And so it begins.
Yes, pitchers and catchers reported a week ago; yes, everyone's played a couple split-squad games and yes, there was actual real, live televised baseball over the weekend, but Spring Training hasn't really started until the first monkey wrench flies smack into the works of all those possible Opening Day rosters fans have been dreaming about.
This year it comes literally out of left field, as Curtis Granderson of the New York Yankees broke his right forearm courtesy of a J.A. Happ fastball during his very first at-bat of the spring. Granderson will be unavailable until mid-May, meaning that the Yankees very rudely find themselves in the market for either a left or centerfielder -- the grand master plan was to put Brett Gardner in center and transition Granderson over to left for the first sustained look of his career at that position, but that won't happen. In an ideal world Granderson would take up left when he returns, but without any reps there whatsoever it's doubtful the Yankees will do anything but send him right back to centerfield, cycling Gardner into left the days that Granderson plays the field and center when he DHs.
The question then becomes what the Yankees do about left field until Granderson's arm is mended. Right now it's looking like some combination of Matt Diaz, Juan Rivera, Jayson Nix and Melky Mesa, and probably roughly in that order; the Yankees utility outfield position was already going to be a camp battle. It's hard to get excited about any of those guys getting major playing time, however (unless you happen to be a fan of another AL East team). Considering the amount of time that Gardner and now Granderson have spent hurt the last year and change, and considering that the Yankees are already looking at a major dip in production from their outfield by replacing Nick Swisher with Ichiro Suzuki, New York might want to bring in someone else to try and grab that spot.
They won't find that guy in free agency; the outfielder well has long since run dry there, and none of the extremely old veterans or 41st-roster-spot type minor leaguers available are a substantial upgrade over Diaz or Rivera. If the Yankees want to find someone else to grab a super-utility-type outfield role at this stage in the game it's going to have to be on the trade market.
If Granderson had broken his forearm 72 hours earlier or so the Yankees could have gotten into the Mike Carp trade talks much harder, but Granderson didn't, Carp is on the Red Sox and that ship has sailed. There are some other guys they could target, however.
The most tempting is Chris Young in Oakland, because he fills the defensive need perfectly, he's a surplus player on the Oakland roster, and he's an acceptable enough hitter that it's not too difficult to envision him bumping Ichiro out of right field when Granderson comes back if the veteran outfielder starts hitting like he did with Seattle in the first half of last year. There's two major problems with this, though: one, it'd involve trading with Billy Beane, which isn't as much of a warning sign that you're about to make a mistake as it used to be but the man's still very, very good at winning trades without the other guy realizing it. Two, there's no real indication that Chris Young is a property the Athletics have any desire to part with. The team seems more or less content to hold on to super-subs for both the infield and the outfield that could start a number of other places in the league and just see what happens from there. Beane addressed the outfield logjam when he acquired Young from the Diamondbacks and there's no real reason to believe anything's changed. So that's it for him, unfortunately.
There's always the possibility of tossing the Mariners a career minor leaguer to see if they can get Raul Ibanez back, as the Mariners currently have something of a log jam of their own in the corner outfield; as much as segments of the Yankees fan base might like to see that happen due to his postseason heroics, however, parting ways with Ibanez was the right idea when Cashman had it; the man is not fit to play the field in major league baseball anymore. If they're going after questionable one-year veteran gambles from Seattle they should ask about Jason Bay instead, and even that's only an extremely marginal step up.
Depending on how things shake up in Arizona, however, the Cleveland Indians might have just the guy the Yankees are looking for: Drew Stubbs. Stubbs is, as of this writing, supposedly going to be the starting right fielder for the Indians on Opening Day. That's a pretty aggressive take on the value that Drew Stubbs can bring to a ballclub with his bat, but he can handle the responsibility defensively. However, between 1B/DH the Indians have Mark Reynolds, Nick Swisher, and Jason Giambi in camp, and if they like what they see out of Giambi, Stubbs could go back to being the fourth outfielder. Either way, there's a fit: Stubbs isn't great and he strikes out a whole bunch, but he's not quite as lost as Rivera is against right-handed hitters and when Granderson's back he can move around the outfield where he's needed; Rivera's strictly a corners guy.
If the asking price for Stubbs is too high, there's also some interesting flotsam hanging around the NRI section of baseball's camp invitees. One that stands out is Rick Ankiel, currently in camp with the Houston Astros. He's on the older side and he's not good for a full season anywhere anymore but he should be able to fit the fourth outfielder bill well enough, and the Yankees could probably just buy his contract from Houston assuming the Astros aren't too attached.
Ankiel wouldn't cost anything of any real value, but what would the Yankees have to give up for a guy like Stubbs? That depends what Cleveland's looking for; the Indians would probably ask about Ivan Nova first, who they wouldn't get, and then they'd ask about one of Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos, who for now at least still have more value than Drew Stubbs. They'd keep going down the list of pitchers until they found someone with a throwing arm the Yankees were willing to part with, though, because the Indians need pitching and the Yankees really don't have any hitting prospects that are appropriate for this discussion.
There are other teams with a surplus at the position but assuming that last year was a down year for Stubbs, not the beginning of a nosedive, and that Ankiel is still able to play outfield and hit right-handed pitching, either of those two guys are probably the best bet to get some semblance of production and immediate stability in the vacated left field as well as acquire a player that makes the team better when it's June and suddenly everyone remembers Ichiro is still 39 years old. That said there's a whole lot of ways this could still play out; just because Stubbs or Ankiel might fit well doesn't mean they'll be available. After all, if you don't have pitching, and the Astros and Indians very much do not have pitching, your outfield will take all the centerfielders it can get.