Curtis Granderson is in the starting lineup for the New York Yankees tonight, playing left field and batting fourth for their game against the Seattle Mariners. It's Granderson's first action of the season after breaking his forearm during Spring Training in March, and Granderson is also the first of the highly paid injured Yankees to play this season (in advance of Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, and Mark Teixeira).
Tonight, Granderson is in left field, while Brett Gardner and Ichiro take their usual positions in center and right respectively. Vernon Wells is shifting to DH tonight, and Travis Hafner is on the bench with Granderson's return. Well, that seems like a simple enough solution. Hafner can't hit lefties. His OPS this season is just .720 against southpaws, and Joe Girardi has done a great job not putting him in a position to feed that weakness, as Hafner has logged just 20 plate appearances against lefties this season.
There's just a couple of small problems with that logic. First off, Seattle's starter tonight is Felix Hernandez, who is (of course) a right-hander. Secondly, Granderson *also* can't hit left-handers, rendering the possibility of a partial platoon between the two (with Wells shifting between left field and DH) absolutely moot. The Yankees really haven't had a caddy at DH for Hafner all year, with Ben Francisco tallying the second-most plate appearances as a DH for New York this year and doing a really bad job at hitting in the process (just a .450 OPS for the season). Wells on the other hand, *has* hit lefties pretty well throughout most of his career, and some sort of odd, three-headed platoon between him, Hafner, and Granderson will likely end up being what Girardi does.
And herein lies the major problem for the Yankees: once their DLed players start coming back, what happens to the players that have been producing for them all season? Sure, Lyle Overbay isn't going to continue to beat the hell out of the ball at first base, but he's a big part of why the Yankees are ten games over .500 right now. What about the aforementioned Wells? The Yankees can't just throw him onto the bench for five days a week, not after he's been one of the three best hitters on the team this year. We're already seeing Hafner start to lose playing time, and he's joined Wells as one of those top three hitters on the club this season.
Now sure, the Yankees aren't going to have any issues banishing Chris Nelson to AAA when Kevin Youkilis comes back. They're not going to stress over the decision to dump one of Eduardo Nunez or Jayson Nix once Derek Jeter (possibly) returns. What also could end up being an issue for them is the presence of Brett Gardner in center field. Gardner is making pennies this year ($2.85 million), and is a hair under league average offensively while also ranking as one of the best defensive outfielders in the game. Is it possible that he'll end up losing playing time to the Granderson/Wells duo with Ichiro Suzuki signed through next year at $6.5 million per. He's also still elite defensively, but is absolutely done with the bat.
Whatever situation the Yankees end up falling into, it's probably not going to end well for them unless someone starts playing really terribly in all facets of the game. There are pros and cons for each of the five players for these four positions, and it's a pretty solid problem to have for the Yankees. But you know that if one of them ends up faltering while another languishes on the bench, the sharks will be circling Girardi despite his masterful managing job this season.