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An offensive conundrum


Can we call what the Yankees are going through right now, with the Yankees pushing past four runs just once in the last seven games a slump? Sure we can, because it has gone on a lot longer than that. After hitting .286/.367/.452 in April and May and scoring an average of 5.7 runs per game, they dropped off to .245/.333/.401 and 4.8 runs per game in June. It wasn’t just the Mariners or the six games played without the designated hitter in NL parks. The Yankees didn’t hit much in the first half of the month, then slid off as the days went on.

You can pick a half-dozen culprits. Brett Gardner (.383/.472/.533) and Robinson Cano (.333/.398/.510) had good months. Mark Teixeira was about average for an AL first baseman, which isn’t saying much this year. Everyone else was different flavors of slumpy. Curtis Granderson and Alex Rodriguez hit some home runs but had on-base percentages around .300. Derek Jeter hit .243/.339/.379, which isn’t terrible only because the average MLB shortstop is hitting only .264/.321/.371. The worst slumps took place in the DH/catching axis. Francisco Cervelli’s good luck on balls in play ran out and he hit .180/.275/.246 on the month. Jorge Posada was better because he was willing to walk but hit only .203/.337/.351.

The question here is, who can you expect to get better? Teixeira should continue to heat up. A-Rod was great in May (.330/.408/.534) and seems to be waking up again. Curtis Granderson might find some consistency if the Yankees would just stop asking him to do things he’s incapable of doing, but that doesn’t seem to be in the cards right now, so don’t expect much more. Jeter has been roughly consistent at his current level since the end of April, and at 36 he might not find his way back to the light. Posada is 38; the same thing goes for him. Nick Swisher has changed his style, so while we can note that so far he’s had one major hot streak bookended by two very mediocre months, we can’t know where the ride is going to stop. Cano might maintain something like consistency; Gardner is going to get worse.

Finally, I know that I was a bit infatuated with Cervelli earlier in the year, but I hereby renounce any statements made in that moment of limerence. I spent the winter and the spring saying he wouldn’t hit and I should have stuck with that. Even at his April-May rates of .320/.388/.400, he wasn’t a major offensive threat. Then he went 0-for-June. The aggregate leaves the Yankees with an everyday player who doesn’t really do anything well. Even if he rebounds to .275, it’s a powerless, low-walk .275 -- Cervelli is on a bullet train to the replacement level.

In a close race, those low-level performances are the ones a team can’t tolerate. The last thing the Yankees need to do is trade for a catcher given that they have enough of them in the minors to staff out a performance of "Cirque du Backstop." However, given the unknowns about the offense -- whether this is a slump that is going to heal itself in a big way -- they will need to do what they can to augment things. That means more Posada behind the plate, because even a diminished Posada is a more productive hitter than Cervelli. It means platooning Granderson and Marcus Thames when the latter comes back, and doing so religiously. It means acquiring a real DH. Brian Cashman could kill two birds with one stone by acquiring an everyday player who could bounce between DH against right-handers and left field against left-handers, but that seems a tall order. There are some interesting part-time types that might be available, free agents to be like Austin Kearns and Coco Crisp, but while they might be cheaper than trying to pry away a star, they won’t solve the whole problem. On the other hand, getting a right-handed hitting outfielder like Kearns who can actually catch the ball would free Thames to DH against lefties, improving the defense. Alternatively, the Yankees could go for a big prize, live with Thames in the outfield once or twice a week, and just pick up Prince Fielder and let him hit every day.

Fixing the offense will take some pressure off the pitching staff, be it a now-revived A.J. Burnett (no longer a castaway without an Eiland) or the bullpen, which needs to be gutted. It’s easy to pick on Chan Ho Park since he never should have been signed. (It’s so easy for even a good GM to make a mistake with a reliever -- almost every bullpen acquisition is a game of Russian roulette. With Park, a couple of extra barrels were clearly loaded.) He is, however, not the whole problem. These problems leave Brian Cashman and the Yankees’ braintrust with a conundrum: in this year’s edition of Pursue the Pennant, how much in prospects and treasure do you want to spend?