Thursday, March 19, 2009

Hideki Matsui Throws Final Wrench in Yankee Lineup Options

The New York Yankees came into 2009 with more depth on offense than any year since Darryl Strawberry came off the bench.

With the acquisition of Nick Swisher and the emergence of Brett Gardner in CF, Joe Girardi had countless ways to mix and match a powerful offensive attack.

The signing of Mark Teixeira, however, was the first spark in an eventual flame out of Girardi’s plans.

It is impossible to question the signing of a dynamite offensive leader in his prime who also possesses top-notch defensive prowess.

Teixeira will exponentially improve the Yankees, and is everything Brian Cashman looks for in a potential signing.

The problem is not in his ability. The problem lies in the position that he plays.

By bringing in a 1B that absolutely must play every day for the Yankees to reach their full potential, they in turn eliminated their lineup flexibility.

Nick Swisher and Jorge Posada will no longer be able to cling to 1B as a security blanket, ensuring themselves 75-100 extra at-bats.

As a result, Xavier Nady and Swisher must battle for playing time on a game to game basis.

Swisher seems to have won over Girardi with his attitude and work ethic, leaving Nady uncertain of his ultimate role.

The flexibility issues have magnified themselves with a hip injury to Alex Rodriguez, as well as reports that Hideki Matsui will be unable to play the field until at least June.

The Yankees now have three of their best power threats in Rodriguez, Matsui, and Posada nursing injuries that could leave them in need of temporary DH duty.

While Swisher or Nady losing playing time should not knock fans out of their recliners, losing one of the keys to Yankee success each night would be a crushing blow.

All signs are pointing to Rodriguez being the most likely to return to his everyday role.

If Posada is unable to catch consistently when the season opens, or at any point before Matsui can return to the outfield, the Yankees should be concerned.

With Rodriguez out, Matsui becomes the Yankees only true everyday option at cleanup hitter.

Matsui is able to drive the ball, work the count, get on base, and drive in runs. He has also done it before in the cleanup spot very successfully in New York.

He is simply too good to keep out of the lineup when healthy.

There were clear signs that his knees felt strong as he rotated on them to crush a deep home run into the night on Tuesday. He also ripped a double down the right field line.

Matsui’s importance leaves the Yankees in a terrible spot in the event Posada cannot catch 120 games.

It appears that the same issues that haunted the lineup in 2008 could affect this year’s team.

The Yankees could be left trying to fit squares pegs into a round hole if they cannot successfully heal from injuries.

The pitching staff should be able to hold the Yankees afloat until the summer months, but the pennant race will require them to be firing on all cylinders.

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