Not particularly snappy answers to Melky questions
Q: If Melky Cabrera goes 20-for-40 in spring training and Brett Gardner goes 5-for-40, should it change anything about our expectations for either player?
Not that anybody asked, but it’s a story we should get out in front of. An even better question is, “If they both go 20-for-40, who do you pick?”
A: Gardner. Even if we assume fielding is a wash, he does other things that Cabrera can’t do.
Q: Could you platoon them?
A: Not in any way that’s going to work. Gardner is a left-handed hitter. Cabrera masquerades as a switch-hitter, but so far he’s been completely ineffective from the right side, hitting .251/319/.329 overall and .213/.279/.299 in 2008. Those rates were fueled by a .227 average on balls in play, which suggests either extraordinary bad luck, extraordinary defense against him when batting right-handed, or the weakest swings in the history of weak swings.
Q: Say Melky does get back on track. What’s his upside?
A: Darned if I know, or anyone else does either. Before this season’s problems, Cabrera seemed headed for a peak of somewhere around .290/.350/.420. That seems crazily optimistic now. To get there, let alone the realm of star quality, he’d have to completely reinvent himself. In his career to date, he’s shown a proclivity for hitting grounders, an approach that makes home runs kind of unlikely. Selectivity seemed to be something that we could project as an asset back in 2006, but that is no longer the case. Then there’s the aforementioned platoon problem. Cabrera hit in some bad luck this year, and if he avoids the lefties his batting average should rebound a bit. That said, batting average isn’t everything. You have to reach base and hit with power too, and the likelihood of Cabrera recovering his patience and learning to elevate his swing seems pretty remote. The chance of even one of them happening seems remote.
Q: So what should the Yankees do?
A: I’m partial to giving Gardner a try. Though he doesn’t profile as a real offensive producer, he should have sufficient patience that if he hits .280 he’ll get on base at an above-average rate. Throw in some stolen bases and good defense and you have a valuable package. If he succeeds, great, and if not, in an ideal world Austin Jackson could challenge for the job before the year is up. Unfortunately, there is a broader problem in that the entire Yankees outfield might not produce next season. Johnny Damon is a near-certainty to regress. If Xavier Nady is the starting right fielder, he represents a 20-run discount on Bobby Abreu while only slightly improving the defense. The Yankees will be asking a great deal of the infield, which makes the center field decision even more important than it seems on the surface. If Cabrera is worth 65 runs of offense to the Yankees next year, and Gardner 75, then they had better go with Gardner because those ten runs are going to count.
Q: Doesn’t that point up the whole not-offering-arb to Abreu thing?
A: Well, sort of. I can’t speak to the Yankees’ perception of their finances, so let’s stick to this in pure baseball terms. The team is lacking a strong right fielder. It’s not that the Yankees can’t move on from Abreu–there are strong arguments that they should, among them his declining plate judgment and his odd phobia about balls hit to the wall. The problem is that they need to replace that offense. They could theoretically replace it anywhere on the field. If your new right fielder is 20 runs worse (as I suggested above) and your new first baseman is 20 runs better, then at worst you’ve broken even. The problem right now is that Nick Swisher/Xavier Nady isn’t as potent as Jason Giambi/Bobby Abreu, and a country mile off from what Mark Teixeira/Nick Swisher would be.
If all financial matters were equal, then offering Abreu arbitration would have been a win-win scenario for the Yankees. If he declined, the Yankees would pick up some juicy draft picks, picks they can really use. If he accepted, they would have one more year of Abreu, possibly a last good one, without being on the hook for any decline that came later. In that scenario they could also immediately dedicate themselves to trading Nady, whose trade value will never be higher than it is right now (I borrow that last thought from the estimable Cliff Corcoran). There’s a reason that Nady has been with four teams in the last four seasons, and unless the Yankees are careful they’re about to find out what it is.
Q: Hey, Adam Dunn wasn’t offered arbitration. You haven’t mentioned him as a possible acquisition target for the Yankees. Why not?
A: Because my dreams just aren’t that big. A lefty slugger who has popped 40 homers a year for the last five seasons? If the Yankees could clear DH for him they would greatly benefit, but look at the points we’ve just gone over–offense isn’t management’s priority. It’s a shame that economy has brought on an austerity kick now instead of say, 2005, when the Yankees could have banked their money instead of blowing it on Carl Pavano and Jaret Wright. This winter, when the team has legit multiple targets to spend on, they can only afford to have CC Sabathia on the brain. Dunn seems to me to be the kind of player who won’t age well as he hits 33 or so–still five years off–and so does Sabathia, with his hulking frame and heavy workload. Five years from now, Teixeira might be the only one left standing.
A COUPLE OF MORE SITE NOTES
A reminder that as part of our new setting here, there is a handy RSS feed for you to subscribe to. It’s at the bottom of the blue sidebar at the right. We’re also going to be putting a snack bar and a Jacuzzi over there, so keep your trunks handy. Finally, keep those comments coming–I’m paying rapt attention. Finally, tune in to YES on Thursday at 6:30 to see an audio-animatronic version of myself interact in lifelike fashion with the actual Bob Lorenz. A splendid time is guaranteed for all.