We now know that Mark Teixeira will play first base and bat third (or possibly fourth) in the Yankees’ revamped lineup, but what effect will his addition have on the rest of the lineup’s configuration? The Yankees need to find a new role for Nick “Son of Steve” Swisher, who was originally targeted to play first after being acquired for Wilson Betemit. They also need to figure out roles for Xavier Nady and Hideki Matsui, while deciding who will play center field on a regular basis.
In the aftermath of the Teixeira signing, I’ve heard a number of observers suggest that the Yankees will put Swisher in center field, sandwiched between Johnny Damon in left and Nady in right. That alignment would maximize the Yankees’ offensive potential, but would also leave them with a below-average defensive center fielder, continuing an unsavory tradition that first began with Bernie Williams’ declining years.
Another potential solution would be to trade one of the following: Swisher, Nady, or Matsui, thereby alleviating the logjam in right field and DH. I’m not necessarily against that possibility, but only if the Yankees can acquire something of value for one of those players, specifically a center fielder or a backup catcher, or a useful pitcher. There should be no giveaways here; if the offers for Nady, Swisher, and Godzilla are subpar, keep them all. There’s nothing wrong with having one of these veterans on the bench each day. The Yankees have operated without a competent bench for far too long.
Here’s the alignment I’d prefer, one that would make defense and flexibility higher priorities. I’d put Swisher in right field, where he would platoon with Nady. I’d tell Nady to bring his infielder’s glove to spring training and be ready to put in work as a backup at both the hot corner and first base. Matsui would remain in the DH role, where he would give way to Jorge Posada on days in which the Yankees faced left-handers. And then I’d hand the center field reins over to Brett Gardner, who gives the Yankees the most range and speed of any of their outfielders. If Gardner, batting ninth, ends up a failure against major league pitching, then the Yankees can always try Melky Cabrera or Swisher later in the season.
Defense, flexibility, and the bench. Those should be the Yankees’ points of emphasis. Either directly or indirectly, Teixeira will help all three areas…