For years, Brian Cashman has had what many believe to be the easiest GM position in all of sports. With an endless amount of money to work with, The Yankees became notorious for throwing money at the biggest free agents year in and year out. But this year was different, finally Cashman had to work with some restrictions this off-season. In attempt to keep the Yankees below the $189 million luxury tax limit, he was forced to work with a budget and stay out of the mix for marque players available.
With a limited amount of funds available, Cashman did the best he could in piecing together the Yankees holes. He signed the once hated rival, Kevin Youkilis, to fill in for the injured Alex Rodriguez. Travis Hafner, was brought in to be the teams lefty DH and provide some power to the line up. Just shortly before opening day he traded for outfielder Vernon Wells, who many perceived to be over the hill and over paid. Cashman and the Yankees were criticized for making such moves, but for the moment, they deserve praise.
Wells has been the biggest surprise for the Yankees and has surpassed all expectations. When I first heard of this trade I thought to myself “Wow, just what the Yankees need, another aging star with a big contract.” But he has proved doubters wrong, getting off to a hot start hitting .296 with five home runs and nine RBI on the season. Besides just his bat, he has provided solid defense in left field. Just watching him and his demeanor on and off the field, he appears to be rejuvenated with the Yankees.
It will be interesting to see what happens to Wells once Curtis Granderson is able to return. I see him giving both Gardner and Ichiro days off in the field while becoming the right-handed DH against left-handed pitching. Getting more playing time at the DH position will help keep him fresh for the duration of the season.
The hardest signing for Yankee fans to accept? Kevin Youkilis. For years he played for the hated Red Sox and would be the last person I would imagine putting on the pin stripes. Yankee fans are willing to put his history aside, as long as he continues to produce. He is batting .279 on the season and filling the void left at third base very nicely early on. Although he is day-to-day with back issues, he is expected back in the lineup tomorrow. Hopefully this back issue isn’t a sign of things to come, With A-Rod’s return questionable, the Yankees will need him on the field.
Travis Hafner has been a pleasant surprise, he is batting .319 with a .429 OBP. with five home runs and 10 RBI. He has provided exactly the power the Yankees were hoping for with five home runs and 10 RBI. The biggest question going forward for Hafner is going to be his health, he has only played in more than 100 games once in the past five seasons. He has always put up numbers when he is in the lineup, it is just a matter of staying healthy and providing the left-handed DH this team needs.
About five years ago, when all three of these players were in their primes, they would have been typical off season moves. But for now at least, the aging stars have returned to prime form. These veterans have done everything they were brought in here to do and then some. I don’t think all three of them will be able to produce at this level for a full season, but if they can keep this team in the mix until help returns, that’s all you can ask for.