This isn’t a great time to be a Yankees fan. OK, I’m exaggerating—I mean this exact moment isn’t great, but this season is still pretty great. Look at the lengthy disabled list: Matt Holliday (viral infection), Greg Bird (ankle, still), Starlin Castro (hamstring), Aaron Hicks (oblique), and CC Sabathia (hamstring).
At first blush, it’s a terrible thing. They’re without a first baseman, designated hitter, their starting second baseman having a great season, an outfielder having a breakout season (144 wRC+, 2.7 fWAR), and arguably your second-best starting pitcher.
What this immediately brings to mind, unfortunately, is the 2013 season. In that horrid year, the following tragedies befell us: Francisco Cervelli was replaced by Chris Stewart, Mark Teixeira was replaced by Lyle Overbay, Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher were replaced by Vernon Wells and Ichiro Suzuki, Derek Jeter was replaced by Eduardo Nunez, and Alex Rodriguez was replaced by a carousel of Jayson Nix, Kevin Youkilis, Luis Cruz, Brent Lillibridge, and David Adams.
Think about the players replaced, and think about the replacements. The floor for that season, with those replacements, was utterly atrocious. They still managed to win 85 games, but their opponents outscored them by 21 runs, so it was a true talent below-.500 team.
Now fast forward to this season. The injuries are far less devastating—please bubble wrap Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, and Luis Severino—but the big difference is who replaces the injured players. Tyler Wade is replacing Castro, Tyler Austin replaced (temporarily) Chris Carter and Bird, Miguel Andujar semi-replaced Chase Headley, and Dustin Fowler replaces Aaron Hicks.
I’m not going to go out and say that Andujar, Wade, Fowler, and Austin are definitely going to be better than the horrid replacements in 2013. We really don’t know. For all we know, the bottom could fall out and they’re left with no options at all, and even further diminishing depth at the minor league level. What is important, though, is that they have this depth to begin with, and the organization can truly evaluate the floor of this organization.
By the floor, I mean the lowest possible point a team can fall if their players have to be replaced because of injury or trade, so basically a team’s “replacement level.” As I said, this isn’t going to be a true floor because it’s much lower without Judge and Sanchez, but this is close enough.
The logic goes the same with bringing up Austin in place of Carter. Sure, Carter may actually be better, and he could rebound to do what he did last year and go back on a 40-home run pace. If we don’t try something different, then we’re left not only with a bad option, but not even knowing what a better option can look like.
In this (hopefully) temporary period of an injury epidemic, it’s not all bad news. The team may have to slog through this period until most are healthy and they can get into a better groove deeper into the summer. At the very least, though, we can see how far the team falls with a lot of minor league replacements, and that may actually provide a huge silver lining. If they actually surge with said lineup, it opens a host of opportunities—possible trades, the possible emergence of a minor leaguer who otherwise would not have had a shot.
If it doesn’t work out, then you move on. You needed to find a fill-in for these injured players anyway, so it’s no skin off your back. The Baby Bomber Era is on steroids, now, and nearly every position is a young up-and-comer. Some may succeed in their possibly short time with the club, and some may flourish. As hectic as this period of injury is, the bright side is no one’s name on the roster is Jayson Nix.