Yanks to experiment with new outfield alignment
Skipper Girardi giving Gardner look in center field, shifting Granderson to left
TAMPA, Fla. -- Curtis Granderson had heard the rumblings that he might not be the Yankees' center fielder much longer, that it might be time for him and Brett Gardner to try swapping positions. So Granderson went to manager Joe Girardi on Wednesday and learned that, sure enough, the experiment was about to begin.
Thursday morning, Girardi told Granderson to start working in left field and informed Gardner that he should spend some time practicing in center. Girardi said he hasn't made a final decision and that Granderson will still see some time in center no matter what. But the position switch that Girardi had been hinting at all spring finally happened Thursday afternoon.
"We're going to toy with it, see if we like it," Girardi said. "If we do, we'll stay with it. If we don't, then we won't."
The Yankees lost plenty of firepower on offense since last year, so their ability to prevent runs will be of greater importance this season. The advanced defensive metrics suggest that Gardner, one of baseball's best left fielders, would be a superior option in a premium position like center field to Granderson, who ranks among the worst in the Majors by those metrics.
After discussing the possibility of such a switch with a number of people on his coaching staff and in the front office, Girardi finally pulled aside Gardner and Granderson on Thursday morning and told them that they'd be making the move.
Girardi, Granderson and Gardner all said it's just an attempt to see if the Yankees will be a better defensive team the way they'd been playing or with the switch, and they won't know unless they try it out. But Girardi said he will play them in that alignment as often as possible this spring, and they're going to stick with it for "a while" to see if it works.
"I have a pretty good idea how they react in center and left, and they do a pretty good job. I just want to see if it improves or stays the same or what happens," Girardi said. "More, in a sense, how they play individually, but [also] how the tandem works together with covering from right-center all the way over."
Granderson didn't hide the fact that he'd prefer to play center field, and he felt like he performed well there last year. He hasn't played left field since 2007, and he did so sparingly even then. But he also said he wouldn't be disappointed at all if he's the Yankees' starting left fielder on Opening Day.
"Not at all. I'm playing. If I get benched, that's a different story," Granderson said. "But I'm still playing, and that's what I want to do, continue to help this team."
Gardner made it clear that he'd rather be in center field as well. He has spent the majority of his big league career in left, but he said he always has and always will consider himself a center fielder. Gardner started Game 4 of the American League Championship Series -- the last game of the Yankees' 2012 season -- in center field and may very well be back there for their first game of 2013.
"I feel comfortable out there. I feel more comfortable going out there than I would to left field," Gardner said. "Probably always will, even if I play left field for six or eight more years."
After taking batting practice on the main field at the Yankees' Spring Training complex, Granderson went out to left field, Gardner to center and Ichiro Suzuki to right, giving those in attendance a glimpse at the likely starting outfield alignment come Opening Day, assuming this change holds up and everyone remains healthy.
When Granderson and Gardner took notice of the fact that where they were now standing would become the news of the day at Yankees camp, they decided to have a little fun with it. Granderson moved to center field, Gardner shifted to right and Ichiro came all the way around to left field. Not too long after that, Ichiro was in center field, and Gardner and Granderson were standing next to each other in right field.
"We tried to move me to right and Ichiro to center so you [reporters] would really figure something weird was going on," Gardner said.
Girardi and both outfielders insisted that communication won't be an issue in the new alignment, and they don't think it will affect their hitting. Granderson figured he'd have to grow accustomed to the stadium lights, the sun, the different angle at which the ball comes off the bat and all of the things he has since developed a feel for in center.
But Granderson will get a chance over the next several weeks to get used to all of that. If he does, and if Gardner glides right back into his natural position, then the Yankees' outfield will have a whole new look this year.
"I think it has a chance to help us a little bit, but I'm not really sure," Girardi said. "That's why I've said from the beginning -- that I'm going to toy with it. I'm not saying today that this is what it's going to be Opening Day."