If there was one thing members of the Yankees front office enjoyed talking about this winter, it was their goal of getting younger and more athletic. Whether it came from the mouth of Brian Cashman, special assistant Jim Hendry, club president Randy Levine or Hal Steinbrenner himself, the same talking point got hammered home early and often with little ambiguity. The Yankees were seeking
cheap energy and upside over expensive proven experience.
Somewhat surprisingly, the Yankees actually followed through on their agenda. Their noteworthy acquisitions in Aroldis Chapman, Starlin Castro and Aaron Hicks are all 27 or younger and they shed several twilight years players like Stephen Drew, Brendan Ryan, Chris Capuano and Chris Young. Five of the six pitchers who'll compete for starts in the Yankee rotation next year are under 30 as are all but one of their many bullpen options. The irony of the whole youth movement thing, though, is that the Yankees' two most important pieces heading into 2016 are a 35-year-old first baseman and a 40-year-old DH.
The Yankees first paired Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez in the middle of their order in 2009 hoping to create their own version of the David Ortiz-Manny Ramirez combo that had punished them for years. It worked at first - the pair combined for 132 homers and 455 RBI in 2009 and 2010, but things took a quick turn after that. A-Rod spent much of the next four seasons on the disabled and suspended lists and Teixeira struggled for two full years to recover from the torn tendon sheath he suffered in his forearm while training for the 2013 World Baseball Classic. In 2013 and 2014, Teixeira and A-Rod combined to play in only 182 of 324 games, while hitting an abysmal .217/.318/.399. The Yankees, as a result, didn't score many runs. They finished tenth in the AL in offense in 2013 and twelfth in 2014 despite adding Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran and Jacoby Ellsbury.
For most of last year, Teixeira and A-Rod managed to channel their 2009 selves. They hit .252/.357/.513 with 64 home runs as a set and the Yankee lineup looked like a Yankee lineup again, finishing second in baseball in runs scored. The contrast between what the offense looked like with and without Tex-Rod intact was painfully stark. In the 97 games they both started, the Yankees were eleven games over .500 and averaged 4.98 runs while slashing .258/.326/.438 as a team. In the 66 where one or both was out, including game 163, the wildcard playoff, the team was six games under, hit .238/.312/.390 and scored .72 fewer runs.
|Yankee offense with...||W-L||Runs:Game||BA||OBP||SLG||AB:HR|
|Teixeira and A-Rod both starting||57-46||4.98||.258||.326||.438||24.47|
|One or neither starting||30-36||4.26||.238||.312||.390||30.07|
Besides being the Yankees best two hitters overall, Teixeira and A-Rod are also their two best returning bats versus lefties. Their respective wRC+'s of 116 and 148 trailed only Young on the 2015 team. The rest of the top two-thirds of the order is all left-handed except for Beltran whose numbers from the right side since arriving in the Bronx have been brutal. Dustin Ackley, who is the best bet to get spot starts at first and DH, and to be a primary fill-in if either Teixeira or A-Rod goes down, is also lefty. Castro at second instead of Drew should help, and Hicks will eat up the at bats Young got last year, but the Yankees still need Tex-Rod at the heart of the order to limit their vulnerability to left-handed pitching.
Most teams would suffer mightily without their best or second-best hitter, but most teams' two best hitters aren't a combined 75 years old. The Yankees' situation is particularly dire thanks to the unfortunate likelihood that one or both will get hurt, or that at their advanced age, they just won't perform well again. Teixeira's season-ending leg fracture last August was a freaky shot of bad luck, but he's still played 123 games or less in each of the past four seasons. No one knows how A-Rod will respond coming back after not sitting out an entire year. Now that Greg Bird will miss all of 2016, the Yankees don't even have an adequate replacement in house. A return to the Lyle Overbay-Jayson Nix dark ages of 2013 suddenly seems not so unlikely.
This all brings up an unhappy dilemma for Joe Girardi. Do you get Teixeira and A-Rod ample rest throughout in hopes of staving off lengthy DL stints and fatigue-related regression? Or, knowing how badly their absence stings, even on a game-to-game basis, do you play them every day with fingers and toes crossed?