Lyle Overbay and the Yankees' roster squeeze

Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

Overbay has exceeded expectations with the Yankees, but does he really have a spot on the roster upon the possible return of Kevin Youkilis and Mark Teixeira tomorrow?

The Yankees are hoping to get Mark Teixeira and Kevin Youkilis back from the disabled list tomorrow. This is a good thing. Though their pitching has kept them in contention, the Yankees have scored just 4.2 runs per game on the season, the fifth worst rate in the American League, and if you leave out their two-game outburst against the Indians to start the season's second week, that figure drops to 3.84 runs per game. By way of comparison, the Astros have scored 3.87 runs per game this season. The Yankees need Teixeira and Youkilis back like a fish needs to get back in the water.

Still, exactly how the Yankees should make room on their roster for those two has been the subject of some debate. The Yankees are currently carrying 13 pitchers, so getting rid of the extra arm to clear one spot is a given, but which hitter should be dumped to clear the other is a question complicated by position scarcity.

That situation is partially the result of injuries, and partially the result of the inflexibility of the men on their roster. Travis Hafner, for example, is hitting .258/.378/.508 on the season, but hasn't played an inning in the field since 2007. Lyle Overbay is second on the team in RBIs and third in slugging, but has played nowhere other than first base since 2001. David Adams can play second and third, but hasn't played an inning at shortstop as a professional.

As a result, the most obvious candidate for demotion, Reid Brignac, would leave the Yankees in a situation in which their only backup to Jayson Nix at shortstop would be Robinson Cano, who last fielded a ball at the position in 2003. That's not a situation in which you want to put your best and most durable player. So Brignac (or a replacement utility infielder) stays until Eduardo Nuñez's return, which got a little further away when he aggravated his oblique in batting practice on Sunday.

The Yankees could send down Brennan Boesch, who was just recalled to replace the re-injured Curtis Granderson, but doing so would leave Nix and Youkilis as their only extra outfielders. That's a bit more doable, but hardly ideal, and they can't get by with less than two catchers, so optioning Austin Romine is right out.

That moves the target to the backs of the two men who will lose their starting jobs with the return of Teixeira and Youkilis: David Adams and Lyle Overbay. To the casual observer, Adams would quickly lose that contest, but I wouldn't be so quick to make that judgment.

The short version of "whynot" is that Adams and Overbay have posted very similar lines thus far this season, and Adams is ten years younger and plays two more positions (he played two games at first base in Triple-A earlier this year).

The long version goes something like this. Yes, Adams has a mere .280 on-base percentage thus far, but Overbay's OBP is .292 and both have track records suggesting that they should improve in that area, Overbay with a .351 career OBP in the majors and Adams with a .380 career OBP in the minors. So you can throw any OBP-based argument out in this comparison.

Overbay obviously has the longer major league track record, but that cuts both ways. Though he's only 36, he's generally regarded as a player near the end of the line. He was released by the Pirates in August 2011, by the Braves in August 2012, and by the Red Sox this March, which is how he wound up a Yankee in the first place. Over the last two seasons, he hit a combined .239/.315/.369 with 11 home runs in 571 plate appearances. The power he has shown thus far has been fluky and not a result of his taking advantage of new Yankee Stadium's short porch (just three of his five home runs have come at home).

Adams is a 26-year-old with little left to prove in the minors having hit .306/.385/.450 in Double-A last year and .316/.407/.490 in 113 plate appearances at Triple-A this year. With Youkilis on a one-year contract and Alex Rodriguez likely a designated hitter going forward given that he'll be 38 in July and has now had surgery on both hips, Adams could be a valuable piece for the Yankees to develop at the major league level and should be in the mix to be their starting third baseman next season.

What's more, Adams fits this team's needs better right now given that he's a right-handed bat. With Teixeira and Youkilis back in the fold, it's unclear when the left-handed Overbay would play. It certainly wouldn't be against lefties, against whom he has hit just .154/.196/.269 this season, albeit in the admittedly small sample of 56 plate appearances, and against righties, the Yankees are already set at first base and DH with the lefty-swinging Teixeira and Hafner. Adams, however, could work his way into a complex platoon with the lefty Hafner, starting at third base against lefties while Hafner sits to allow the switch-hitting Teixeira and right-handed Youkilis split first base and DH duties. Adams has gone 6-for-13 with a pair of doubles and just one strikeout against major league lefties thus far, an absurdly small sample, but an encouraging one.

So how do you cut the guy who is second on the team in RBIs? Well, first you recognize that Overbay is second on the team in RBIs because he's third in plate appearances and one of the guys ahead of him on the PA list is leadoff hitter Brett Gardner. Then you note that, while Overbay has indeed been above average in RBI situations, he's just 61st in the league among players with 100 or more plate appearances in OBI%, the percentage of baserunners on base during his at-bats he has driven in, and Hafner and Cano are effectively tied with his 17.1 percent rate in that department among active Yankees.

Overbay does seem to be doing something real in RBI situations, specifically, adopting a contact-oriented, singles-hitting approach. To wit, six of Overbay's eight home runs have come with the bases empty while just one has come with a runner in scoring position. Similarly, he has struck out once every 4.6 plate appearances with the bases empty, but just once every 6.1 PA with men in scoring position. While he was walked nearly twice as many times in less than half as many PA with runners in scoring position compared to with the bases empty. That's a heady, veteran approach, and a valuable one, but it's also the only reason I can think of to even consider keeping Overbay on the team over Adams.

When push comes to shove, though, it's not Adams who would be taking over Overbay's playing time, it's Teixeira, a player who, in his worst season last year, was better than Overbay has been thus far this season. Assuming Teixeira can stay healthy and return at least to his disappointing level of 2012, the Yankees will be better off without Overbay on Friday than they are with him today.

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