If the Yankees had an executive and a baseball operations department whose judgment mattered, it might be different.
That the team has no faith in its own valuations is demonstrated by the team’s pathetic outreach to the retired All-Star Derrek Lee. Lee has officially told the Yankees he’s staying home. The Yankees should consider themselves lucky to have been spared this particular flight of fancy given that Lee had been idle since September 28, 2011 and hadn’t played well since 2009. In his prime, Lee was a solid performer, a mostly good-not-great first baseman who had one season, 2005’s .335/.418/.662 for the Cubs, that falls somewhere in the top 50 offensive seasons of all time at that position. That was eight years ago, though, and skills are not immune from the ravages of age and disuse. The chances of Lee coming back at 37 and equaling even the meager .263/.337/.436 that he put up from 2010 to 2011 had to be rated as small.
That benchmark, .263/.337/.436, is key to understanding Cashman’s thinking. Last year, the average major league first baseman hit .262/.336/.442. The average American Leaguer hit .255/.320/.411. Thus, in calling upon Lee to substitute for Mark Teixeira, Cashman was not looking for even average first base production and perhaps not average production for any position. In other words, unless he was basing his estimate of Lee’s production on a completely unrealistic return to his career rates of .281/.365/.495, his estimate of his current first base options is that they won’t hit as well as (a) a 37-year-old retiree, and (b) anybody.
...But then, that’s the problem with having a baseball operation that has let part of its brain atrophy. You can’t give to your team, but only take from others. The Yankees cut the latter option off in the name of austerity this winter, and now that the injuries have occurred, they don’t know how to proceed. What they are experiencing now isn’t a failure of depth, so much as it’s a failure of depth compounded by a failure of imagination—or more aptly, a failure of nerve.