Last year, the New York Yankees had an infield comprised entirely of All-Stars with Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano and Mark Teixeira. This year, Cano is the only infielder still standing and the Yankees have had to rely on utility infielders who weren’t used to playing everyday in Jayson Nix and Eduardo Nunez as well as newcomer veterans Kevin Youkilis and Lyle Overbay to fill the slots left open due to injuries.
Starting in April, with an almost unrecognizable Yankee team from the year before, the infield has done their part to stay in the race while the big name players are still healing. But with Jeter’s return sidelined until the All-Star break, and Rodriguez likely not returning this year at all, coupled with Youkilis’ back problem probably landing him a spot on the DL with the rest of his teammates, it will be necessary for this collection of players to platoon the infield for a while longer. If they don’t start putting up some offensive numbers, it could start to make the team drop in the standings.
Nix is undoubtedly a solid defensive third baseman that can play the line and make diving stops, but his defense is not enough to counter his abysmal offensive game. With just one homerun and no extra base hits so far this year and a .232 batting average, he cannot compare to a power third baseman like A-Rod or a healthy Youkilis. If injuries keep necessitating that he starts in the lineup, he could just become an automatic out as another eight-or-nine hitter that goes down quietly.
Nunez, who was billed to be the next Derek Jeter not too long ago, is likewise having a rough start to the season, hitting just .164 thus far. One thing to give him credit for: his defense has improved dramatically from the close-your-eyes-and-hope-he-makes-the-play shortstop he played last year. However, yet again, defense alone does not cut it, especially when you’re in a slump as bad as he is and you’re starting games on a consistent basis. With Jeter out until July, Nunez will hopefully start to heat up and show some of his talent from previous years. If not, the Yankees are in trouble.
As far as the free agents, the Yankees signed both Youkilis and Overbay to man the infield. They seemed like decent pickups on paper. Youkilis is still a great player who had a rough year in 2012 starting with the unwelcome management of Bobby Valentine leading to a mid-season trade. Overbay, though 36 and some may say washed up, is still a player that can take over while Teixeira is hurt and play off the bench when he returns. Youkilis did have a tremendous start as a Yankee; he hit safely in his first nine games and has had some big homers, but he has recently had to sit out because of his back, and now it looks as if he will be put on the disabled list. Overbay can still hit, and can still play a good (though nothing like Tex’s defense) first. With a big homerun against the Toronto Blue Jays last weekend, he looks as if he might have found a spark; let’s just hope it lasts long enough to take the Yankees through the next few months which will still leave them shorthanded.
The Yankees did as much as they could in the offseason and before the season began to ensure an infield that could compete despite the many injuries. But with another impending injury and the stagnant offense of Nix and Nunez, as well as the unknown factor of how well Teixeria will play upon his return, the infield might become a problem for the Yankees as the season progresses.