The rumble in the Bronx you might be hearing isn't coming from Jackie Chan's lethal martial arts moves; it's the sound of the Yankees scrambling to field a competitive roster with less than a month to go until Opening Day. New York lost Alex Rodriguez to hip surgery in January, Curtis Granderson to a broken forearm in February, and has now lost Mark Teixeira to a wrist strain.
This power outage will cost the Yankees three hitters who combined to bop 85 homers last year, not even including the losses of Nick Swisher and Russell Martin to free agency. As ESPN Stats & Info points out, eight of New York's top 10 home-run hitters in 2012 are either unavailable for Opening Day or are on another team. With no natural first baseman beyond Teixeira currently on the Yankees' 40-man roster, what are their options to fill the first-base void both internally and externally? Let's take a look.
40-Man Roster Options
When the Yankees signed Youkilis to a one-year, $12 million deal in December, it was with the intention of him playing third base in place of Rodriguez, who will be out until at least the All-Star break. However, desperate times can call for desperate measures, and the Yankees are not in a position to be picky about who to place at the infield corners. Youkilis has the most experience playing first base, won a Gold Glove at the position in 2007, and has actually played 607 games at the cold corner versus 442 games at the hot corner in his nine-year major-league career.
Furthermore, Youkilis has coped with a laundry list of injuries for the last few seasons, including multiple lower back injuries and a sports hernia surgery. Playing first base is considerably less demanding than third base, and a couple months at each infield corner could help to preserve Youkilis' health during the regular season.
If the Yankees choose this route, Eduardo Nunez could step in to play third base—that is, assuming Derek Jeter is healthy by Opening Day. Nunez spent the majority of the 2012 season in Triple-A, after a thumb injury caused him to lose the utility infielder role to Jayson Nix, who is currently a non-roster invitee. In his brief major-league career, Nunez has hit .272/.318/.384 with a significant platoon split between righties (.254/.308/.346) and lefties (.298/.332/.436). The 25-year-old won't provide the power the Yankees' lineup desperately needs, but he does have speed and versatility to help plug the gaping holes in their roster.
Once upon a time, Travis Hafner played 72 games at first base. However, a bevvy of injuries derailed his career, and Hafner has not appeared at any defensive position since 2007. The Yankees need all the bats they can get; they won't risk sending Pronk anywhere that does not involve the use of batting gloves and a stick made of wood.
Of the infielders on New York's non-roster invitees list, Nix stands the greatest chance of making the Opening Day roster. Though the Yankees designated him for assignment following the 2012 season, he cleared waivers and quickly accepted an assignment to Triple-A rather than pursue free agency. The 30-year-old filled the utility role well for the Bombers last year, playing up the middle and in the outfield while hitting .243/.306/.384 in 202 plate appearances.
Nix does not have any major-league experience at first base, but he has played 138 games at third base, so he could be a secondary option to Nunez should New York choose to shift Youkilis to first base. Like Nunez, Nix is a right-handed hitter who hits lefties significantly better than righties, so he would not be a platoon option.
The 33-year-old Johnson is primarily a first baseman, having played 328 career major-league appearances at the position. His Triple-A numbers have never translated to sustained major-league success; since his flukey rookie year with the Athletics in 2005, Johnson has hit a paltry .222/.331/.397 in 1,117 plate appearances. Johnson does have more power than Nix, but it does not seem likely the Yankees will open a roster spot for a Quad-A player, no matter how nice a career .294/.408/.533 line at Triple-A looks.
Rivera will never be remembered for his grace afield, and though he has retained some pop, his offense is almost non-existent now. The 35-year-old has bounced primarily between the outfield corners in his major-league career, though he has logged 106 games at first base. It does not seem likely that Rivera will be considered for the Opening Day roster, but the Yankees will probably give him some reps at first base to see if there's anything left.
The very quick and overly simplified synopsis: Maruszak has played just three games above Double-A, Murton is ticketed for Triple-A, Segedin will likely repeat Double-A, and Roller hasn't played a game above High-A. The Yankees will look elsewhere.
Only two first baseman remain on the free-agent market: Huff and Carlos Lee. The 36-year-old Huff last played decent ball with the 2010 world champion Giants. Since then, a series of knee injuries stemming from a sprained PCL sustained while celebrating Matt Cain's perfect game and an anxiety disorder have cut into Huff's effectiveness. He hit a combined .239/.309/.359 with 13 homers between 2011 and 2012, and given his advanced age, Huff is unlikely to regain the ability to hit and field well.
Once a major contract liability, Lee is now struggling to find a job making the major-league minimum. He absolutely will not provide value on defense, but it's possible Lee might have a smidge left in the bat. Playing with the Astros and Marlins last year, Lee batted a combined .264/.332/.365 with just nine home runs, but he's only a year removed from hitting .275/.342/.446 in Houston. Though Lee offered nothing against left-handed pitchers last year, he does not have a major platoon split in his career. If the Yankees don't mind seeing El Caballo gallumphing after bumbled balls in the infield, they could take a flier on his bat and hope for the best.
In short, the Yankees' options to replace Teixeira are few and far between. The Youkilis/Nunez swap seems the most likely, though the Bombers will doubtlessly be hounding the waiver wire while Cashman works the phones to provide depth for a team that can't stand to lose another starter.