Things have not been going well for Brian Cashman's offseason acquisitions. Nick Johnson is hitting only .141 but walking enough to keep his on base percentage high enough to just barely justify his presence. Javier Vazquez continues to get hammered all over the ball park by American League hitting, most recently at the hands of his former teammates on the South Side of Chicago. And the crown jewel of Cashman's free agent strategy, Curtis Granderson, has now landed on the 15-day DL and, according to his manager, could be out for up to a month.
So where does that leave the Yankees? Built for depth, the team still has the constantly improving Brett Gardner, the stalwart veteran Nick Swisher, the blazing hot Marcus Thames, and the multi-dimensional Randy Winn to fill the outfield positions. Gardner can be shifted back to center, Thames and Winn can platoon in left, and Swisher can continue to man right field.
But although mired in a slump — batting only .225 with two home runs — Granderson provided a presence in the lineup and a Gold Glove-caliber mitt in the field. He also allowed Gardner to shift to left, creating an outfield arrangement stocked with speed, range, and ability. Eventually Granderson's bat would have turned around but even taking that assumption out of the equation, losing Curtis costs the Yankees quite a bit on the defensive end, which inevitably translates into runs surrendered.
The Yankees are left with two options. They can look to their farm system, essentially calling up a fifth outfielder for security purposes. Thin at the position throughout the minors, speedster Greg Golson could provide defense and a few stolen bases, but has failed to hit consistently at nearly every level of the minors. Left fielder Colin Curtis is off to a very hot start for the Yankees' AAA affiliate Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees, but he too has a spotty track record at the plate. From a pure talent standpoint, the highest ranked outfield prospect in the Yankees system is 18-year-old Slade Heathcott. And while the Yankees' 2009 first round pick definitely possesses the natural talent to play with the best, he is far too raw to be promoted to the show now without possible severe effects on his development.
That leaves the second option. Two words; Jermaine Dye.
At this point, signing the 36-year-old right hander is nearly a no-brainer. For the next month, Gardner is moving back to center field no matter what. And Nick Swisher will be more than adequate in right, especially if he keeps up his current offensive pace (.282 avg, .371 OBP, 15 RBI). But a platoon of Winn and Thames will not be sufficent in left field if the Yankees expect to win a championship.
Yes, Dye had an down season last year. He hit an embarrassing .250 and only managed 27 home runs and a meager 81 RBIs. But even that futile output was still better than Thames (.252/13/36) and Winn (.262/2/51). This is not to degrade either of those players. Both were signed as role/platoon players and both should remain servicing the Yankees in that capacity. But New York needs another bat in the outfield now before the ghost of Babe Ruth comes after Robinson Cano to reclaim his bat.
And down the road, the Yankees will need a powerful right-handed bat off the bench and occasionally in the DH role (at the very least). The New York brass have made it clear that they are staying "economical" going forth, but something tells me Brian Cashman could find a way to work the free agent Dye into their budget when he balances his likely contract against the revenue generated from a 28th championship. Joe Girardi's predecessor Joe Torre's teams were frequently complemented by aging outfielders like Darryl Strawberry, Chili Davis, and David Justice. Dye could be Girardi's Strawberry and one need only ask the last-place Dodgers manager how valuable a player like that can be to a championship season.