David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
Upon hearing Hal Steinbrenner's apparent satisfaction with the Yankees' beat-up infield, the first thing we thought of Tuesday was the disclaimer "right now" he attached to the end. The second thing that came to mind was the very similar comments Steinbrenner made about the team's unheralded subs a year ago, calling that patchwork Yankees team "scrappy" and "fun to watch."
We all know how that turned out.
In the Yankees' universe, an 85-win season and sitting home for October is usually described with a word that rhymes with "scrappy" but with a much different connotation. You may remember -- or at least we do -- that Steinbrenner also repeated his belief back then that the Yankees could win with an $189-million payroll. Limping to a third-place finish, with declining TV ratings and attendance, later convinced him otherwise.
If Steinbrenner learned anything from 2013 -- aside from Alex Rodriguez's fanboy affection for Mike'd Up -- it's that the likes of Eduardo Nuñez, Zoilo Almonte and David Adams aren't going to get it done in the uber-competitive American League East. They make for good stories, until about mid-June, when Joe Girardi starts frantically counting the days left on DL stints.
And now, two weeks into this season, the Yankees must be feeling deja-vu, only this time the names are Yangervis Solarte and Dean Anna, two players who needed every last minute of spring training to make the Opening Day roster. Both have done a great job so far, but they are meant to be complementary bench pieces -- not everyday starters -- and this April flurry of injuries is already stretching the Yankees into an uncomfortable position.
Actually, a number of them, as we saw Sunday night at first base, where a catcher with a total of 11/2 games experience on his resume (Francisco Cervelli) was replaced at the position by a 38-year-old outfielder with none (Carlos Beltran). That was desperation -- if not a sirens-blaring emergency, in Girardi's eyes -- and suggested the Yankees are playing a dangerous game with their lack of infield depth.
It just so happens there is an obvious solution that is currently unemployed -- Stephen Drew -- but Steinbrenner went on the record Tuesday saying the Yankees are not pursuing him. Not yet anyway.
"All I could say is I'm content with the way things are right now," Steinbrenner said. "So far, I'm pretty content with where we are, but I will always analyze options. That's my job throughout the course of the whole year."
Steinbrenner left himself an escape clause, and he'll surely reconsider if the Yankees don't see significant improvement on the injury front. While it was Cervelli who wound up on the DL after Sunday's hamstring strain, the most alarming developments were Brian Roberts complaining of a sore lower back and Derek Jeter's quadriceps tightness.
Roberts arrived in the Bronx with a reputation for being fragile after averaging 48 games the past four seasons, so this shouldn't come as a surprise. An MRI revealed no structural damage, but the Yankees just went down this road last season -- albeit at a higher cost -- in paying Kevin Youkilis (with his chronic back issues) $12 million for 28 games.
The Yankees knew signing Roberts was a roll of the dice, but Jeter, at the age of 39, carries risk, too. Girardi conceded Sunday that he'll need to re-evaluate how he uses Jeter going forward, and that means cutting back on the farewell tour. Even so, this quad issue could be an early warning sign, like that blinking engine light on your dashboard. It might not be a quick fix.
We've also been assured that Mark Teixeira will be fine after his DL stay for a mild hamstring strain, but he hasn't played long enough to really test the surgically-repaired wrist. What if that limits his production, or worse, causes problems again? In case you hadn't noticed recently, the Yankees don't have a legit backup at the position, and Kendrys Morales is still floating around in free-agent limbo.
Steinbrenner, despite Tuesday's conservative stance, knows all of this. But it's only mid-April, and the Yankees seem to be banking on the best-case scenario for their hurting infield. It could work. Then again, Steinbrenner watched that same optimism explode in his face last season. He's already spent nearly $500 million to prevent a repeat of 2013, and there's no point in saving a few bucks now if writing another check will help.
The Yankees don't do scrappy. Not for long anyway.