So far in Spring Training, the Yankees seem to be looking at 4 first baseman. There is no question going into the season about who will be the everyday player. The puzzle is more whether the Yankees need a dedicated first base backup on the bench or whether they will go with a middle-infield utility man and use Nick Johnson at 1B on those days when Teixeira does not start there.
Last season, the Yankees underwent a massive upgrade at first base. Mark Teixeira was perhaps the best defensive first baseman in the American League in 2009. His predecessor in that role, Jason Giambi, was a defensive liability and had become an embarrassment on many other levels following his embroilment in the steroids scandal.
But even if we subtract those issues, then we are left with the fact that Teixeira was a .063 upgrade on slugging percentage (.502 to .565), a .045 improvement on batting average (.247 to .292) and a 6 point improvement on on-base percentage (.377 to .383) as well as 9 years younger. All this despite a poor April and lack-lustre October.
Nick Johnson who has been signed to be an everyday designated hitter can play a competent first base – but he has two connected weaknesses. He is prone to injury and perhaps more significantly slow to heal and recover when injured. This means that putting him in the field (like Hideki Matsui at leftfield during 2009) is a small gain for a potentially huge price.
So, if you don’t want to use Johnson at 1b and you want to spell Teixeira occasionally, what are the options?
Venezuelan-born, Jose Gil has been used in Spring Training but only in 3 games so his positive batting average means nothing and beyond Spring Training he has not yet been used beyond double-A Trenton Thunder. P.J. Pilittere (previously thought of as a catcher) has seen more action in Spring Training and did excellently at Trenton last year and even better at Triple-A Scranton but he is behind the only real possibility at this position. Juan Miranda has appeared in 13 games in the last 2 seasons for New York. His career figures over that small amount of time see him batting .368 and slugging .579 and defensively he is okay and if chosen would also spell Johnson at DH.
Ultimately, I think Miranda is unlikely to make the cut with the Yankees more likely to use their bench space for a 2b/ss. But if they do find a spot for him behind Teixeira, he is unlikely to let them down.
Yankees at 1b:
1. Mark Teixeira
2. Juan Miranda
3. P.J. Pilittere
Like to carry: One