With Mark Teixeira out for the season, Yankees likely to deal for replacement
Less than two weeks ago, Mark Teixeira went on the disabled list with continued discomfort in his right wrist due to a partially torn tendon sheath, an injury that cost him the first two months of the season and limited him to 15 games upon returning. On Wednesday, the Yankees announced that Teixiera will undergo surgery, ending his season and leaving the team in the market for a stopgap first baseman, given that Teixeira is expected to be ready for Spring Training.
With the Yankees running third in the AL East and scoring an uncharacteristically low 3.91 runs per game this year (11th in the league) — down to 3.41 per game in June — general manager Brian Cashman can no longer presume that the cavalry of Curtis Granderson, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez will provide enough firepower to right the offense. Scrapheap pickup Lyle Overbay has picked up big hits here and there, but he came into Wednesday night’s game batting just .239/.282/.429 with eight homers, including an unplayable .197/.229/.333 in 70 plate appearances against lefties.
With Kevin Youkilis out for 10-12 weeks after surgery to fix a herniated disc, the Yankees don’t have much in the way of in-house option to replace Teixeira. Dan Johnson, their first baseman at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, is hitting just .238/.376/.389 and owns a .185/.309/.379 Major League line in 291 plate appearances since 2008, and similar Quad-A types aren’t going to cut it in this context. So Cashman will work the phone lines to find a solution, knowing that the Yankees can take on salary given that insurance is covering about 80 percent of Teixera’s $22.5 million contract. The Yanks can not only offer a package of prospects, but they can also use pending free agents Phil Hughes or Joba Chamberlain to shake loose someone else’s pending free agent. From among that class of players toiling for non-contenders, here are half a dozen names likely to pop up on Cashman’s radar, though they’re not all ideal solutions. They’re listed alphabetically.
Paul Konerko, White Sox (2013 salary: $13.5 million)
The most accomplished player here given his five All-Star appearances and 429 career homers, Konerko had been a model of consistency in recent years, averaging 31 homers and a .297/.376/.519 line from 2009-2012. At 37 years old, he appears to be showing his age, hitting just .253/.319/.373 with seven homers in 276 plate appearances. A longtime favorite of owner Jerry Reinsdorf and currently captain of the Sox, with whom he’s spent the last 15 years, he’s considered retiring at the end of this contract. With the Sox running last in the AL Central at 32-42, Reinsdorf and executive vice president (former general manager) Kenny Williams may be willing to move him to a situation where he can win another ring, though with 10-and-5 rights, Konerko would have to give his blessing. For what it’s worth — not much given the 55 PA sample size — he’s put up strong numbers in the Yankees’ new ballpark, .286/.364/.592 with four homers.
Kendrys Morales, Mariners ($5.25 million)
Acquired from the Angels in a December trade for Jason Vargas, Morales hasn’t exactly lit it Seattle; he’s hitting .271/.330/.430, with a slightly higher OPS at Safeco Field than on the road. The 30-year-old switch-hitter has traditionally been stronger against righties by more than 100 points of OPS (.285/.339/.499 in 1570 career PA, compared to .262/.305/.429 in 501 PA against lefties), but he’s reversed that trend this year; in 109 PA against southpaws, he’s hitting .306/.376/.480 against southpaws, compared to .253/.305/.403 in 200 PA against righties. Between Morales, Justin Smoak and Jesus Montero, who’s learning first base in the minors, the M’s have a logjam at first base and designated hitter; Morales is the one from among that trio in whom they have the least invested, not to mention the one who’s proven at the big league level, and his low salary means he’ll fetch a reasonable return.
Justin Morneau, Twins ($14 million)
The 2006 AL MVP isn’t the hitter he used to be. Morneau hasn’t been able to recover form since a 2010 concussion knocked him out for half a season, though a litany of other injuries has played a part in sapping his production as well. If the Yankees could be assured he’d approximate last year’s .267/.333/.440 line with 19 home runs, they’d probably sign up for that, but the 32-year-old lefty is hitting a thin .282/.331/.383 with just three homers in 293 PA. Don’t blame Target Field; his road numbers (.241/.306/.292 in 157 PA) are far worse than his home numbers (.326/.360/.481) thus far, though that runs counter to his 2010-2012 trend. One thing likely to pique Cashman’s interest: Morneau’s .458/.536/1.000 line with seven homers in 56 PA in new Yankee Stadium, including three last year.
Mike Morse, Mariners ($6.75 million)
Morse hasn’t been able to match his 31-homer, .303/.360/.550 showing with the Nationals in 2011, which came largely when he was filling in at first base for the Nationals in the absence of Adam LaRoche. The 31-year old righty has spent most of this year in the outfield corners, hitting .251/.313/.454 with 11 homers, though just .225/.287/.384 in 150 PA against righties. His numbers took a hit as he played through a right quad strain at a time when the team was shorthanded, but he’s now on the DL himself as of June 22, and will have to prove he’s healthy before being dealt. Assuming he is, he’s expected to be one of the deadline’s hot commodities.
Carlos Pena, Astros ($2.9 million)
The Yankees know Pena well from his five seasons with the Rays (2007-2010 plus 2012), but he’s no longer the guy who averaged 39 homers and slugged .553 in the first three of those years. Now 35, Pena provides a veteran presence for a young Astros squad, but he’s hitting just .221/.329/.381 with eight homers, and his 867 OPS in 60 PA against lefties this year is hardly enough to offset the .166/.295/.343 he hit in 518 PA against them from 2010-2012. He’s just 3-for-31 without a homer in new Yankee Stadium, which while hardly meaningful still decreases the likelihood the Yankees would give up anything substantial for him.
Mark Reynolds, Indians ($6 million)
The Yankees are well acquainted with Reynolds, given that he hit seven homers and slugged .804 against them last year while playing for the Orioles. The 29-year-old righty has light-tower power but also a whole lot of whiff to his game; from 2008-2011, he averaged 35 homers and 208 strikeouts a year. This year, he’s hitting .234/.323/.426 with 14 homers while playing more third base — a position he’s got no business manning — than first. The Indians are still keeping their heads above water at 39-37, so they may not be so willing to part with him, but given his success in new Yankee Stadium (.264/.349/.639 with seven homers in 83 PA), one can imagine Cashman digging a little deeper here than for some of the other options.