I’m a fan of the Michael Pineda trade because even if it risks making the Yankees weaker in four years, it makes them stronger for the next two years, which is about the absolute maximum amount of time the Yankees have before one or more of Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira (probably the first two) stops being adequate as a major leaguer in any way. The Yankees are trying to make hay while the sun shines, or at least trying to compete as much as possible before one of those three (my money is on Jeter) needs to be forced to retire at gun point. That the team added a young arm for the future is all the better.
If that’s the logic to the trade, then the downside is that getting Pineda did not make the team unequivocally stronger. Jesus Montero had a valuable role to play on the 2012 Yankees as a legitimate DH. His absence has led to the reemergence of two words that Yankee fans everywhere hate: rotating DH. I am not a fan.
Before I get into the irony that undermines the team’s logic about rotating the DH, I’d like to take a moment to point out that the team itself doesn’t actually believe in the concept. Brian Cashman and company were perfectly willing to have Jorge Posada serve as the almost everyday DH in 2011, not the two games a week so A-Rod can rest his hip DH. The moment a logical full-time DH presented itself the Yankees didn’t double down on rotating the job, they filled it. They did the same thing in 2010 when the team signed Nick Johnson. The DH seems to be a position the Yankees don’t value highly on its own, so they offer the excuse of rotating it when Cashman is too busy filling more pressing needs, but the Bombers would rather have a true DH if they could.
That digression aside, the Yankees also use faulty logic to argue for rotating the DH. The core argument is that the DH is somehow half insulated from the pains and rigors of a 162 game baseball season because he doesn’t play the field. Rotating the DH has so far been code for “Derek and Alex are really freaking old and need rest sometimes.” The problem with the logic is that the two kinds of injuries these guys have been most susceptible to come from hitting, not fielding.
Apart from the bruised thumb he suffered in the field in 2011, Alex Rodriguez has missed significant playing time since 2008 due almost exclusively to injuries to his legs. Obviously I’m not a doctor, but it doesn’t take a stretch of logic to figure that all of these issues are related to the cyst he had removed from his hip in 2009. Restating the obvious again, while I may not be a doctor, I do visit doctors and know from my own conversations with them that A-Rod has suffered from precisely the kind of injury one develops from doing the same thing with the same joints in the body thousands of times, like balancing on your right leg when swinging a bat. Using him as the DH will protect him from further leg injuries how?
Derek Jeter, meanwhile, is probably offended every time he hears his name mentioned among the players who need to be rotated at DH to prevent injury. It doesn’t get mentioned much, but Jeter is ridiculously durable for a shortstop. For seven consecutive seasons, from 2004 to 2010 Derek played in at least 150 games every year. Last year was the first time he missed significant time since 2003 when he separated his shoulder and he still took the field for 131 games, 32 more than the younger A-Rod.
Jeter missed time last year suffering from — wait for it — a leg injury, something playing offense alone isn’t likely to protect him from. Furthermore, apart from that, when he was doing his iron man thing for so many years, Derek was most likely to miss time with hand injuries, hand injuries he would sustain after a pitcher hit him while he was batting.
(I’d add Tex to this part of the post, but Joe Girardi seems to feel it is just fine penciling Mark Teixeira in for 150 games or so at first every season. He does the same thing to Robinson Cano.)
While the concept of the rotating DH is deservedly maligned every offseason, it isn’t actually something the team ever implements, let alone something that makes any sense at all. Each of the past two years the team has talked about rotating the DH, and then gone ahead and tried to fill that role, first with Nick Johnson and then with Jorge Posada. The team will do precisely the same thing this year, even if it isn’t yet clear who will fill that job. That brings me to my last point about the rotating DH. The Yankees can’t actually do it. A-Rod is the player who needs to be put on the field as delicately as possible for 140 games in 2012, but that will mean at most, what, 25 games? Assuming Jeter gets just as many starts at DH (he won’t) the Yankees would still need to fill 110 games or so with someone else. There are no other players on the team who need that kind of rest. For that reason, no matter how much lip service gets payed to having a rotating DH, the team won’t actually do it. Whether it’s Johnny Damon, Andruw Jones or someone else, come opening day the Yankees will have a player in mind to pick up the lumber and do nothing else for at least 100 games.