Thursday, September 24, 2009

Impact Of A Potential Hairston Injury

Early yesterday afternoon the Yankees wrapped up their first series victory in Anaheim since May 2004. The lower portions of the bullpen caste system held a one run lead for two and a third innings. Ian Kennedy returned to a Major League mound for the first time in over a year and just months removd from surgery to repair an aneurysm. A playoff spot is clinched and the magic number for the division and homefield is down to five. But there is one potential drawback from yesterday's victory.

One pitch into his seventh inning plate appearance, Jerry Hairston Jr had to leave the game after feeling a pop in his wrist while taking a practice swing. After the game, Peter Abraham reported that Hairston initially injured the wrist earlier this season while he was still with Cincinnati and both an MRI and a cortisone shot nearly two weeks ago. He is scheduled for another MRI today to assess the extent of the damage.

No one would consider Hairston a key part of the Yankees roster, but he certainly serves a valauble role. While his offensive production has fallen off a bit since his arrival, he's getting on base at a good clip (.346 with the Yanks) and he's suffering from a very low BABIP (.233). But Hairston's greatest value comes in his versatility. A second baseman originally, since coming over at the deadline Hairston has appeared 15 times at third, 8 at short, 9 at both of the corner outfield positions, and twice in center.

It's too early to be jumping to conclusions at this point, but if Hairston's injury is enough to shelve him for October, it would likely take the Yankees two roster spots to replace his versatility. Ramiro Pena was a good candidate to make the post-season roster anyway, and he can easily replace, if not exceeed, what Hairston can offer on infield defense. But while Pena did get seven games of experience in centerfield with Scranton this year, he's yet to play the outfield at the Major League level.

The issue is that the Yankees currently don't have any other real outfield options to replace Hairston. This shouldn't be too big of an issue since Melky Cabrera or Brett Gardner will be the fourth outfielder anyway. But if Gardner somehow gets burnt as pinch runner, the Yankees are now looking at a less palatable option as a late inning defensive replacement for Johnny Damon. Eric Hinske is present strictly for his bat. So an injury to Hairston could increase the chances of Freddy Guzman making the post-season roster.

If Hairston is out for an extended period, I'd expect the Yankees to use the season's final week to assess their options. This could mean Pena seeing some time in the outfield or Guzman getting a few starts. Depending upon the extent of the injury and what direction the Yankees decide to go in the aftermath, there's even a chance that we could see Austin Jackson before the season is over, and potentially in the post-season as well.

In commenting on Joba Chamberlain early this week, Brian Cashman seemed to indicate that the Yankees would only carry ten pitchers for the ALDS. If that's the case, they'll have a six man bench at their disposal. Jose Molina, Gardbrera, Hinske, and Pena are virtual locks for those spots right now. How the remaining two openings are filled will hinge upon what happens in an MRI tube at some point today.

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