Yesterday's rainout gave everybody an extra day to process the first 13 games and form some more opinions on what this team needs right now. Obviously the infield is the biggest area of concern, but not according to Hal Steinbrenner. Speaking to reporters for what I believe is the first time since the regular season started, Hal shared his thoughts on the Yankees' current infield situation. They were unanimously positive:
"I'm pretty content with our infield right now. I think guys like Anna and Solarte have been pleasant surprises. Kelly Johnson has been good. Derek is healthy. So so far, so good. But it's early."
Nothing to really argue with there. If I wanted to pick nits, I could say that calling Derek Jeter "healthy" when he just had to miss a few games due to a sore quad is a bit of a stretch, but I won't go there. Hal's basically right about everybody he mentioned in that statement. Anna and Solarte have been unexpected surprises, Johnson has been very good at the plate and better than anticipated at the corner infield spots, and Jeter has been relatively healthy and productive through 2 weeks. But Teix is out, Cervelli is out, Brendan Ryan is out, and Brian Roberts will be out for a yet to be determined amount of time. That should be enough injuries to put the Yankees in the market for some more infield help, right? Wrong.
"So far, I'm pretty content with where we are. But I will always analyze options. That's my job throughout the course of the whole year."
It's good to know that Hal and the rest of the front office are still analyzing options, although I'd prefer that Cash and the baseball people in the FO handle the bulk of that. What doesn't sit as well is Hal's stated contentment with where the club and the infield in particular are at the moment. It seems to me like he's being blinded by the small sample size lights and not seeing the bigger picture.
Yes, Yangervis Solarte has been way better than anybody expected. He's been the best non-Tanaka story on the team through 2 weeks and he's earned the right to stay in the lineup as an everyday player somewhere when Teix comes back. But he's not going to hit .357/.413/.500 for the rest of the season. He's not going to lead the team with a .400 wOBA into the summer. The best season he ever had in his MiL career was a .329/.367/.466 year in Double-A ball in 2011. Solarte has gotten off to an incredible start, but the facts are it's a start that consists of only 46 plate appearances and that slash line is artificially boosted by an unsustainable .417 BABIP.
Same deal with Dean Anna, who actually hasn't hit much (.634 OPS in 18 PA). He's been fine as Jeter's sub for a game here or there and he's handled the defensive responsibilities at shortstop very well. In all honesty, he's been about as perfect an approximation of Brendan Ryan as the Yanks could have hoped for. But like Solarte, he's a MiL lifer. He's not the ideal full-time solution at short if Jeter's quad turns out to be more problematic than Joe thinks, nor is he the ideal full-time solution there if Jeter suffers some other kind of leg injury that is severe enough to land him on the DL. He's a bench guy moonlighting as a starter, no different than the Reids Brignac, Albertos Gonzalez, and Chrises Nelson of last season.
For Hal to say he's content with the Yankees' infield situation, one that's hanging its hat on the early SSS successes of Solarte and Anna, he might as well be saying he hasn't learned anything from last year. Last year the Yankees didn't have a good backup plan for their old and injury-prone infield and they suffered for it. Now they have 75% of their Opening Day infield dealing with injuries in mid-April this year and their only backup plan that we know of at this point in time is to rely on 2 players in their mid-20s whose previous teams didn't want to keep them on the 40-man roster and a guy coming off 2 consecutive major knee surgeries. I don't know about you, but I don't feel all that comfortable with that.
Early April performance is not a guarantee of future performance and it's even less of one for fringe guys like Solarte and Anna. They've done a great job so far and I'd love for both of them to hang around on the bench or back in Triple-A for added insurance, but the bottom line is the Yankees could use more infield help. I'd go as far as saying they need it. Sooner or later, Solarte and his BABIP are going to crash back to earth. Sooner or later, Jeter and/or Roberts are going to spend time on the DL. And who knows? Kelly Johnson could get hurt today. As presently constructed, the Yanks aren't prepared to deal with any of those things.
I'm done trying to sell people on Stephen Drew. If you don't think a guy with a .264/.329/.435 Major League career slash line who's averaged almost 15 HR and 2+ fWAR per year in his 5 healthy seasons is worth the cost to help this team, fine. But he is a better baseball player than Yangervis Solarte and Dean Anna. So is Didi Gregorius. And Nick Franklin. Gordon Beckham might be too. The point here is that Hal and the rest of the front office should not be content to sit back and be happy that they unearthed a few guys who have helped in a pinch. They need to keep thinking and looking ahead and searching for better players to beef up this infield. It looks like it's shaping up to be another long year of health problems for that group and Solarte is not going to lead the team in hitting forever.
(Photo courtesy of Getty Images)