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Replacing Curtis Granderson

Yankees fans and fantasy owners cringed when the diagnosis was released — J.A. Happ‘s errant fastball broke Curtis Granderson‘s right forearm during his first at-bat of Spring Training on Sunday. The good news is e suffered the injury very early in camp, so the ten-week recovery puts him on track to return in early-May rather than sometime later in the summer.

The Yankees can’t really afford to lose Granderson’s bat after letting Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, Eric Chavez, and others walk as free agents this winter, but fantasy owners are losing out on a 40-homer (pace) outfielder as well. Granderson hit at least seven homers in three of the last four Aprils, and while that doesn’t mean he would have automatically done it again in 2013, it is a reminder of what he’s capable of providing early in the season.

GM Brian Cashman told reporters the team will look internal for Granderson’s replacement, which is their stock line whenever an injury strikes. There are obvious trade candidates like Alfonso Soriano sitting out there, but Cashman does have track record of being patient and trying out internal solutions before diving into the trade market. The Bobby Abreu trade in 2006 is a prime example — the Yankees didn’t acquire him until the trade deadline even though Gary Sheffield and Hideki Matsui got hurt in May. That’s when Melky Cabrera got his first extended chance in the big leagues.

The Yankees have plenty of internal options to evaluate over the next month as they prepare for the regular season, so let’s look them and their ZiPS projections over to determine if any have actual fantasy value. These guys are listed alphabetically, so don’t bother reading anything into the order.

Zoilo Almonte | .233/.281/.406 | 19 HR | 12 SB

Almonte, 23, had a nice year in Double-A last summer, hitting .278/.322/.488 (120 wRC+) with 21 homers and 15 steals (in 19 attempts) in 450 plate appearances. He’s a switch hitter who showed a drastic platoon split according to Minor League Central, hitting lefties far worse than righties. For what it’s worth, he showed zero split the year before. Almonte struck out 102 times (22.7 K%) against only 23 unintentional walks (5.1 BB%) last year, which aren’t exactly the kind of strike zone control numbers that make you think he’s ready to skip over Triple-A and contribute to a big league contender. He is on the 40-man roster though, which could be a factor.

Matt Diaz | .247/.302/.374 | 4 HR | 3 SB

I recommend checking out this post from Chad Jennings of the Journal News, in which Diaz detailed the palm branch-related injuries that hampered him in recent years. The Yankees signed the 34-year-old to a minor league contract to see if he could serve as a right-handed bat off the bench, though it has now been three full seasons since his big (136 wRC+) breakout year with the Braves. The palm branches have something to do with that and it remains to be seen how much offense he can still provide. The Yankees will evaluate Diaz in camp and given his status as a Proven Veteran™, he has to be considered a favorite to make the team.

Melky Mesa | .209/.266/.380 | 19 HR | 16 SB

Mesa, 26, has the worst projection but is the best all-around player in this bunch. He’s been an 18 HR/18 SB guy in the minors three times in the last four years, though his contact issues (23.5 K% in 2012 and 27.7% career) are very real. The various scouting reports say he’s a speedy runner and a standout defender with a strong throwing arm, which could give him a leg up in the Spring Training competition. When looking for relatively short-term injury replacements, teams usually look for a players who can do at least one thing well. Since none of these guys is expected to him much, Melky2.0’s defense could earn him that roster spot. He made his big league debut last September and any fantasy value would come primary from his stolen base ability.

Ronnier Mustelier | .264/.309/.413 | 11 HR | 9 SB

A Cuban defector who signed for just $50,000 back in June 2011, the 28-year-old Mustelier has done nothing but hit since landing with the Yankees. He’s put together a .324/.378/.497 batting line (13.0 K% and 6.7 BB%) in 656 minor league plate appearances across three levels, so pretty much a full season’s worth of playing time. Manager Joe Girardi mentioned Mustelier by name as a call-up option when the team was dealing with injuries last year, so he’s surely on the radar this spring. Defense is the issue here, as he’s settled into left field after playing second and third last year. Mustelier is the trendy pick to take over in left among fans, but the team’s plans are unknown.

Juan Rivera | .260/.314/.407 | 13 HR | 2 RBI

Signed to a minor league deal to compete with Diaz for that right-handed bench spot, the 34-year-old Rivera is a former Yankee and the guy with the best big league track record among the internal candidates. He stunk last year (81 wRC+) but was essentially a league average hitter from 2009-2011. Rivera used to be a pretty good defender with a very strong arm, but that isn’t the case anymore. Like Diaz, he has the whole Proven Veteran™ thing going for him.

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The dark horse in this race is Eduardo Nunez, who has played a tiny bit of outfield in his career. Cashman & Co. maintain he is an infielder and not a candidate for the suddenly-open outfield job, however. That’s a shame, he’s a legitimate 20-steal (pace) kind of guy and would instantly be the most fantasy relevant player in this post.

The Yankees have two outfield spots open on their roster right now. Brett Gardner will slide over into center with Ichiro Suzuki in right, but they need to find a replacement left fielder and a fourth outfielder for the bench. They have a tendency to lean towards veteran players over youngsters, especially for part-time roles, so I would expect at least one of Diaz or Rivera to make the team. If Mesa, Almonte, or Mustelier makes the club, it will be because they had a dynamite spring and really impressed the decision makers. Either way … pretty much none of these guys have fantasy value. Mesa might chip in some steals or Mustelier could blow past his projection, but neither is guy you’d target in a draft or any earlier than the $1 portion of an auction.