More on the center field merry-go-round

damon_250_010809.jpgJon Heyman of SI.com had an interesting tidbit in a recent posting about the Yankees shopping Nick Swisher and Xavier Nady:

Johnny Damon isn’t in the trade mix, as the Yankees need him to be their leadoff hitter and part of a center field rotation. The other in-house candidates for center field are Melky Cabrera and Brett Gardner.

That’s interesting, though not in the basic meaning of it — even though Damon is in the last year of his contract and is coming off something like a career season, it seemed unlikely the Yankees would try to move him, given the two roles he plays on the team, leadoff hitter, as Heyman mentions, as well as defensively overqualified left fielder. Many observers tend to focus on Damon’s poor arm, but his speed makes for a corner outfielder who can cover an unusual amount of ground.

Now, if you think about it, the most potent offensive outfield the Yankees could field next year would be Nady in left, Damon in center, and Swisher in right, rather than the presumed alternative, Damon in left, some combination of Gardner and Cabrera in center, and Xavier Nady in right — and Swisher playing the Ghost of Christmas Past, or Hamlet’s Father, or something. The problem with doing that, beyond the misuse of Swisher, is that at Damon’s current stage of the lifecycle, he’s better off not being overtaxed. Further, while his speed still does wonders in left, it’s not quite as spectacular in center — Damon had already slid off his peak the position before the Yankees moved him.

That said, being part of a center field rotation, as per Heyman above, makes all kinds of sense in that it gives the Yankees a great deal more flexibility in being able to waltz other players in and out of the corners. The more positions a star can play without compromising the defense, the better off the team is, because the club begins to close off openings for the replacement-level players that are so damaging to the winning effort. Similarly, Joe Girardi needn’t be married to any one center fielder.

There is yet another hand, which is that the Yankees might want to get married to a center fielder. Damon is in the last year of his contract, and as good as he was at 34 and may be at 35, asking him to keep it up at 36 and 37 will likely be pushing it. Given that the class of free agent center fielders next winter is going to be no fun, the Yankees will be in much better shape going into 2010 if they have the next center fielder lined up now. That could mean getting Gardner established, finding some way to electrify Melky, or even giving Austin Jackson a shot in the second half of the season, should his work at Scranton demand such an audition. Obviously the needs of 2010 have to be balanced against the goal of winning in 2009, with any luck the two goals will be mutually compatible.

One supposes the Yankees will need another leadoff man after 2009 as well. Traditional images would suggest that Gardner is the man, but Gardner may never have enough sock to justify taking up so many plate appearances, regardless of how many bases he steals. The Yankees will need to remember that your leadoff hitter need not match the picture of the singles-hitting speedster. That way lies madness. That way lies Juan Pierre. Remember, Wade Boggs was a great leadoff hitter, and he almost never stole a base. It’s about how often you’re on, not about how fast you can run. In an era of home run hitting, the rest takes care of itself.

SO LET’S TAKE THIS TOPIC ON THE AIR
Later today (6:30 EST) I’ll be appearing from the Bunker on the Yes Network’s Hot Stove show. As usual, I’ll be asked to summarize what we’ve been discussing this week. Let’s try a simple vote, which I’ll relay to the fellers on the air: who should be the starting center fielder in 2009? Damon? Gardner? Cabrera? A rotation split roughly in equal thirds? Or a write-in candidate of your choice? Jim Edmonds is still out there, and he murdered the ball for the Cubs last year. He’d be a heck of a platoon player in center. Argue it out in the comments section below, and I’ll tally up your responses while waiting for smilin’ Bob Lorenz to cast his dancing spell my way.

25 Comments

A platoon of Jim Edmonds and either Gardner or Melky would be interesting.

Also, I read someplace that Melky was showing a better eye in winter ball, is that true? Would taking some walks make him a more vialble full time centerfielder? I think somebody needs a good arm in the outfield or else you’ll see teams that have speed going first to third on every ground ball that leaks thru the infield.

LF- Damon, C-Gardner/Swisher RF-Nady

It should’ve been Rocco Baldelli. How the heck do the Yanks let the Red Sox get him? Now, the hated Sox have the center fielder they need to trade Ellsbury for Hanley Ramirez.

Also, it seems like the Sox understand that you need to go into the season with 6 or 7 pitchers (see Smoltz). How come the Yanks don’t get that?

Melky has done well in winter ball according to the stats on MLB.com http://mlb.mlb.com/milb/stats/org.jsp?id=nyy. In 93 AB across 24 games he has hit .312/.393/.409 If he can bring those numbers over to spring training and the regular season I’d be very happy to see him back in center. Right now I think the best way to go is to have Cabrera and Gardner compete for the job in spring training.

I think Nady will be the one who is traded away. He has the highest trade value right now. He just had a career season and when he doesn’t resign with the team he was traded to they will be able to pick up a nice draft pick if he remains a Type A player.

Could the Yankees package Nady/Swisher with some pitching prospects to get a good CF? Could DeJesus, Maybin, Milledge, Ankiel or another guy be gotten in a deal that wouldn’t cost too much?

My nominations (and it should be noted, I’m stupid) would be: Damon in left, unless the Yankees truly believe they can get something worthwhile back for him in a trade. I’ve never been a huge fan.
Gardner in center. I don’t believe in Melky, Damon has no arm, and I don’t think Jim Edmonds is happening.
Swisher in right. Trade Nady for the fifth starter Andy Pettitte isn’t going to be. Give the man a chance to rebound. Hope Austin Jackson tears Scanton to pieces. And let the Red Sox have Baldelli. The Yankees have already taken their Number One free agent and two quality starting pitchers. Some would (and have) say that’s piggy already, although I disagree.

I’m much more content going into the season with Gardner and Cabrera fighting it out to be the everyday centerfielder now that we signed Teixeira. We have to remember that these guys are very young. Give them some time, be paitient with them. IF Cashman can make a trade that would considerably make the Yankees better than I would do what’s necessary. If they can’t, then don’t. Don’t just trade away your young talent for middle aged veterans.
Also, I think the Yankees should sign Pettite. He’ll be a perfect fit in that 4 or 5 slot which he’ll have less pressure to perform as highly. There was a good point by “wallypip,” signing pitchers never hurts. Go into spring training with your 5 starters and have a couple back up plans that are major league ready.

Damons main weakness is his arm and thats not too important in left field, so i would say keep him there, he’s doing a good job so far as Steve pointed out in the atricle.
As for Centerfield lets give Gardner a shot, i don’t think hes the anwser but he can hold it down for at least a year then we can see what Austin J. has to offer.
Now for right Field hows this we resign Bobby for a year or two. Granted his defense is not the greatest but he can still throw and he could bat third again in front of Arod and Tex.
The way the market has been going we should be able to sign him for 10 mil or less. We trade nady for prospects or whatever scraps we can get for him and we keep Swisher as a 4th outfielder and backup 1b/DH. I think last year proved how important it is to have a good bench.

Heres a shot in the dark..you think Griffy jr. would want to play Right field for us a year? probably be a lot cheaper than Bobby and a much better fielder. He could platoon with swisher to keep fresh.

unless we can somehow steal a good young outfielder from somebody i think those are our best options.

Griffey Jr.? Come on folks, he is not the answer anywhere in the outfield. Stop throwing out names for the sake of doing so. The moves that are not made are sometimes the smartest moves. The Yankees need to make SMART moves, moves that make sense for now and the future.

Griffey Jr. is not the best solution it was just thrown out there as temp. solution in right Field. (he’s better now than Gardner, melky or even Nady will ever be)
theres no need to imply that other peoples opinion are not”smart” its fine not to agree, but theres no need for insulting.

jlevy1112@gmail.com, note that according to Carlos Lugo (Steven’s sometimes BP colleague, and an announcer/writer down in the DR), scoring in the Dominican Winter League this “year” – where Melky played – was the highest it ever was (h/t today’s Keith Law chat). So take Melky’s numbers there with a grain of salt.

I think the best OF combo is, versus RHP, Damon in LF, Gardner/Melky in CF, and Swisher in RF; but vs LHP, Damon in LF, Swisher in CF, and Nady in RF. If Nady does anything well, its hit LHP.

Edmonds is an interesting option, especially as he cannot be allowed anywhere near LHP – he can’t hit them at all, and hasn’t been able to for a while (check his splits: 2008 at http://tinyurl.com/7uty76; 2007 at http://tinyurl.com/8t8sep; 2006 at http://tinyurl.com/ax6ym9). However, that means the Yanks probably shouldn’t platoon him with Gardner (a lefty hitter) or Melky (who can’t hit LHP either).

Didn’t the Yankees just trade for Swisher this off season? Why is there already talk of trading him?

Julia
http://werbiefitz.mlblogs.com/

What about Matsui? I know he is slotted for the DH role but you have to figure that Posada is going to take some games off from behind the dish (if he’s even ready come 4/01) so you either have to bench Matsui those games or keep him in a LF rotation…I would just pencil Matsui in LF for games when Damon is in CF. I would have Gardner/Swisher as my regular CF platoon (unless Melky can prove he has the discipline to take being the everyday CF seriously). I would have Nady in RF 150 games, with the CF platoon taking a few starts in RF.

It would be great if Austin Jackson could get some games in CF, but why rush him? He needs to play everyday, I’d like a September call-up for him.

If they really want to go crazy they could look at Andruw Jones…great defense and he might actually put up a decent batting average in lineup as stacked as the Yankees. We could get him for a bucket of balls.

I’ll comment more on this later on my blog and radio show, but just to to honest in the next paragraph from an athlete’s perspective:

Steve, a mix in centerfield is the worst idea proposed out there. The Yankees do not need a mix in centerfield. They need a centerfielder. Which is why guys like David Dejesus have been in trade rumors. What the Yankees need to do is to get rid of the surplus of outfielders, and that means trade away Swisher and/or Nady. The Yankees could also part ways with Matsui because he has become a liability after being on the DL for 2 of the last 3 years. There have been questionable moves that the Yankees have made and one of them is not offering arbitration to Bobby Abreu, who is still surprisingly in the market. If they were to get rid of some of the outfielders, then they could probably make a two-three year deal to Abreu. But what Dejesus can offer is valuable. Good speed on the basepaths, youth, a glove, and plus, he is considered a bargain considering his contract if he were to be traded to the Yankees. Sorry Steve, but I do have to make my point.

“King Mike”- Mike McIlraith, host of “King Mike’s Throne”

Damon can not throw–at all. He is the worst throwing outfielder the yanks have ever had. He makes Roy White and Mickey Rivers look like Al Simmons. And I don?t feel real sure when he goes after a fly ball. He is not the outfielder he was. Melky should be the centerfielder. He has as much range as anyone and what an arm. If yanks can get him to work hard they will have a real find. But unfortunately the manager does not like him so he is doomed.

How ’bout the Yankees sign Hudson to play second [I haven’t read he’s gone anywhere], thereby upgrading their defense, and getting a leadoff hitter in waiting. Then package Cano and Melky [and maybe a minor league pitcher] for a quality outfielder.

To prdre4yahoo.com. I wasn’t implying your opinion wasn’t smart. I was simply talking in general that the Yankees need to start making smart moves and not careless ones. Settling for an injury prone, high 30’s baseball player would just not be a smart move on the Yanks part.

I like Aaron Rowand… He plays good defense, especially in Yankee Stadium…

i would really love to have Aaron Rowand in CF for the Yankees,after his last display in Yankee Stadium,how can you not want that.

Damon is one of, if not the best base runner in baseball. So we are talking about hitting and fielding…what about base running game?!

How about Randy Winn for a stopgap in CF. He’s a 300 hitter, a switch hitter, and plays good defense. I would much rather the Yankees packaged Nady, Jackson, Kennedy for a top flight center fielder, perhaps Nate McLouth or Curtis Granderson, possibly even Beltran, and put this issue to rest. We aren’t really sure if Jackson will ever pan out, so why not get some established talent if a deal can be worked out?

How about putting at center field, put Damon at left and put Nady at right. You could trade Melky and Gardner for Jake Peavy. `Then you could wait until next year for a new left and rightfielder. For right field you could sign Magglio Ordonez, and for left field they could sign Carl Crawford as a new lead off hitter.

– Brian123

Hanley Ramirez is a superstar in waiting and he’ll switch positions (CF) in the near future. Boston has been rumored to be offering Ellsbury. With no CF options to hit free agency anytime soon, NY should trump the Boston offer and trade for Ramirez. If they hold on to Austin Jackson in the deal, they can always slot him for LF to replace Damon who?s sure to leave via free agency next year.

This might sound like a wild idea but Andruw Jones looks like he’s going to be released by the Dodgers. What about trying him out. I know his stats were herendous last year and it seems like he’s gotten lazy as a ballplayer but why not take a chance on him for the league minimum? He’s got 7 gold gloves, he’s 31 years old and this might have woken him up a little bit. If I were cashman I wouldn’t shy away from this option.

How about Grady Sizemore? The Yankees could trade him for a starting pitcher(Jake Peavy) or a catcher( Joe Mauer) and trade Posada
-Brian123

Ok, where would you possibly get Jake Peavy or Joe Mauer? It seems a bit unrealistic. I don’t think anyone wouldn’t want Sizemore as their centerfielder but let’s think realistically here. You have to give, to get.

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