The Yankees had a crisis in Spring Training when a little pop in first baseman Mark Teixeira's wrist in WBC batting practice sent him to the disabled list with no guarantees of avoiding surgery. It left the Yankees with a gaping hole at first base, as they were counting on Tex to stay as remarkably durable as he had been during his 10 seasons in the majors prior to 2013. He had only been on the disabled list three times in his career and never appeared in fewer than 123 games, averaging 150 per year from 2003-12. Teixeira's backup over the past few years was right fielder Nick Swisher, but he was allowed to walk in free agency, so the Yankees really didn't have any legitimate backup plan to a Teixeira injury. Juan Rivera? Dan Johnson? The far more fragile Kevin Youkilis, who would be lost a month and a half later anyway? It looked ugly.
Then, toward the end of Spring Training, the Yankees received some help from their biggest rival; the Red Sox cut veteran first baseman Lyle Overbay since they were comfortable with Mike Napoli and backup Mike Carp. Overbay appeared to be a shadow of the doubles machine he once was with the Brewers and Blue Jays a few years ago, but he at least had a sterling defensive reputation. The fact that he was a lefthanded hitter who would be playing half his games at Yankee Stadium certainly did not hurt his case, either. The Yankees scooped him up, gave him a three-day tryout, and suddenly, he was their Opening Day first baseman.
At first, the "break glass in case of emergency" desperation gambit with Overbay appeared to be brilliant. Through mid-May, he was hitting .266/.301/.500 with ten doubles and six homers in 38 games. It also seemed like Teixeira was on the mend, and he returned to the team on May 31st, though the Yankees decided that since Overbay hit so well, they would hold onto him for insurance. (That also led to some silliness with Overbay starting a few games in right field.) Tex's return was short-lived, as he returned to the DL after just 15 games with more wrist pain, and he ultimately needed season-ending surgery. Barring a trade or free agent signing, the Yankees were now stuck with Overbay, for better or for worse. It got worse.
Although Overbay briefly showed his early-season form, he was never quite the same after peaking at an .801 OPS in mid-May. Over the next three months from May 16th through August 15th, a larger sample size than the month and a half at the start of the season, Overbay hit .242/.301/.377 with twelve doubles and seven homers in 71 games. His power mostly disappeared, and his utter incompetence against lefthanded pitching was easily apparent (to date, his wRC+ against lefties is 36, second-worst among 172 qualifying MLB players).
The Yankees then received a blessing from another playoff race rival, the Indians. After an even hotter start than Overbay in Cleveland, first baseman/third baseman Mark Reynolds considerably cooled off. Like Overbay, he struggled after mid-May, batting a meager .180/.272/.243 with just one double and four homers in 61 games with the Tribe. With Swisher at first, third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall on the rise, and DH occupied by a platoon of catcher Carlos Santana and veteran Jason Giambi, the Indians had no use for the slumping slugger, so they dumped him on August 8th. A week later, he was in pinstripes, as the Yankees signed him to provide some righthanded power and to help improve the lineup against lefties.
It has now been about a month since the Yankees signed Reynolds, and the report is "so far, so good." Overbay has been kept as far away from lefty pitching as possible, and Reynolds hit so well at times that manager Joe Girardi stayed with him in the lineup against righties as well. Since joining the Yankees, Reynolds has hit .300/.382/.550 with six doubles and three homers in 20 games, and Overbay has hit .268/.340/.390 in 17 games. The power has still not quite returned to Overbay, who could also simply be fatigued since the 36-year-old has appeared in more games this year than he has since 2010. He sees the ball better off righties anyway, so restricting him to occasional righthanded pitching gives him some rest and put him in an ideal situation to succeed.
Since mid-August, the duo have combined to hit .287/.365/.485 in 115 plate appearances. To compare, Teixeira hit .252/.347/.484 over the past three seasons for the Yankees, so at least for the past month, they have done a fine job replacing his presence in the lineup. Reynolds doesn't play the position very well, but his ability to play third base has allowed the Yankees flexibility to give Alex Rodriguez some necessary days off, too. As demonstrated by his April and subsequent performance though, Reynolds is a very streaky hitter, so the Yankees have to hope that his bat stays hot for the rest of the season, or at least that Overbay's rest subsequently helps him pick up the slack. After all, one month is still a small sample size.
It's unclear what the future holds for Reynolds and Overbay since are both free agents at the end of the season and could move on to other teams given Teixeira's expected return in Spring Training of 2014 (though Reynolds might spark the Yankees' interest at third base given the weak free agent market, internal options, and A-Rod's likely suspension). Nevertheless, the Yankees have done well on the scrap heap to fill in for Teixeira. Hopefully, the duo keeps up the good work for the stretch run as the Yankees attempt a last-ditch effort for the Wild Card.