From this day forward I think we can all agree to never, under any circumstance, question what Brian Cashman is doing again. The Yankees general manager took a verbal beating from almost every sports writer this winter over the moves, or lack thereof, that he was making. Signing Travis Hafner? Nah, he’s too old and brittle. Kevin Youkilis? No way jose, he’s a one of those Red Sox, plus he can’t hit anymore. How about swapping for Vernon Wells? Ha, don’t make me laugh.
These lackluster acquisitions, plus numerous injuries to the roster, were supposed to finally sink a Yankee ship that appeared to be too battered from years of battles to stay afloat. Yes, Robinson Cano and CC Sabathia were still aboard, but they weren’t going to be able to make up for the loss of Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, and Curtis Granderson, among others. The hope was that the replacements would hold the fort until the cavalry made their way back. But that hasn’t been the case this season. Buoyed by an excellent pitching staff, a deep bullpen, and some surprise offensive breakouts from Cashman’s reserves, the Yankees have gotten off to a rousing 19-13 start that has defied even the biggest optimists expectations.
No player in baseball has been a bigger surprise this year than Vernon Wells, who’s revitalized his career in the Bronx. Wells has been a punchline for the better part of the last 3 or 4 seasons thanks to his inability to perform up to his massively overpriced contract. In fact, the Angels were so desperate to be rid of Wells that they kicked in $28 million just to get rid of him.
That might not have been the best of ideas. All Wells has done since coming to New York is crush the baseball, hitting .287 with 7 homers and 4 stolen bases. He was a crucial part of the Yankees’ win on Tuesday evening in Colorado, blasting a 2-run homer in the top of the 1st to get the Yankees the lead before scoring the winning run in the 9th. Hell, thanks to a depleted bench Wells even played a little 3rd base, scooping up the only grounder that came his way and converting it into an out. At age 34, Vernon Wells could be having his finest season in the big leagues.
Another veteran making the most of his opportunity is Travis Hafner. Pronk, as he’s affectionately known, was brought in for the sole purpose of providing some pop from the left side of the plate and that’s exactly what he’s done over the first month-and-a-half of the season. His 6 homers and 18 RBI are 2nd on the ball club and more importantly, Hafner’s been free of injury. As long as he stays that way, I don’t see any reason why Hafner won’t top 20 homers for the first time in 6 years.
The rest of the Yankees’ replacement players haven’t had as much success, but they’ve still played vital roles in keeping the Yankees in the thick of things. Eduardo Nunez and Jayson Nix have combined to create a decent defensive shortstop despite the fact that they’ve combined to hit .212 up to this point. The front office was extremely worried about the Nunez’s defense but it’s actually been solid up to this point. His reworked throwing motion has solved a majority of his problems and his range is refreshing.
Lyle Overbay has also played an important role this year in replacing the offense and defense of Mark Teixeira. Overbay hasn’t been able to get on base all that often but he’s made up for it a bit by popping 5 homers and by being generally reliable with the glove. Teixeira appears to be eyeballing a return in early June and he’s about ready to start taking batting practice again, which makes you wonder how much longer Overbay has left on this roster. Even if it’s just a few more weeks, he’s done more than a solid job of filling in.
Kevin Youkilis and Francisco Cervelli have also rewarded Cashman’s faith in them when they’ve been able to be on the field. Cervelli’s defense may not be as good as Russell Martin’s, but he’s a hell of a lot cheaper and on offense he’s actually been quite a bit better this year. Before he broke his hand the Yankees’ new catcher was hitting .269 with 3 homers and 8 RBI in 17 games worth of action. Youkilis also looked revived during the first 3 weeks of the young season, popping 2 homers while spraying the ball all over the field, but as per the norm he’s hurt again.
Now, not all of Cashman’s moves can be winners. “You have your great moves and you have your moves that don’t work out,” Cashman said. “Every GM has their rabbits that they pulled out of a hat and then they have the ones they wished they never pulled.” Both Ben Francisco and Brennan Boesch have been big flops up to this point. At this point, Francisco would have trouble hitting water if he fell out of a boat and Boesch hasn’t been much better, especially when you consider his abysmal defense. But hey, I’m sure Brian Cashman will take a couple of bad rabbits in exchange for a 19-13 start and a spot near the top of the AL East.