Do you believe the Yankees' lineup would be deeper and stronger with Curtis Granderson moved down to fifth or sixth?
-- Michael L., Easton, Pa.
We hear this complaint a lot, that Granderson doesn't belong in the No. 2 spot because of his power (a team-leading 29 homers), his low batting average (.247) and the fact that he strikes out a ton (129 times so far). Has it cost the Yankees any wins? I'm not sure; they've still scored 509 runs, third in the AL behind Texas (518) and Boston (515). But with Alex Rodriguez out for weeks and Mark Teixeira sidelined until at least the weekend, it's a good time to throw lineups at the wall.
They could still win with Nick Swisher's on-base skills at No. 2 and Granderson getting more RBI chances in the No. 5 spot, but that doesn't necessarily mean it'll happen. Some have suggested Ichiro bat leadoff and Derek Jeter hit second, as we did see on July 25 in Seattle; maybe it'll appear again, but manager Joe Girardi likes Ichiro in the lower third of the order -- same as he would have hit Brett Gardner. Let's not forget, this isn't exactly Ichiro in his prime. He's got a .287 on-base percentage this year.
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Back to July 25. Girardi wanted to try Granderson in an RBI spot with A-Rod and Swisher both out of the lineup. The Yankees won, 5-2, with Granderson hitting fifth, but Granderson has hit second in each game since. Girardi has explained that he wants to avoid stacking too many lefties together and that the No. 2 spot provides an outlet for Granderson's speed, as he views him as a "complete player" and not just a power hitter.
We know Granderson's opinion: He's a line-drive hitter who just happens to be flourishing in Yankee Stadium, and he's rather happy hitting second. Besides, A-Rod is going to hit in the heart of the lineup when he returns, so it looks like the Yankees are just going to be that rare team with a 40-homer threat hitting second.
Serious question: Is DeWayne Wise better than Ichiro? It feels like too many of us are in love with what he was.
-- James D., Mamaroneck, N.Y.
No. Ichiro isn't the All-Star he once was, but there's no question he can be more useful to the Yankees than Wise. The Yankees traded for Ichiro envisioning him playing every day, and that's not something they ever had in mind for Wise, a 34-year-old journeyman. Enjoy what Wise was: a useful reserve outfielder who made a fun phantom catch, got some big hits and even pitched. That doesn't necessarily mean they needed him on a playoff roster.
I think there is -- or there should be, anyway -- an understanding that Ichiro isn't expected to come to New York and hit .350 for the rest of the season, nor does he need to. All he has to do is approximate the output that the Yankees thought they were going to get from Gardner, and that should be enough.
The elephant in the room is, are the Yankees better without A-Rod? He's a giant hole in the lineup offensively, and his defense is average on his best days. Does anyone in the Yankees organization disagree?
-- Scott W., Encino, Calif.
You're overstating the case. As Brian Cashman recently said, A-Rod still belongs in the upper half of big league third basemen. Notice that doesn't state he's an MVP-caliber player or a 50-homer threat anymore -- just an above-average player who can help the Yankees win games. If you can look past the massive contract ($29 million this year, and yes, it runs through 2017), the healthy 2012 version of A-Rod is still a good option for a postseason-bound Yankees team to have out there.
The Yankees are fortunate to have secured serviceable fill-ins such as Eric Chavez, Jayson Nix and now Casey McGehee, but A-Rod's presence is missed. Believe me, they hope he heals quickly.
"We need Alex back, especially that power right-handed balance in the lineup," Cashman said. "A consistent threat you can run out there -- we miss that. I think in [last weekend's] Boston series, you saw that, because they threw a bunch of lefties at us. Joe's choices aren't as obvious as they would be if we were at full strength, trying to match up against lefty and righty starters."
With A.J. Burnett having won 13 games for the Pirates already, are people in the Yankees' clubhouse talking about A.J., and what are they saying?
-- Philipp H., Austria
The Yankees are usually focused on how their own team is playing, but they definitely see the highlights. I wouldn't think anybody is surprised; Burnett was well-liked in the clubhouse and his old teammates have wished him nothing but the best. That said, it's a stretch to think Burnett would be 13-3 with a 3.27 ERA if he'd stayed with the Yankees.
It's just different pitching in the AL East, in homer-friendly Yankee Stadium and in front of a fan base that had clearly reached its breaking point with Burnett. He mentioned in one interview this season how he walked the bases loaded during his first start in Pittsburgh and hardly heard any reaction from the crowd, wondering what that would have sounded like in the Bronx. Actually, he already knew. A change of scenery was the best thing for Burnett.
Will the Yankees try to pick up a pitcher in the waiver period?
-- Tommy B., Savannah, Ga.
This is a good time to remind people that the passing of the July 31 Trade Deadline doesn't mean teams can't still add players; they just must first pass through waivers. And that said, the Yankees are perpetually on the lookout for pitching, which Cashman always says is "the key to the kingdom." So the short answer is that they'll be searching for upgrades.
Now, what will be available? The Yankees probably won't see a top-flight starter out there, and I'm not sure any of the second-tier guys (Joe Blanton?) would be much better than what they have. That's why they've got their fingers crossed that Andy Pettitte will be their September pickup, in a sense. There has been speculation that relievers like Heath Bell or Francisco Rodriguez could become available, but the Yankees just got Joba Chamberlain back, so maybe that fills any need there.
When will A-Rod and Pettitte be back?
-- Tarrance G., Baltimore, Md.
The answer for both players is September, and now we'll wait and see exactly which week they'll shoot for. It's too early to tell exactly how A-Rod is healing, but initial estimates were four to six weeks when he fractured his left hand on July 24. Pettitte may have pushed his fractured right ankle too hard during the road trip, but the Yankees say that's part of the ebb and flow of his rehab. He went on the 60-day disabled list on June 27, and the Yankees don't expect to have Pettitte back in the minimum 60 days.
What are the chances that the Yankees bring back Ichiro next year and have him be a role player? I think they will bring back Swisher because of his clubhouse presence and how the fans love him so much.
-- Howard S., Glen Rock, N.J.
Sorry to break the news, but I wouldn't be so sure on either of those players being in the 2013 clubhouse. The Mariners were fretting that they might have to pay Ichiro a huge deal based on his past success, and his trade helped ease that divorce. The Yankees don't have that track record with Ichiro, so it's easier for them to view him as a rental player.
Swisher absolutely loves being a Yankee, but he'll be 33 and hitting the free-agent market for the first time, so it's hard to see him taking a one- or two-year deal. Picking up his $10.5 million option this year was a no-brainer, but the Yankees are serious about that $189 million goal for 2014. To reach that while keeping players like Robinson Cano and Granderson -- the math doesn't work if they're paying Swisher a long-term premium salary. But we shall see. Swisher said earlier this year that he understands his situation.
"Whatever's going to happen is going to happen," Swisher said. "I wish I could write in a book and script it out; I'd be here for the rest of my career. But if that's one of those things that, it doesn't happen, then you've kind of got to roll with the punches."