they also spent $1.6 billion on a new stadium and left off the retractable roof, or even sliding windows for the press box. The coffee's pretty bad, too. But I suppose even the Yankees have got to draw the line somewhere.
Still, the fact that the Yankees went into this season with no plausible backup for Mark Teixeira, who missed 186 games over the past two seasons, was either the height of optimism or the depths of negligence.
It didn't make much sense in spring training. It makes absolutely none now.
Because even if Teixeira comes back, as the Yankees expect, this Sunday in Tampa, what are they going to do the next time he gets hurt? Because you and I both know that it is going to happen. Sad to say but Teixeira, who turned 34 on Friday, seems to be in that cycle of injury that all aging athletes face, even those who like Teixeira, hardly ever missed a game for eight of his first nine seasons.
The calf injury that has him laid up now should be an omen to anyone who expects to ever see a 150-game season out of Tex again. Do you remember the play he got hurt on? Neither do I, really. It was the seemingly inconsequential chase of a foul ball that took him off the field for two weeks. What will it be next time? I don't know exactly, but I know it will be something. That's just where Tex seems to be in his career at this point.
Which makes the Yankees decision to go first-baseless this off-season so peculiar. Somehow, they thought they could get by with Teixeira and a collection of backups, most of whom had never played the position at this level before. Kelly Johnson was doing an acceptable job there, but since he was already the starting third baseman plus backing up at two other infield positions, that was a tenuous arrangement to begin with. And when both Derek Jeter, nursing a quad strain, and Brian Roberts (sore back) were unable to go on Sunday, the Yankees had to press Francisco Cervelli, a catcher, into service.
Then, when Cervelli went down with a hamstring strain that might sideline him for more than a month, the first baseman became Carlos Beltran, a near-Hall of Famer reduced to silently praying that the ball not get hit to him.
Not a very New York Yankees-like arrangement.
Obviously, they will call someone up from Scranton, either Scott Sizemore, who -- you guessed it -- has never played first base in the big leagues, or Russ Canzler, a relative veteran, having played there 8 games for Cleveland in 2012. Or they can go for Corban Joseph, who gets plenty of time at the position in Scranton but has played all of one game there at the major-league level.
Whatever the Yankees decide, they better hope Teixeira stays reasonably healthy. Same for Jeter, Roberts, and especially Johnson, who is everyone's backup at once.
For the most part, the Yankees spent their money well this off-season. Jacoby Ellsbury has been a real boost to the offense. Masahiro Tanaka looks like the goods. Brian McCann's bat will come around. And through their first 13 games, there has been no more dangerous bat in their lineup than Carlos Beltran's.
But this who's on first routine may have been funny when Abbot and Costello did it on the Coney Island boardwalk 70 years ago. In the Bronx, with this team and this payroll, it's not funny at all.
Tanaka, Take Two: There were about 10,000 empty seats when Masahiro Tanaka made his Stadium debut last Wednesday against the Baltimore Orioles, and the crowd may not be much better tonight, since the forecast calls for cool, rainy weather for the start of a two-game series against the Chicago Cubs. Still, Tanaka is worth braving the elements for.
On Deck: Masahiro Tanaka (1-0, 3.21 ERA) vs. Jason Hammel (1-1, 9.00 ERA) in the Bronx at 7:05 p.m.