Only constant for Yankees in dramatic season has been change
CHICAGO -- Every so often, Yankees traveling secretary Ben Tuliebitz will pick up the P.R. department's game notes, scan the list of all the players who have participated for the club this season and stumble across a name he hadn't considered for a while. Cody Eppley? Ben Francisco? It's easy to forget those players were 2013 Yankees, but both were on the Opening Day roster, an ancient document of little present-day use.
"This has been the craziest year for me," said Tuliebitz, who is in his seventh season as traveling secretary. "I have a checklist of all the things I need to do, and it seems like every time I start crossing something off my list, I have to add something because we're going to call this guy up and send this guy down."
Lost amid the Alex Rodriguez saga has been the fact that the Yankees are on closing in on a record for most position players used in one season. With his debut on Monday -- which came the same day Derek Jeter went on the disabled list for the third time this year, Brent Lillibridge was demoted and infielder David Adams joined the team, also for the third time this season -- Rodriguez became the 30th Yankees position player to log a plate appearance in 2013. That is easily the most in baseball; second place belongs to the Marlins with 25.
For perspective's sake, New York is now one of only 15 clubs since 1920 to use 30 or more position players in a season. Only four have used as many as 31, with the high-water mark of 33 belonging to the 2004 Royals. And, don't forget, we haven't yet reached September call-ups.
Asked if he ever envisioned roster churn such as this, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said, "Never," adding, "Obviously that's a result of all the injuries we've had. We've had to continue to mix and match, waiver claim and trade."
New York has had 18 players make a total of 23 trips to the disabled list this year for a total of 939 games lost to injury. That includes long stays for stars Rodriguez (110 games), Jeter (107), Curtis Granderson (98) and Mark Teixeira (43).
"No, this is a first for me," Overbay said about seeing so many recurring injuries. "Usually when they come back, they're good -- they're healthy and they're back. The past is past. But Granderson got hurt again. Jeter's been hurt a couple times. It just seems like they come back and they get hurt [again] -- Teixeira. That doesn't happen. Injuries are going to happen, but to get them back and then have them get hurt again is almost unheard of."
Overbay said it's been harder to get to know some of his teammates, both personally and regarding their on-field habits. He said he's still learning more about playing alongside second baseman Robinson Cano, and that such interaction and communication can help make each other better.
"Those things don't come up in the media or when you analyze the game," Overbay said, "but those are things that matter."
(Overbay's rightfield experience was easier, given the wide jurisdiction he yielded to centerfielder Brett Gardner: "I just told him he's got everything to my right, so we figured that out real quick.")
Most clubs suffering such injury carnage or tinkering so regularly end up near the bottom of the standings. Six of the eight clubs who have used 21 or more position players this year have losing records. New York, however, is hanging on at 57-55 despite a -19 run differential and a team OPS of .667 that is second-worst in the majors to only the Marlins.
Cashman praised his players' willingness to adapt -- Overbay had never previously played the outfield, for instance, and career outfielder Vernon Wells has started a game at first base and even played third -- and their investment in helping this team in perpetual flux. "They care a great deal," he said.
New York's least productive positions have been the left side of the infield: its third basemen have a .560 OPS and just four home runs, and their shortstops have a .556 OPS and three homers. Jeter is out again for at least a couple weeks, but this is where Rodriguez's return from offseason hip surgery and a recent quad strain could make a difference. The Yankees rank dead-last in the majors in both third-base OPS -- the big league average is .731 -- and in OPS from righthanded batters, where their hitters have a .590 (compared to a league-wide standard of .706).
"If Alex is healthy, which he seems to be, he's going to help this team a lot," teammate Vernon Wells said.
Girardi believes Rodriguez still has the ability to go on a hot streak that could carry this lineup. Girardi said he saw "explosiveness in his swing" during the first game.
"I think he's capable of doing that," Girardi said of Rodriguez going on a tear. "A lot of times the baseball field is your relief, in a sense, because it's where you can block most everything else out of what's going on in your life."
Though on Monday several Yankees addressed the particularities of Rodriguez's playing amidst the commotion of his high-profile suspension and appeal in the Biogenesis case, at least one veteran leader doesn't believe it'll persist any more than any other story in New York.
"I don't see any difference," Granderson said Tuesday. "Right now this [media attention] is very similar to what we see otherwise before games, postgames, all those different things like that -- this is the New York Yankees. I wouldn't expect anything different. Obviously there was a little story there, but I don't see it as the last story."
It's Cashman's job to choose the players and Tuliebitz's job to get them there, no matter the logistics. Veteran first baseman Travis Ishikawa, for instance, was home with his family in the Bay Area when the Yankees plucked him off the waiver wire, so Tuliebitz said he arranged for Ishikawa, the player's wife and their two young children to fly cross-country. Ishikawa arrived a day earlier than his family in order to play on July 8. His family made the game, but they weren't around much longer -- Ishikawa played just the one game before being designated for assignment on July 11.
Adams arrived at the ballpark at first pitch on Monday night after his flight landed two hours before the 7:10 p.m. CDT start and rush hour traffic impeded his progress from there. That's still better than his return to Triple A two weeks ago. The team was playing in Louisville, but all New York-area flights there were canceled because of storms, so Adams instead was booked on a flight to Cincinnati. The bad weather delayed that flight five hours, so he was bunkered down in Newark airport until 1 a.m., landing in Cincinnati at 3 and then taking a car service the last hour and a half to Louisville.
Six Yankees have made their major league debut this year, which requires extra attention from Tuliebitz as the players are unfamiliar with their destinations and the team tries to accommodate requests for family members to attend. Tuliebitz's craziest day was arranging for the big league club to play a rain-induced doubleheader in Cleveland on Monday, May 13, which was previously an off-day on the schedule. The twinbill was wedged between a weekend series in Kansas City and a mid-week series at home. Two players making their debuts, Corban Joseph and Brett Marshall, joined the club in Cleveland. Joseph was the doubleheader taxi squad -- teams can add a 26th player for for doubleheaders but the player must return to the minors after 24 hours -- and stayed just one day while Marshall lasted for three days.
"The original team we were supposed to have is only coming together now," Tuliebitz said, "and it's August."
The Yankees hope that's not too late to reach October -- and Tuliebitz hopes they all arrive on time.