David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla.
For all the doomsayers worried about a season of reckoning for these Yankees, none pointed to Curtis Granderson as the flashpoint for the defending AL East champs.
Granderson, at age 31, is a relative toddler compared with the aging core around him. And despite his alarming strikeout totals, there was no reason to doubt another year of 40-plus homers, especially with Granderson motivated to put up juicy numbers for his next contract.
Granderson was supposed to be among the unnervingly short list of players the Yankees could count on. Yet, here we are.
All it took was a fastball from the Blue Jays' J.A. Happ to set off the sirens. For those already panicked by an offseason of sticking to the status quo, seeing Granderson go down for 10 weeks with a fractured forearm is like the first sign of the Yankee apocalypse.
"If you're going to have injuries, you'd rather have them this time of year than when you're missing games that count," Brian Cashman said. "Obviously, if Curtis is going to miss almost two months, at least one of the two don't count."
In the best-case scenario, Granderson's injury appears to be a short-term problem. But how's this for a coincidence: With that prognosis, Granderson will be sidelined for the first 32 games -- and seven of those are against the Blue Jays, the only team the Yankees play twice during that stretch.
If Granderson's recovery is slowed even slightly, say until May 19, he could miss 10 games against Toronto of the first 44 overall. From a Yankees perspective, that's not great timing. The Blue Jays are the consensus pick to win the AL East. Head-to-head record ultimately could decide the division race.
The Yankees also will play a minimum of 16 games against AL East foes as Granderson heals, along with three at Detroit and three with the Athletics at home. The Indians, rejuvenated by new manager Terry Francona and old friend Nick Swisher, could be troublesome in four games in Cleveland. A fast start could have quieted some of the Yankees' lingering concerns, and losing Granderson is going to make it that much tougher.
"It's not something I worry about," Cashman said. "It's just something you have to take care of business either way. Challenges always come either way, so you have to adjust on the run. You either fight through it with what you have, or if an opportunity presents itself that makes enough sense, you pursue it."
Cashman already was looking for ways to mitigate the power drain for a team that relied on 245 home runs in 2012. With Granderson out, the Yankees will open 2013 without the players responsible for 155 of those homers (63 percent).
As long as they had Granderson's power, the Yankees were fine using the speedy, contact-hitter combo of Brett Gardner and Ichiro Suzuki in the other two outfield spots. Now, with a lack of major league-ready replacements, Cashman is stuck.
Although the Yankees had no intention of bringing back Granderson after his contract expires at season's end, they figured to have plenty of time for a contingency plan. Thanks to Happ, that process has been sped up considerably, and now their blueprint for the upcoming season is in disarray.
Remember when switching the positions of Granderson and Gardner was a big deal, with everyone wondering how the psychology of it all might affect Granderson's offensive production? For the first month, and possibly longer, the guesswork about that has been eliminated.
Count on zero from Granderson in April. And if he doesn't recover in a timely fashion, the Yankees might not at all.