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Tuesday, June 3, 2014
First Pitch: No Plan B at first base

By Wallace Matthews

NEW YORK -- It's too early to fairly judge Yankee GM Brian Cashman's offseason. Through the first 57 games of the season, Masahiro Tanaka is a big plus, Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran, due to injury, both minuses. And the jury is still out on Jacoby Ellsbury, who had an excellent April and a not-so-good May, although I think he, too, will turn out to be a plus.

But there was one move, or more accurately, one non-move, that seems like an especially glaring mistake -- the decision of someone in the Yankees' front office not to acquire a big-league caliber first baseman to back up Mark Teixeira, who was coming off serious wrist surgery.

Clearly, Kelly Johnson is not the answer, and it's not even fair to expect him to be. The guy is a career second baseman who has played first in 21 games his entire career, and 19 of those games were this season.

Who in their right mind possibly could have thought that was a good idea?

Johnson is not the reason the Yankees lost to the Mariners Monday night, but his inability to come up with Michael Saunders' hot shot up the first-base line that became a two-run single just reminded you of what a bad idea it actually was.

But the fault is not Johnson's; it is whoever best-cased Teixeira's comeback scenario and decided that, after missing all but 15 games last season, he would be able to resume a full workload as if nothing ever happened.

Already, Teixeira has missed 20 games this season and if the Yankees were not in such dire straits, seemingly with no one capable of hitting the ball even out of Yankee Stadium, would probably be on the DL right now.

And that is still a distinct possibility, especially if Teixeira is unable to go tonight against the Oakland A's and lefty Scott Kazmir, the spot Joe Girardi has been targeting for his return.

“We’ll wait and see how he is when he comes in," Girardi said after Monday night's humiliating 10-2 defeat to the Mariners. "The doctor gave pretty good news. I know Tex feels better, so I think we’ll give him an opportunity to come in tomorrow and see what he thinks and see how he feels, and then you go from there. I can’t say definitely he’ll play or he won’t play right now. It’s too early.”

That hardly sounds like a ringing endorsement for Teixeira's health, or his ability to play regularly even if he is able to go tonight.

So what happens then? Does Girardi continue to force Johnson to play a position he clearly is uncomfortable at? Does he start using Brian McCann there, a move that forces him to use both the catchers on his roster in every game, a recipe for eventual disaster?

Do the Yankees relent and give Scott Boras whatever he demands for the services of Kendrys Morales? Or do they dip down into the farm system and take a chance on a kid such as Kyle Roller, who is hitting .286 with three HRs and 9 RBIs for Triple-A Scranton?

As the manager likes to say, none of those options is ideal.

And yet, this is the position the Yankees have put themselves into by assuming (first) that Teixeira would pick up right where he left off two years ago after a serious operation, and (second) that if he couldn't, just about anyone could fill his Gold Glove caliber spikes.

Of all the moves the Yankees made this offseason, their failure to make a move in that situation may be the most baffling of all.

Up now: If you can bear it, the Rapid Reaction from last night's debacle, as well as my postgame blog reacting to the reaction. Kind of a double whammy.

Coming later: Game 1 of the three-game series with the high-flying A's (35-22, .614, best record in the AL). Hiroki Kuroda (4-3, 4.57) vs. Kazmir (6-2, 2.36) first pitch at 7:05 p.m. Andrew Marchand has you covered tonight. I'll be back for Wednesday night's game. As always, thanks for reading.