Now that the Yankees are more than halfway through their schedule it is a good time to take a look at what has worked and what hasn't. This much is irrefutable: the team is good. The Yankees have the best record in baseball, and only Tampa Bay has outscored its opponents more. But not all the parts are moving at top speed. Today we take a brief look at the newest additions to the team, and grade their performances and the moves that brought them to the team.
Javier Vazquez: B+
Trading Melky Cabrera for Javy this offseason was the most important move the Yankees made over the winter, and remains the best of their offseason deals. After becoming the first team since the 1990 Minnesota Twins to win the World Series using only three starting pitchers, the Yankees and their fans knew that the team needed one more reliable starter. I advocated signing John Lackey, not because I like the man or his stuff, but because he was the only available solution -- or so I thought. Brian Cashman acquired Vazquez in a trade for nothing (Ed's. Note: I wouldn't go quite that far; Arodys Vizcaino was something like the team's 3rd-best prospect), really, and saved the team a ton of cash.
The move has paid off on many levels. Despite an absolutely atrocious start to the season, Javy has gotten his numbers to respectability, posting an ERA of 4.81 (84 ERA+) and a WHIP of 1.26. Those compare favorably to Lackey's numbers (if we assume he was the alternative option) of an ERA of 4.40 (101 ERA+) and an awful 1.54 WHIP. Javy's numbers have gotten better each month of the season.
Vazquez also gives the Yankees money to play with this offseason. He's a free agent-to-be who is willing to play it one year at a time. Should Andy Pettitte decide to retire, Javy may be a suitable back of the rotation alternative, provided he performs down the stretch. He also represents a chunk of change the Yankees can throw at Cliff Lee. This is much better than having Lackey for a bunch of seasons at $18 million per year.
Finally, and this is overlooked, bringing Vazquez on board opened up an every day spot for Brett Gardner. To say Brett has exceeded all expectations is an understatement, and he currently boasts a gaudy .380 wOBA. Melky, on the other hand, is putting up an anemic .285 wOBA in the Senior Circuit. He'd take playing time away from Brett -- who should've been an All-Star, in my opinion -- were he still with the team.
All in all this was an excellent move. My instinct is to hold back on a higher grade until the season's end. Visions of Javy's April starts still haunt me, and bring down the grade. But, if Javy's numbers continue to improve and Gardner plays well in the 2nd half this midseason B+ could quickly become an A.
Curtis Granderson: C
So much promise, so little to show for it. Granderson is putting up a weak .318 wOBA. His strugges from last season (already a down year) have seemingly continued, as he is down in every offensive category. He's striking out more. He's walking less. Even his BABIP is down to .265 from .275 last season. His OBP is currently .305, which is awful.
When Cashman went out and got Granderson I thought he was bringing in a new fixture in Centerfield for the next few seasons. Now, I'm not so sure. Curtis' OPS+ is a below average 95, and his offensive production is probably worse than that when you consider his poor OBP.
Granderson appears to be a streaky offensive player. If he swings the bat well in the 2nd half he could easily put up the kind of numbers we all expected when he joined the team. He's not that far off. But until that happens he looks more like a placeholder for a more permanent solution that anything else.
Nick Johnson: F
Johnson was always going to be a binary outcome. If he's healthy he's great. Or he's injured, and dead weight. Cashman rolled the dice on Nick and crapped out. He was awful at the start of the year (although he drew his walks) and then got hurt, just as many fans predicted.
The Yankee offense has been subpar this year on many fronts, and the lack of an everyday DH ranks at the top of the list of problems. It forces the Yankees to use a replacement player in the line up every game, sometimes two if other players need rest. As the tight, three-way race between the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays continues the team will need a more permanent solution. Juan Miranda and Marcus Thames are better than nothing, but a decent hitter who can also play the field is the best move. For my part, I don't think Johnson will come back this year. If he does, I can't imagine Girardi will play him much.
Had you asked me to rate the Yankees' offseason moves before the year started the grade would have been an A or even an A+. The team needed to replace aging, expensive players and desperately needed an arm. It accomplished all that, while opening up space for Gardner, a move I supported at the time. Stunningly, all three moves have had their problems and only one looks as though it will work out down the stretch. We say it again and again, but it really is true that you can't predict baseball -- unless you're predicting a Nick Johnson injury.