- Wallace Matthews, ESPN Staff Writer
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NEW YORK -- No game tonight, so plenty of time to kick around some random thoughts about the first quarter of the Yankees' season.
First of all, some nuts-and-bolts stuff:
1. Why a doubleheader with the Pirates on Sunday instead of tomorrow?
Simple answer: Because as it has for years now, television wags the dog. The Yankees were already committed to playing a 4 p.m. nationally-televised game on Fox tomorrow, rendering the possibility of any doubleheader, split or traditional, impossible.
2. So why not a split doubleheader rather than an old-fashioned, single-admission, 30 minutes between games doubleheader Sunday?
Same answer: Television, only this one works in your favor. Believe me, the Yankees would love to collect two admissions Sunday, along with two sets of concessions, but since we at ESPN have the rights to Sunday Night Baseball, every other game pretty much has to be done by 8 p.m. Therefore, the Yankees and Pirates will play the first game at 1:05 p.m. Sunday, followed by Game 2 approximately a half hour after the conclusion of Game 1.
Now, a few questions with less definitive answers:
New York Yankees
4. Is Carlos Beltran headed for surgery on the bone spur in his elbow?
Too soon to tell, although it's likely if he doesn't have it in-season, he will almost certainly have it in the offseason. The cortisone shot he received Tuesday has provided some relief, but not nearly enough for him to swing a bat. Yankees team doctor Chris Ahmad advised the team the shot could take as much as two weeks to take effect, and the Yankees can't afford to play short-handed long enough to wait for the pain to subside, hence the decision to put him on the DL. But if Beltran isn't better by the end of the two-week period, you can bet the operating table is in his immediate future.
5. Where did all the hitting go?
For a team that committed $285 million to three players who were supposed to transform its offense, this week in particular was a pathetic display. First, they got 10 free baserunners from Mets pitching Tuesday night and still couldn't win -- although in fairness, it's tough to win when your pitchers allow 12 runs, 11 of them in the first five innings -- and then Thursday, facing a pitcher making his major league debut, they could only manage six hits and one run.
Offense was not supposed to be the problem this year, and yet aside from Jacoby Ellsbury, Mark Teixeira, Brett Gardner and rookie Yangervis Solarte, nobody is doing much at the plate. Although they are second in the AL in batting average (.277), in just about every other category, the Yankees are decidedly middle-of-the-road: fifth in slugging percentage (.410) and OPS (.738), sixth in home runs (38), and seventh in on-base percentage (.327) and runs scored (174). They're certainly better at the plate than the 2013 Yankees, but still just slightly better than mediocre so far.
Which brings us to a difficult question:
6. Should Derek Jeter be moved down in the lineup?
There's a groundswell of sentiment for this, even to the point of flip-flopping him with Solarte, who generally bats anywhere from sixth to ninth in the batting order. And a case can be made that since Jeter still hits nearly 2/3 of his balls in play on the ground, batting him second negates the advantage the Yankees hoped to gain by having speedsters Gardner and Ellsbury at the top of the lineup. But the truth is, Jeter's not even leading the team in double plays -- Brian Roberts has the early lead, with six, and three other Yankees -- Brian McCann, Beltran, and yes, Ellsbury -- have hit into as many as Jeter (five). Even Solarte is right behind him with four. So is it really worth creating a controversy, and possible hard feelings in the clubhouse, in Jeter's final season over an effect that right now appears over-exaggerated, especially when so many in the Yankees' high-priced lineup have been unproductive? I think not.
7. So, should Jeter be removed for late-inning defense and replaced by Brendan Ryan?
To me, there's even less of a case for this than there is for moving Jeter down in the lineup. Ryan is highly rated by the defensive metrics crowd, and before he became a Yankee I was convinced he must be a leather-slinging wizard. But having seen him play on a regular basis, yeah, he's capable of more spectacular plays than Jeter on occasion, but he has made some awful head-scratchers on routine balls, most recently the easy two-out grounder he booted in Milwaukee on Saturday, which opened the door for a pair of huge homers off CC Sabathia. Besides, all the defensive shifting the Yankees are doing this season should minimize the effect of Jeter's lack of range. In theory, anyway. So I wouldn't make a habit of switching him out for Ryan.
Betances certainly has the kind of swing-and-miss stuff you look for in a setup man, and even a closer. And eventually, he will have one and probably both of those jobs. But I don't believe in guys losing jobs due to injury, although the Yankees quite famously took the closer's job away from David Robertson a couple years ago when he got hurt and handed it to Rafael Soriano, who wound up performing exceptionally. Still, it's a bad practice and makes it less likely that guys will be honest about injuries for fear of losing their jobs. Besides, Betances still has occasional periods when he misplaces home plate. He will get plenty of time practicing being the setup man, along with Adam Warren, while Kelley is on the DL, but when he returns, so, too, should Betances. To the seventh inning.
9. Should Masahiro Tanaka be eligible to win Rookie of the Year?
This is a tough question and the obvious answer is yes, because MLB rules say he is. But I have always felt that allowing Japanese players, many of whom, like Ichiro Suzuki, have played as many as nine seasons in the Nippon Baseball League, to qualify for the award was unfair to players who are truly rookies, having fewer than 130 big league at-bats, 50 innings pitched or 45 days on a roster. Besides, it is a slap in the face to the Japanese league, because it implies that somehow, that product is not really major league baseball. (If so, the Yankees paid an awful lot for Triple-A pitcher.) So given the chance, I would vote against allowing him to be eligible.
However, the AL Most Valuable Player and Cy Young Awards are very much in play.
And, the most important question of all:
10. Can the Yankees be considered serious contenders as currently constituted?
Depends on what you're contending for. Obviously, there's enough parity -- and injuries -- in the AL East that the Yankees, despite losing three-fifths of their starting rotation, are by no means out of the hunt for the division. In fact, as of Friday they were just a half-game out of first place, behind the Baltimore Orioles. But whether a team relying on the likes of Nuno, Phelps and Chase Whitley to take the ball every five days can do much of anything in October is another matter entirely. So far, the Yankees have resisted the urge to look outside the organization for starting pitching, for several reasons, mainly lack of available talent on other rosters and lack of tradeable parts on their own.
Owner Hal Steinbrenner indicated Thursday that the Yankees will do what's necessary come trade deadline time, but they may need help sooner than that. As GM Brian Cashman said to me Friday afternoon, "We need CC and [Michael] Pineda to get healthy, and soon. And if they don't, then we'll have to go out and find something."
So the answer to that one, in a word, is no.
This was not how the plans were drawn up in the offseason, but as we've seen, in baseball, the best-laid offseason plans often have to be redrawn, and a lot earlier than anyone might have expected.
10hDanny Knobler, Special to ESPN.com
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