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Thursday, May 23, 2013
The Yankees and the Ewing Theory

By Andrew Marchand

Are the 2013 Yankees an example of the Ewing Theory, made famous by Bill Simmons?

The theory, devised by Simmons' friend Dave Cirilli, has two main elements:

Derek Jeter
The Yankees have gotten along just fine without their captain thus far this season.
1. A star athlete receives an inordinate amount of media attention and fan interest, yet his teams never win anything substantial with him (other than maybe some early-round playoff series).

2. That same athlete leaves his team -- either by injury, trade, graduation, free agency or retirement -- and both the media and fans immediately write off the team for the following season.

Element No. 1 doesn’t apply to these Yankees, because their stars Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira all have rings.

But Element No. 2 certainly does.

With all the home run hitters the Yankees lost in the offseason, including Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, Raul Ibanez and Eric Chavez, the working assumption was that the Yankees wouldn’t score enough runs this year. And while Jeter, Rodriguez and Teixeira may not be as good they once were, they weren’t supposed to be so easily replaced by the likes of Eduardo Nunez, Jayson Nix, Lyle Overbay, Kevin Youkilis and David Adams.

It doesn’t make any sense to think the Yankees are better off without their stars -- but that is the essence of the Ewing Theory. And right now the Yankees are 28-18, in first place in the American League East.

If the 11 players currently on the disabled list all come back, the Yankees will test the theory. Here's how:

1) Who's on third?

Adams looks like a keeper. He's played in only seven games, so it's too early to tell for sure, but there is a certain professionalism about his game. He has always been expected to hit, and with a .949 OPS, he has lived up the hype. At 26 years old, he may be the best infield prospect the Yankees have developed since Robinson Cano.

Still, when Youkilis returns, he will likely man third base. Youkilis is being paid $12 million and was pretty productive when healthy, which was more than a month ago.

If Youkilis returns soon, Ben Francisco may finally walk the plank. When lefties are on the mound, Youkilis could shift across the diamond to play first base, and Adams could play third.

But what about when Rodriguez returns? If Adams is still producing, the third-base situation could become thorny. How many backup third basemen can one team have?

Lyle Overbay
Overbay has been great, but there may not be room for him soon.
2) What about Overbay?

Overbay has been as good as Teixeira usually is the first two months of the season -- probably a bit better, in fact. Fans have understandably fallen in love with Overbay’s underdog story. Still, when Teixeira comes back, the $180 million man will play. Not because of the money, but because he is better.

With Teixeira being a switch-hitter, that doesn’t leave much -- if any? -- playing time for Overbay. He won’t even DH against righties because Travis Hafner is a superior hitter.

Overbay could hang on for a little while as insurance when Teixeira comes back, but again, the Yankees may eventually run out of room on the roster.

3) What will Jeter do?

He turns 39 in June, and there is no telling what type of player Jeter will be when he comes back. Judging by his career, there is no reason to bet against him, except for human logic about age and injury.

Nunez, if healthy, has more range and has played quite nicely at shortstop this year. With the bat, though, he has been unimpressive.

4) Who starts?

This is the most important question for the Yankees, because injuries to starting pitchers happen. If the Yankees have an overabundance in this area, that's not necessarily a bad thing.

When healthy, the starting rotation is CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, Phil Hughes and David Phelps. But the Yanks also have Michael Pineda, Ivan Nova, Vidal Nuno and emerging long man Adam Warren. Pineda could be back with the club in June, if there is any space for him.

Curtis Granderson
Granderson was the first big star to return to the lineup.
5) Joba roles?

With Shawn Kelley and Preston Claiborne throwing well, Joba Chamberlain will need to earn important innings in front of Boone Logan, David Robertson and Mariano Rivera. Plus, Warren needs to stay on the roster as the long man.

The Yankees are deep in the bullpen, which could prove vital over 162 games. But Chamberlain’s spot as an important middle reliever is in jeopardy.

6) Who’s out in the outfield?

Joe Girardi said he will eventually decide on three every-day outfielders. Barring an injury, Ichiro Suzuki is the obvious odd man out. Even if Ichiro is playing at his best as he nears 40, he still might not be as good as the other three -- Curtis Granderson, Vernon Wells and Brett Gardner. Ichiro is a singles hitter who doesn’t hit enough singles anymore, and he doesn’t walk either.

Gardner is the better defender, while Granderson and Wells offer far superior power.

The bottom line: The Yankees have not only held on despite all the injuries and departures, but they are in first place heading into Memorial Day weekend -- impressive indeed. They have overcome not having Jeter, Rodriguez and Teixeira for a long stretch.

But the stars are on their way back. And when that happens, who knows what will follow?