More questions than answers in the outfield
TO THE MATS WITH READER MAIL
1: GODS AND GODDESES OF DUNGEONS & DRAGONS
I enjoy reading the Pinstriped Blog. An interesting thought came to
mind after the Teixeira signing, which I love. Who do you think is
the most powerful person in baseball — Bud Selig or Scott Boras?
Does Boras have too much influence on the game and should
something be done to limit his control of the game, like a limit on
the number of players he can represent in general or each year?
Also, what are the best options for the Yankees in the outfield short
term and long term? If Cabrera and Gardner don’t perform well in center
field, how soon could we see [Austin] Jackson in there? Out of the
current candidates of Swisher, Nady, Cabrera, Gardner who has the
best arm (I leave off Damon and Matsui because I know they can’t
throw)? Thanks, Jeff
Thank you for writing, Jeff. The “power” of Boras is generally overstated. He’s a very smart, very successful agent who does good things for his clients. He doesn’t negotiate media rights contracts or decide who gets to own the Chicago Cubs, though maybe he should. He does his job, which is to drive a hard bargain for his clients. What power he has derives exclusively from teams wanting to hire the people he represents. If they refuse to bargain with him, he’s pretty helpless, although they do pay a penalty for that in not getting hold of some very good players. Power seems to imply the ability to impose your will on others, and Boras needs complicit partners before he can even start talking. As for the outfield, I believe in Gardner’s ability to get on base. The question is if he will do it often enough to overcome his utter lack of power.
As for Jackson, don’t get too excited too soon. His indifferent Arizona Fall League performance and good-not-great performance at Double-A Trenton argues for some Triple-A seasoning before he gets a crack at a full-time job. I expect you’ll see a lot of him in Spring Training just so the Major League staff gets familiar with him, and if he does well at Scranton, an injury call-up during the year is a distinct possibility. The center field job would seem to be something for 2010.
2: SOMETIMES YOU JUST FALL OUT OF LOVE (THERE DOESN’T HAVE TO BE A REASON)
Why is it that lots of Yankee fans don’t like Gardner in center? He’s
very fast, an excellent defender and wasn’t half-bad with the bat in
his second stint last year. Also, what happened to the Yankees’
fondness of Xavier Nady? It seemed like when they got him, the
organization really liked him. But now they’re thinking of trading
him? Trading away a .305 AVG, 25 HR and 97 RBI from an offense that
had trouble scoring runs last year? Does that even make sense? –Tucker
It makes a ton of sense, Tucker, because Nady isn’t really a .305 hitter. In his career, he’s been far closer to the hitter he cooled from his hot pinstriped start, a .268/.320/.474 hitter. As far as corner outfield production goes, it’s subpar. If Nick Swisher gets back on track this year, he’ll get on base much closer to 40 percent of the time and show comparable power. The value in Nady last season was that he was a huge in-season upgrade on Melky Cabrera, who he displaced from the lineup by allowing Johnny Damon to go back to center. That was a very nice move by Brian Cashman to staunch a bleeding wound, but Nady isn’t someone a championship team plans on starting.
The knock on Gardner is that he’s a banjo hitter, but as you point out he did a fine job in his second stint with the Yankees. He’s a fine defender and an excellent baserunner, and if he can get on base with any regularity, he can show that there are more ways to contribute than hitting home runs. His upside is far superior to that of Melky Cabrera, who has but one skill right now, hitting for average, and that skill was absent this season.
3: MORE ON THE THEME OF THE DAY
Steve- in your PB column of today, you indicate the Yankees should
keep Swisher and trade Nady. Certainly, last year’s numbers would
scream for the opposite course of action. You seem to be thinking
that last year was an aberration for both players and that each will
return to their prior form. I would prefer the Yankees use a six-man
rotation of Matsui, Damon, Nady, Swisher, Melky and Gardner to
cover the DH and three outfield spots. Unless the a Nady trade yields
a significant prospect or an upgrade in center field, the only reason I
could see trading Nady and not going with this six man rotation is
financial. Do you agree?–Saul
Happy New Year, Saul. One problem I see right off the bat with the Six-for-One plan is that, assuming a staff of 12 pitchers, the Yankees aren’t going to be able to carry all those outfielders plus a reserve catcher and an extra infielder. Beyond that, it’s not necessarily the best application of resources. First, Cabrera is guilty until proven innocent. He was not a great Minor League hitter, and has yet to be even average in the Majors. His big skill is that he can throw. Last year he killed the Yankees, punished them very badly given what an even subpar center fielder would have done. Many among the readership are ready to forgive and forget, but it’s not clear that there’s a good reason to expect a great deal more. Unless Cabrera develops an unexpected ability to knock balls over the wall or suddenly becomes highly selective, he’s going to have to hit .300 to create any kind of offense. His Major League batting averages are, in order,.280, .273, and .249. Wake me when the movie’s over.
Matsui’s knees may anchor him to DH, and given what we’ve seen of his defense, that’s not a bad thing. Between offensive and defensive deficiencies, there’s no reason to ever play Cabrera, Gardner, or Damon in right field. Although every one of the players you list except for Nady has been a center fielder at some point in his life, only Cabrera and Gardner really have the ability to play the position at this point. Just to sort it all out, Nady would make a fine hedge against injury. Using him to rotate Damon or Swisher out of the lineup against select pitchers or for general rest would be a great thing. There are three problems: first, Nady might not want to spend his season that way. Second, given that he just spent half a season batting .330, his value will never be higher. Third, he’s off to arbitration, so he’s about to get expensive for a bench piece. Oh, and there’s a fourth thing: at the end of the year he leaves and the Yankees have to start all over again. If he brings a more youthful body who will be under team control for several years, the greater utility might be in sending him away.
AND ON THAT NOTE…
…I send myself away for New Year’s revelry. I wish each and every one of you a safe, happy, and loving new year, and I will look forward to seeing you in 2009. May it be a very good year for us all.