Curtis Granderson has gone down. He'll be out for around 10 weeks, which will put his return somewhere around the beginning of May. The Yankees can survive for one month without him. Before we go into who the Yankees could replace him with, let's look at the truths that we currently have:
Cashman: "it's baseball. Youhave to adjust." said all options as of now are internal— Erik Boland (@eboland11) February 24, 2013
Cashman says Nunez is not an option for him in LF— Bryan Hoch (@BryanHoch) February 24, 2013
#Yankees, if they choose, can find a better option toward end of camp. However, will be much more difficult for Granderson to learn LF now.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) February 24, 2013
#yankees would not give up a top or even good prospect for a. soriano. do think theyd pay $10M of the $36M to go— Jon Heyman (@JonHeymanCBS) February 20, 2013
In case you're wondering, Girardi said Tyler Austin & Slade Heathcott will not be considered to replace Curtis Granderson in April.— Bryan Hoch (@BryanHoch) February 25, 2013
Now that we have that all out of the way, here are some realistic possibilities for left field.
Option 1: We all know the Yankee organization's affinity for veterans, so while one of Juan Rivera and Matt Diaz was supposed to make the roster as a right-handed bat off the bench, both could be on the team as they try to fill the hole left by Granderson.
Before the injury, the player who could hit lefties the best was probably going to get the job, but now the one who can hit righties too could be the most useful when replacing Granderson. For his career, Rivera has a 115 wRC+ against lefties and a 95 wRC+ against righties for his career, while Diaz has a 127 wRC+ against lefties and 79 wRC+ against righties. Both could be on the team, but Diaz should be kept to hit lefties off the bench once Granderson returns and Rivera can be dealt with when the time comes. Obviously, this all depends on how they perform from here.
Option 2: Thomas Neal was once a promising young prospect in the San Francisco Giants organization until he hit a wall in Triple-A. Between 2007 and 2010 Neal crushed the ball. In 2009 he had a 1.010 OPS with 22 home runs in A-ball. He could never match that year, as he was promoted to Double-A in 2010 and still hit well, but never as astonishing.
In 2011, in Triple-A, his prospect status fell and he was eventually traded to the Indians for Orlando Cabrera and he continued to struggle. He was demoted to Double-A in 2012 and put up his best numbers since 2009, earning a call up in September. He was designated for assignment to make room for Nick Swisher and was then released.
He sounds like another Chris Dickerson, if not for the fact that he is still just 25 and could definitely re-energize his stock. He could use a chance to play and if he succeeds, could find his way onto the roster even when Granderson returns.
Option 3: Melky Mesa just turned 26 and made it to Triple-A last year before earning a cameo appearance call up at the end of the 2012 season. He's knocking on the door and is definitely the most advanced internal outfield prospect the Yankees currently have. He can steal a good amount of bases for the offense, but he strikes out a lot and doesn't walk much, so his potential advantages might be counteracted by his drawbacks.
If the Yankees need someone to fill in for Curtis Granderson, Melky can bring along some athletic defense that will be needed to patrol left field in Yankee Stadium. He can also provide great speed on the base path as a pinch runner, which can hopefully prevent someone like Travis Hafner from having to run the bases late in the game.
He's been an above average hitter since his first year in A-ball in 2008. He has slowly decreased his astronomically high strikeout rate and increased his walk rate, so the idea of him getting better isn't that out of the question. In the end, he only has to fill in for a month and, since he's a right handed batter, that time can be used to evaluate him and see what kind of player he can be for the team. He could have been a useful bat off the bench even before Granderson got hurt, so this makes it even more likely he could make the team.
Option 4: Zoilo Almonte is a switch hitter who has over 500 plate appearances in Double-A. He's put up good numbers since graduating to Single-A in 2009, but it is clear he could probably use more development. Time in Triple-A would allow him a chance to hit more consistently. It's taken him time to adjust to A-Advanced and Double-A pitching, but in the next year starting at those levels he's adapted and continued his hitting ways.
He still needs to trim down on his strikeouts and hopefully repair his ability to take walks, because even though he's hitting the ball, he's also being exposed as an impatient hitter. He still won't be 24 until June, so he has time to develop still, but sometimes baseball doesn't allow you time. Bringing him to the MLB level before he's seen Triple-A could be a disaster or it could work to prove him as a reliable hitter. If he can adapt to better pitching he could make an impact for the month he is needed and can then be sent down to continue working on his game.
He has power and speed, so he can definitely be valuable to the team at some point, it's just a matter of how valuable he can be right here, right now when they need him. Putting Zoilo Almonte on the roster would be taking a calculated risk because you'd be hoping he can adapt when he's needed. It could end up either way, so the Yankees might want a surer thing.
Option 5: Ronnier Mustelier is unfortunately not on the 40-man roster at this point, otherwise he'd probably be the best choice for the job. Mustelier is 28-years-old and not much of a prospect, but there is one thing he can do, and that's hit. He's shot through the system in two year and has mashed all the way through, even if he was a 26 year old in Rookie-ball.
The reason he should be considered more than anyone, even if he's not the easiest or most logical choice, is that this is precisely what a player like him is for. He's a fringe Quadruple-A player and a month of playing time can display whether or not he can be an effective major league player, if even just a fill-in. He's a big dude that probably brings a lot of power, if not home run power (only 20 in two years), and can slug in the high .400s- low .500s.
Mustelier could always turn out to be exactly what people think he is, or he could be something better. The benefit of letting him try would be that it would save the Yankees having to charge service time to one of their actual prospects. He can limit his strikeouts and does take the occasional walk, so he's no Jorge Vazquez, like he's compared to. He can actually play baseball and since he can hack it in the outfield there's no reason not to give him the chance.
Option 6: The Cuban prospect, Adonis Garcia, is already 27 years old and even though he shot up through the system in 2012, it was clear that he was much older than his competition at every level. He'll be 28 in April so that prospect status is leaving him. He hit .263/.311/.424 in 241 plate appearances and ended the year with a .288/.325/.492 batting line in 126 plate appearances in Trenton.
While he doesn't have a lot of experience and has had very little opportunity to adapt to American competition, he has certainly hit the ball. A strong spring could get the organization to give him a chance. He can play for a month and if he impresses he might have a future with the Yankees. If not, he can easily be shipped back down and hopefully given more time to improve for another chance.
Non-Option 7: In the sake of due diligence, the Yankees options on the free agent market are surprisingly non-existent. There is Grady Sizemore, Scott Podsednik, Johnny Damon, and Bobby Abreu. That's it. Sizemore won't even be healthy to be useful and none of the other three offer any long term benefit to the team to make a signing worth it. Not even for minor league depth because the roster is full.
Unlikely Option 8: Cashman says he doesn't want to make a trade, and he shouldn't, but if there is a way to upgrade the team long term then it should be looked into. The Yankees could spring a trade for Drew Stubbs of the Indians, now that he's been booted out of centerfield in favor of Michael Bourn. Stubbs is under contract until 2016, so he will be part of the team for a long time. He won't block the future because he can't hit right handed pitching (77 wRC+), but slugs lefties (120 wRC+) so he could replace the Diaz/Rivera contingent in favor for a more useful player.
Unlikely Option 9: Casper Wells of the Seattle Mariners could also be a target as he could also slip into that lefty masher off the bench. He's been great against lefties (132 wRC+) and sub-par against righties (88 wRC+) so he'd actually be a better, possibly cheaper, option than Stubbs. Wells is also under team control until 2017, so he seems to be the superior candidate. He's also suffered from playing in Seattle, so a move to Yankee Stadium will definitely help his overall numbers.