Ask the Yankees about first base, and the question is greeted with the usual look of resignation on Joe Girardi’s face, the same sad routine we went though with the manager following Tuesday’s 4-1 loss to the Blue Jays.
The next time, however, the interrogation won’t involve Chris Carter, who was designated for assignment — again — roughly an hour after this Fourth of July dud in the Bronx.
That’s two DFAs in a week for Carter, a statistical anomaly, sort of like returning spoiled milk to the refrigerator and expecting a fresh, yummy carton. But as desperate as the Yankees are for a reliable player at that position, they couldn’t continue with Carter, who posted another o-fer Tuesday and also failed to glove a low throw that ruined an otherwise brilliant defensive play on a charging scoop by Didi Gregorius.
When Girardi was grilled postgame on Carter, he shrugged.
“It is what it is,” the manager replied.
But does it have to be? The Yankees’ immediate move for Carter was to call up another one, this time Ji-Man Choi, from Triple-A Scranton. Choi, 26, was batting .289 with eight home runs and an .876 OPS, but can’t be considered anything more than a stopgap replacement, to buy some time for Brian Cashman to find a more permanent fix.
While everyone is waiting, we’d like to propose a more outside-the-box solution, an idea that’s probably only a few years early. For as many options as the Yankees already have scrolled through, they still have a first baseman on their roster who hasn’t been used there yet.
And his name is Aaron Judge.
Yes, we’re talking about the Judge currently playing rightfield. But here’s something you might not know. Judge was exclusively a first baseman in high school, but was forced to change positions when he arrived for his freshman year at Fresno State, because that spot already was taken by senior Jordan Ribero, whose 27 home runs led the nation the previous season.
Judge was told he had two choices: the outfield or the bench. And he’s never been back to first base since. When asked after Tuesday’s game, Judge had fond memories of the position, even though he did acknowledge the difficulty of moving over there at this level.
“I was playing first base with kids that were 6-feet, 140 pounds up there swinging,” Judge said, smiling. “I didn’t have guys like [Justin] Smoak hitting grounders.”
Big difference, obviously. And for that reason, the Yankees have no immediate plans to audition Judge at his former position. Girardi did ask Judge, however, about his years at first base and why he ended up switching at Fresno.
So far, the Yankees have resisted the temptation. The front office refuses to consider such a move here in early July, with Judge leading the American League in home runs — he hit No. 28 in Tuesday’s loss — RBIs (63), and his .329 batting average trails the Mariners’ Ben Gamel by three points in the last Triple Crown category. At the moment, it doesn’t make sense to give Judge something new to work on that could potentially mess him up at the plate, as Girardi confirmed.
“He’s going pretty good right now,” Girardi said.
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Hard to argue. But the Yankees rank 29th with a .604 OPS from first base — only the Angels’ .584 is lower — and badly need an upgrade at the position. It’s not likely to be Greg Bird, whose season could be in jeopardy after Cashman suggested Monday that he might require exploratory surgery to discover what’s causing the chronic pain in his right ankle. Choi will be the seventh starter the Yankees have used at first base, and Cashman surely will look outside the organization in the weeks ahead.
Ultimately, however, that’s where Judge’s future lies. At 6-7, 282 pounds, the wear-and-tear on his knees from patrolling the outfield — never mind the danger of colliding with walls — will require a move to first base, a safer locale that should keep him healthier and ensure his lethal bat stays in the lineup. The Yankees just aren’t there yet.
“I don’t know,” Judge said. “I’m happy with our options at first base.”
That makes one person, anyway. And Judge, a model teammate, has to say that.