I realize that Cliff Corcoran submitted a Pinstriped Bible position paper on this weighty issue just yesterday, but I wanted to get my own two cents in here. The way I see it, this is a fairly simple issue. Mark Teixeira got hurt and the Yankees didn't have a ready first baseman on hand. They gambled on the veteran Overbay, who, as Cliff said, has hit a combined .239/.315/.369 with 11 home runs in 571 plate appearances over his previous two seasons. They won: Overbay has played too much against left-handed pitching and thus has ruined his overall line, but against the guys he is supposed to hit, he's averaged .286/.328/.540 with seven home runs in 132 plate appearances heading into Thursday's game.
Overbay's line against righties is very possibly better than what Mark Teixeira would have done had he been healthy -- after all, this is a guy who has hit .252/.347/.484 over the last three seasons. Had the Yankees been able to find a way to platoon Overbay (say by not burning a roster spot on Ben Francisco for eight weeks), you might even have been able to rate Teixeira's injury as something the Yankees not only overcame, but inadvertently benefitted from.
Now that Teixeira is on the verge of returning, there seems to be a great deal of head-scratching as to what to do with this outstanding discovery Overbay. What you do is this: be unfailingly polite. Once you know Teixeira is healthy and his wrist is functional (these are two different things, actually, and there's no good way to do anything about it), say, "Thank you very much. Where can we forward your dry cleaning?"
This may seem like it's not suitably respectful of what Overbay has accomplished. I don't mean it that way. When it comes to things that might impact a team's Won-Lost record I try to be totally unsentimental. Overbay is 36 years old, and he's a career .275/.367/.456 hitter against right-handed pitching, and a .245/.330/.410 hitter against them from 2010 through 2012. If his hitting them well as he has to date is unlikely, his continuing to do so is spectacularly unlikely. The benching he's about to have is unearned, but sooner or later he was going to regress.
You can continue to carry him as a reserve and pinch-hitter, but since he is limited to first base and you already have non-defender Travis Hafner on the bench, the Yankees are going to have very limited flexibility in terms of substitutions. It's nice to have pinch-hitters, especially with light bats like Chris Stewart and Jayson Nix in the lineup, but you have to have players you can replace them with afterwards. The 12-man pitching staff doesn't leave a great deal of room for that. If the Yankees want to carry Overbay, Hafner, Teixeira, and 12 pitchers, it requires them to eliminate one of Reid Brignac, David Adams, or Brennan Boesch. All of those choices have really difficult consequences, and so it seems inevitable that Overbay is ultimately going to have to go.
It would be great to see the Yankees buck conventional roster trends and go with 11 pitchers -- teams commonly went with 10 as recently as 20 years ago, give or take -- but that seems unlikely to happen.*
*Update: The Yankees dropped Vidal Nuno and Ivan Nova down to Triple-A to make room for Youkilis and Teixeira, so they actually are going with 11 pitchers for now. I don't expect it will last.
What's fascinating here is that because Overbay has done so well, it's a mistake to consider his return as a major upgrade. Teixeira is a good fielder, so is Overbay. Teixeira is a power hitter and Overbay is not, but he's not going to slug .540 against right-handers -- he's been 90 points lower than that over the last three years. Now, Overbay can't hit lefties and Teixeira has continued to murder them (.283/.377/.550), so that represents a big improvement for the lineup as a whole and for frustrating opposing managers who want to play match-ups with their bullpens, but overall, this change is probably less of an upgrade than we see it as just because the player coming in is MARK TEIXEIRA. It will be an upgrade in the sense of a negative avoided -- Overbay's likely regression -- but in terms of the team's current outlook, it means something more like continuity.
Of course, Teixeira could be significantly better than his last three years, but he could also be worse -- as we've often seen, for a player with a wrist injury, being healthy enough to play is not the same thing as being healthy enough to hit. Still, there's not a lot of choice here -- there's no roster designation for "only technically healthy," and if Teixeira is on the roster he's going to play.
As for trading Overbay for something wonderful, say an upgrade at shortstop, I very much doubt that's going to happen. Even if one believes that Overbay can slug .550 against righties for the rest of the year, his value is so highly transient that there's little point in giving up anything worthwhile for him. It's far more likely that teams will see Overbay for what he is, a player at the end of his string who managed to get hot at the right time. There are teams that could use help at first base, but most of them have little incentive to trade, having either veteran players they're hoping will improve (Paul Konerko, Ike Davis, Todd Helton), have injured players on the way back (the Brewers with Corey Hart), or just aren't serious (the Marlins).
Given those conditions, the Yankees will be lucky to get anything at all. So, perhaps we should say, "Sayonara, Lyle." Then again, there might have been another injury by the time you read this.
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