So with Nick Johnson getting an early start to reaching his injury quota for the year, it bears bringing up how his absence from the lineup would best be filled if it were to happen during the regular season. Granted the Yankees have plenty of bodies to fill a spot on the roster between their platoon of 4th outfielders and small army of light-hitting utility infielders in the Minors, but none of those guys can be considered ideal replacements in terms of production. If the Yankees are smart, they will consider one man and man alone as Johnson's replacement in the lineup: The Savior himself, Jesus Montero.
This is really a no-brainer as far as I see it. Montero has been deemed Major League ready as a hitter by Jorge and Girardi already, so what better way to see how true that is and get him prepared to become a full-time contributor next season than to give him as many at-bats as possible this season?
And don't even try to give me the "but he still needs more work as a catcher and he can't get that experience if he's DH'ing in the Majors...blah, blah, blah" argument. When you have a guy this highly touted in your system, you find a way to get him at-bats. The Cardinals did it with Albert Pujols, working him around the outfield and infield before finally settling him in as their first baseman, and the Marlins did something similar when they first brought Miguel Cabrera up. It would be foolish to let Montero's one weakness (which he is already working hard to improve) overshadow his greatest strength, especially in a situation where that strength can help the team.
And what's to say Montero's defense couldn't be helped just by being on the 25-man roster and being able to talk to, work with, and learn from Jorge and Cervelli? I don't think Montero would just be sitting around on his ass all day before games and on off-days. The dude can still throw his catching gear on and get some work in if he wants to; he knows that and the Yankees know that so I'm sure they would find ways to help him work on his catching during his downtime, knowing that they could be going into 2011 with him as the new Number 1 catcher.
The bottom line is the Yankees don't have anybody else who can realistically be expected to step in and attempt to replace Johnson's production as a full-time hitter. The Marcus Thames', Jamie Hoffmans, and Randy Winns of the world were not brought in to be full-time players. They are just Band-Aids for Brett Gardner if he doesn't perform up to snuff, and I'm still not sold on Juan Miranda since his Major League success has been in such a limited number of at-bats.
With Montero, the Yankees can run out a lineup 1-9 that is just as dangerous, if not potentially more dangerous, than it is with Johnson. C-Grand can move up to the 2-spot, and Montero can be put either 7th or 8th and keep the balance of righties and lefties that Joe said he wanted to have with the lineup this year. The only downside would be losing the 2-3 days of first base rest for Mark Teixeira that Joe said he wanted to give him, but he probably wouldn't need that much anyway and even if Joe stuck with that plan I think everybody can live with a couple games of Nick Swisher at first and Winn in right.
Of course, this is all hypothetical and none of it matters if Johnson stays healthy throughout the year. But if not, then replacing him is an issue the Yankees will have to address and the best way to address it, as it will mostly affect the team's offense, is with your next best offensive option. With all the hype and positive comments surrounding him, Montero should be given his shot to prove that he is that option.
BYB HOT STOVE: VOLUME XV
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