Wait, not so fast on setting Lyle Overbay loose
David LennonDavid Lennon
David Lennon has been a staff writer for Newsday since
The Yankees picked up Lyle Overbay from the virtual trash bin -- dumped by the Red Sox, no less -- three days before the end of spring training. Then for two months, he became indispensable. Now everyone is figuring Overbay to be a goner with the return of Mark Teixeira.
Why the rush? Shouldn't a one-dimensional player such as Travis Hafner, a strict DH who hasn't even put on a glove, be more of a luxury at this point?
The Yankees have a bigger investment in Hafner, paying him a base salary of $2 million this season plus up to $4 million in performance incentives.
But they need an insurance policy for Teixeira's wrist, which remains worrisome, more than a lefthanded-hitting DH whose role could be filled by Overbay, anyway, at least going by each player's numbers to this point.
It's a debate that's not likely to be decided by Monday -- when Andy Pettitte is activated from the DL -- because the Yankees can always demote David Adams or Brennan Boesch to Triple-A Scranton.
Having the ability to option a player to the minor leagues is a very valuable commodity.
Overbay made things more complicated by getting off to a better-than-expected start. The Yankees grabbed him primarily for his glove, but Overbay is second only to Robinson Cano with 29 RBIs, and his slash line of .247/.289/.461 is at least in the ballpark of Hafner's .248/.363/.481. Each has eight homers, with Overbay appearing in eight more games. Neither was in Saturday night's lineup against Red Sox lefthander Felix Doubront.
The cost-benefit analysis, however, comes down to the health of both Teixeira and Kevin Youkilis. If Overbay is jettisoned, Youkilis becomes the backup first baseman and could be pressed into full-time duty if Teixeira's tendon sheath acts up and requires season-ending surgery.
Adams gladly takes over at third, and the Yankees would be thrilled to let him continue his development at the major-league level.
But here's the tricky part. What if Youkilis has a relapse with his back issues? Youkilis has missed time the past two seasons with his balky back.
And if you're wondering what the odds are that both Teixeira and Youkilis wind up on the DL together, well, the Yankees already know what that's like.
Youkilis, who started at DH in his first two games back, will return to third base for Sunday night's series finale against the Red Sox. Joe Girardi said he isn't concerned about having Youkilis play the field again, but he added that anything could inflame that troublesome area.
"I think hitting can be just as irritating because of the rotation," Girardi said. "I think with backs, a lot of times you worry about the rotation more than anything."
With Youkilis being relied on as a middle-of-the-order run-producer, that's hardly reassuring. It sounded even worse when Girardi, who was forced to retire because of a chronic back condition, brought up how unpredictable a flare-up can be -- and how difficult it can be to guard against.
"From experience," Girardi said, "I've done it in a lot of different ways you don't even expect to do it."
But the Yankees have ample coverage for Youkilis, with Adams next on the depth chart, followed by Jayson Nix. It's Teixeira who can end up complicating matters again, and there's no ready-made solution other than Overbay waiting around. If the Yankees eventually feel comfortable with the health of both Youkilis and Teixeira, they then could try to trade Overbay, a move that would allow them to control where he winds up.
This, however, is an inexact science. No matter how long the Yankees wait on dealing with the Overbay situation, it will never be long enough to guarantee that Youkilis and Teixeira will be in the clear.
That's just the nature of their injuries. It's also impossible to predict the future.
Look at Curtis Granderson. His forearm fracture had a straightforward prognosis. Six weeks for the bone to heal, a few more on a rehab assignment, and Granderson was good to go. No worries, right? Then just as Granderson was raking again, he got nailed on the left pinkie, it cracked, and he's gone for another month.
Brian Cashman has done a great job dealing with this year's freaky rash of injuries. He's used 38 players through the first 55 games and still the Yankees are within two games of first place after spending nearly two months in the top spot.
Overbay has been a key part of that early success. But depending on how the Yankees choose to proceed, dropping him could have unforeseen consequences, and ones they ultimately might regret.