Brian Cashman has been the Yankees' general manager for nearly 14 full years now, the last six as the bona fide head of baseball operations following eight years of Steinbrenner-esque chaos. At this point, we all have a pretty good feel for how he operates when there's a void to fill.
In dramatically filling one void late last week, adding Michael Pineda and Hiroki Kuroda to the Yankees' starting rotation, Cashman created another void by including Jesus Montero in the package for Pineda. It's a tradeoff I'd take, and most Yankees fans seem to agree. Nevertheless, Montero's departure means there are designated hitter at bats to be filled.
(Yes, the Yankees will say that many of Montero's starts would have been behind the plate. Eh. With Russell Martin, durable and well-liked by pitchers, on the scene - and the equally popular Francisco Cervelli still in the organization - I'm quite skeptical it would've played out that way.)
Like most GMs who know what they're doing, Cashman will continue to ask two questions - one focused on the internal, one on the external - until the matter is resolved. Or until the end of the season. Whichever comes first.
Here are those two questions, which are sponsored today by...no, there's no sponsor: Sorry.
1. Can Montero's plate appearances be filled internally?
On my old pal Twitter last night, Buster Olney suggested that Eduardo Nunez could benefit the most from Montero's move to Seattle. I agree that Nunez becomes increasingly important. He's the Yankees' one young position player with the potential for significant improvement - what Montero was going to be, in other words. Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter will get more at-bats at DH, and Nunez can replace those guys at third base and shortstop when that occurs. Nunez could even get some outfield time.
Olney also mentions Jorge Vazquez, who turns 30 in March and has 193 career minor-league home runs and a .572 slugging percentage. For the Yankees' Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre affiliate last year, Vazquez put up a .314 OBP and .516 SLG in 500 plate appearances, launching 32 home runs.
Yankees DHs recorded 646 plate appearances last year. 401 of those 646 were taken by players currently not with the team (Jorge Posada 324, Montero 55, Eric Chavez 22). Let's say, for argument's sake, they have to fill those 646 this year and, more specifically, the 401 departed plate appearances - with the understanding that Chavez still could return.
Can A-Rod, Jeter, Vazquez and the rest of the current roster (the starting lineup plus Andruw Jones) take care of those 401, with Nunez and Jones (as a backup outfielder) filling the holes on the field? Interestingly and understandably, Joe Girardi never used Martin as a DH last year, so we're talking only the infielders and outfielders.
I don't see the numbers working easily. Not unless Vazquez emerges as a Movie of the Week breakout story, or A-Rod can somehow stay healthy and productive for an entire season.
This is only half the equation, of course. The other half being...
2. Can Montero be replaced externally at a favorable cost?
If Montero hung around and put up the sort of numbers the Yankees envisioned - let's say he duplicated his career minor-league rate stats of .366 OBP and .501 SLG - he was going to be one of baseball's best bargains, at something very close to minimum wage. That bang for the buck simply can't be replicated on the open market.
But the DH market looks extremely buyer-friendly. We know that the prevailing trend in recent years has been for clubs to allow for more fluidity at the DH role, which has lessened the demand for guys who hit and do nothing else.
Less demand means lower prices, naturally, which means that a team can use a DH for, say, 401 plate appearances (62 percent of 646) or even fewer and not feel like it's wasting money.
The Yankees have communicated with Hideki Matsui, as I wrote today, following the lead of my old Newsday teammate Jon Heyman, but they can probably do better at a very reasonable cost. Like another former Yankee, Johnny Damon, who is comfortable at the DH spot. Or maybe Damon's 2011 Rays teammate Casey Kotchman would be amenable to resting his first-base glove.
The remaining supply base is somewhat low - MLB Trade Rumors spells it out - featuring familiar, past-their-prime names like Vladimir Guerrero and Manny Ramirez. So it will depend on prices. How little would, say, Damon take to come aboard? The numbers, both financial and statistical, explain why Chavez is still a consideration.
It's a moving calculus, and you know that Cashman won't sweat taking this issue into spring training if he doesn't find a match he likes. Ultimately, though, my best bet is that a healthy percentage of those 646 theoretical plate appearances - let's say at least 40 percent - are filled by a person or people who are not yet with the club.
--How about we do contests today, tomorrow and Thursday? That's the plan.