Commentary

Grandy injury hurts outfield plans

Broken forearm makes it difficult for Yankees to shift Gardner to center in 2013

Updated: February 24, 2013, 8:17 PM ET
By Wallace Matthews | ESPNNewYork.com

TAMPA, Fla. -- Curtis Granderson may go down as the first player in baseball history to hold onto a job with a busted arm.

He may not be able to grip a bat or throw a baseball for the next two months, but the irony of the injury he suffered in his first real at-bat of the spring is that it will make it very difficult for the Yankees to do what they clearly had intended, which was to make Brett Gardner their everyday center fielder for 2013.

Now, thanks to the fractured right forearm that will send Granderson to the sidelines for approximately 10 weeks, Gardner will be the Yankee center fielder until early May.

Granderson
AP Photo/Matt SlocumCurtis Granderson was injured in his first at-bat of the spring Sunday against the Blue Jays.

After that, the odds are Granderson will be given his old job back by default.

The reason is simple: The Yankees already knew Gardner could play center, having seen him handle it quite well for two seasons before Granderson joined the club in 2010.

But they really didn't know if Granderson could play left. Now, they will never find out.

Joe Girardi's hesitation in calling the position swap permanent -- he kept saying "it's something we're toying with right now" -- was based solely on the fact that he needed to see Granderson at his new position before he committed to the change.

That's what these 33 preseason games have always been for, to try out things you wouldn't dare try in a real game except in the case of dire emergency.

The plan was for Gardner and Granderson to use the next six weeks of spring training to adjust to their new roles, to re-acquaint themselves with each other's tendencies -- not having played together save for a handful of games in 2012 -- and for each to carve out his own slice of the outfield.

Now, Granderson will not play in any of those pretend baseball games. If he is going to learn to play left, it will have to be in the real thing, and the New York Yankees have never gone in for on-the-job training.

When Granderson comes back, odds are Girardi, who is cautious by nature, and GM Brian Cashman, who prefers to play the percentages, will send Granderson back to where he feels most comfortable rather than risk an outfield disaster in a game that counts.

Why should you, as a Yankees fan, care?

Here's why: Even before the Yankees lost a five-week portion of the 40-plus homer season they were counting on from Granderson, they had already allowed 94 home runs and 279 RBIs to walk out the door this winter. Throw in at least a half a season of no Alex Rodriguez, and the total jumps to over 100 home runs and more than 300 RBIs.

Although they signed Kevin Youkilis, Travis Hafner, Juan Rivera and Matt Diaz -- the latter of whom now become very important players at least for the first month of the season -- they didn't come close to replacing the run production they lost with the departures of Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, Raul Ibanez, Andruw Jones and Eric Chavez.

That is why the emphasis this spring has been on pitching and defense -- remember, Girardi isn't looking for a catcher who hits, either -- because even before a game is played it is quite obvious this will be a different kind of Yankee offense in 2013.

This year's Yankees were going to be less reliant on the home run, anyway, and more reliant on run prevention.

That is what the swap of Gardner and Granderson was designed to accomplish.

No matter how Girardi publicy hedged his bets, or why -- probably, he wanted to see how Granderson would be affected by the switch before rubber-stamping it for good -- clearly, he and Cashman thought Gardner in center and Granderson in left gave them a better chance of preventing runs.

And certainly, the stats people, with their UZRs, TZLs and FSRs, would agree.

But now, the Yankees probably aren't going to be able to do that.

As Cashman said after Granderson's injury was discovered, "That experiment's over."

And so it is. Gardner is at center. For now. Granderson likely will be there when he comes back.

"Believe me, that crossed my mind," Girardi said. "What do we do when he comes back? It's something we'll talk about over the next few days, figure out what we're going to do there. Probably depends on, too, who the guy is who replaces him -- well, no, it doesn't depend on that. It doesn't depend on who the guy is who replaces him."

No, it doesn't. It depended on Granderson, who just lost his chance to learn to become a left fielder in six weeks or less.

That is why it is somewhat silly to go crazy about who the Yankees should get to replace him. There's talk of trying to bring back Alfonso Soriano. And Vernon Wells, who's had two miserable seasons with the Angels, probably could be had along with his $21 million salary for the next two seasons.

There is always every Yankees fan's pipe dream, that the Miami Marlins will see fit to part with Giancarlo Stanton, one of the most talented young hitters in the game who happens to have a bargain-basement pricetag, just to help the Yankees out.

And I fully expect to hear from some people suggesting the Yankees take a chance on Vladimir Guerrero or Gary Sheffield -- neither of whom has played in a big-league game in years. (You know who you are out there).

But the truth is, the Yankees will probably be all right for the first five weeks of the season without Granderson. Diaz and Rivera are capable enough to handle left field until May, and they have a couple of young kids, notably Melky Mesa, Zoilo Almonte and Ronnier Mustelier (who looks a lot older than his official 28 years), who might be able to contribute in part-time roles.

And besides, this year's Yankees offense is going to need to score runs the old-fashioned way -- through having guys like Gardner, Ichiro Suzuki and Derek Jeter reach base, and then getting timely hits -- though not necessarily home runs -- from Robinson Cano and Mark Teixeira and Youkilis.

"We might have to score runs in a little bit different way," Girardi said on Sunday, but he's been saying that all spring anyway, even when he thought he would have Granderson. So that hasn't changed.

What has changed is that the grand plan -- no pun intended -- now has to be shelved simply because one of the guys involved in it will no longer be available to learn his role.

The Yankees should be able to survive the first five weeks of the regular season without Curtis Granderson's bat in their lineup.

But can they survive the 20 weeks after that with his glove in center field?

Wallace Matthews has covered New York sports since 1983 as a reporter, columnist, radio host and TV commentator. He covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com after working for Newsday, the New York Post, the New York Sun and ESPN New York 98.7 FM.
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