Depth perception one hard lesson

ransom_250_030909.jpgTHE ONE AFTER 909
As you know by now, Alex Rodriguez and the Yankees will roll the dice on “hybrid” surgery (first thought: they’re turning him into a Prius?) and will hope to have the big guy back in six to nine weeks. We’ll see how that works out. Until then, the Yankees will have to walk on eggshells, because Rodriguez’s is only the first injury, not the last. What happens when you have Cody Ransom and Donald Duck in the lineup? As they say on the subway, “Stand clear of the closing doors.”

The lesson of Rodriguez’s injury is one that we’ve discussed here time and again over the years: You can spend all the money you want, sign all the big-name expensive contracts in the world, but if you don’t have good depth in the form of young players, your team is going to suffer. After years of having nothing on the farm at all, the Yankees now have a good supply of pitchers, something from which they will benefit as soon as the season’s first arm is scragged. The team has been unable to find the same success with position players, particularly as the club’s history with first-round picks (when it has them at all) rivals that of the New York Jets for sheer waste.

In today’s New York Post, George King quotes Brian Cashman: “But you have to remember Erick Almonte for (Derek) Jeter, and last year we went with Jose Molina and Chad Moeller (for Jorge Posada) until Pudge Rodriguez fell into our laps.” The GM is right that the Yankees might survive one injury, but the lesson of last season is that they couldn’t survive two or more. Maybe Molina/ Moeller/I-Rod would have been survivable if Robinson Cano and Melky Cabrera had hit, but they didn’t. Their production was tantamount to their being absent.

One hopes that Ransom plays well — he’s certainly paid his dues — but he’s not going to be the straw that breaks the offense in any case. The replacement to fear is the one after Ransom.

A QUICK TO THE MATS WITH READER COMMENTS
Wanted to snag this response to Friday’s dash through the lineup’s possibilities:

Hey Steve, you sure are a negative guy. How can you possibly know what each player will or will not do for the Yankees. How can you say Damon should have a down year? How can you know that Nady and/or Swisher will not be lights out?
Give me a break!!!!!!!!!!
— Yankeegirl224

Thanks for commenting, Yankeegirl. I’ve written this before: life is not a movie that you’ve never seen before. In fact, it presents all kinds of situations analogous to those that have come before. If you’re aware of the past, you can draw inferences about what’s going to happen next. No, I cannot say with absolute certainty what each player is going to do this year, but given 25 years of seeing how hitters behave first-hand, plus another 80 or so years of historical evidence, I can make some informed guesses. Let’s go back through what I wrote and look at the rationale for each — rationales that I’ve frequently explained throughout the winter, by the way.

1B Mark Teixeira: Solid producer, typically scrapes the underside of MVP-level production but could easily rise to that level with a good season.

I expect you don’t have a problem with that one. Teixeira is a very good hitter, and with some good luck or some slight tweak in his performance, like a mildly improved line drive rate, he could exceed expectations.

2B Robinson Cano: Has to hit .300 to contribute. He might do that, he might not.

Can’t argue here. This is just factual. Because Cano doesn’t walk and isn’t what you would call a slugger, when he doesn’t get his average above a certain level, he eats outs without giving the team much in return. I believe he has a decent-sized rebound in him, but whether he reaches the point of actually being an asset on offense I can’t guess.

3B Cody Ransom: Has some pop, but is unlikely to hit for sustainable average (PECOTA: .216/.293/.386).

This isn’t a big reach either. The Ransom of A-Rod is a career .242/.322/.426 hitter in nearly 1200 minor league games. His numbers at Scranton last year translate to .216/.295/.421 in the majors. At 33, he’s not going to find untapped pools of ability. He’s far more likely to find untapped pools of retirement. While he might find the odd hot streak, as he did last fall, I wouldn’t recommend betting on it. As I said above, I’m rooting for him, but that doesn’t mean having unfounded expectations.

SS Derek Jeter: Offense has declined in two straight seasons. Average of five projection systems: .300/.368/.419.

I didn’t make a prediction here so much as make two statements. If he reaches the numbers cited above, no one will complain.

LF Johnny Damon: Almost certain to take a giant step back.

Here’s one of the ones that caused Yankeegirl to straighten her curls. Unfortunately, I didn’t go out on a limb here either. First, Damon has never been a particularly consistent player, and at 35 he’s not likely to start. Second, his 2008 season was one of the best of his career if not the best. Players generally don’t set new performance norms at 34. I hope Damon does, because he’s had an interesting career and his having a Steve Finley-style last act would put a cherry on it, but it is unlikely to happen. Now, whether Damon dials it back a lot or just a little I don’t know, but the change will be significant either way because all the elements of Damon’s game have to work together for him to make a real contribution — a little batting average, a little power, a little baserunning, a little patience. You kick out any one of those legs and he starts to tread water on the league averages.

CF Brett Gardner and pals: Any production will be a bonus.

This is a conservative prediction, and between last fall and this year’s spring power surge I’m hoping that we’ve seen the birth of a new Gardner, but (as much as I think he’ll be a better regular than Melky Cabrera) until we see him hit with authority for a sustained period of time, he’s still Jason Tyner until proven innocent.

RF Nick Swisher: should be productive in a lower echelon kind of way, Xavier Nady less so, either way, not a big plus.

Swisher is another guy I think will help the Yankees with his walks and his power, but he’s not an MVP-type hitter, and the whole point of this exercise was to suggest that in the absence of Rodriguez, the Yankees are down to one player who meets that description.

DH Hideki Matsui: should hit decently, but not at an MVP level.

We’re entering the seventh year of Matsui’s American career, and he is who he is. There should be nothing remotely controversial about that statement. I actually considered throwing in a few caveats based on age and his physical problems.

C Jorge Posada: may or may not be ready to open the season, may or may not hit as well as he used to, and will probably have to yield to Jose Molina on a regular basis

Again, this is simply a statement of where things are.

So tell me, Yankeegirl and the others who responded negatively, what in here do you really want to argue with?

MORE OF ME
Wholesome Reading is back. After a sabbatical inspired by the BP annual and another urgent project, I’m recharged and ready to wade into current events. About a half-dozen posts went up over the weekend with more to come. WARNING: Politics!

For our readers in th
e Baltimore area (and judging by the number of attendees at O’s games wearing Yankees caps we must have many), the great Jay Jaffe, Clay Davenport, and I will be appearing tomorrow, March 10, at the Johns Hopkins University Barnes & Noble (3330 St. Paul Street, Baltimore) to talk baseball, sign books, and crack wise. Hope to see you, your wives, and girlfriends tomorrow night. A splendid time is guaranteed for all. 

11 Comments

If Donald Duck isn’t available perhaps Goofy could stand in!

Julia
http://werbiefitz.mlblogs.com/

Steve, while I may not always agree with you, I always learn something new … keep up the great work in breaking down the breakdowns 🙂

mbp

I think Damon’ll do well. I don’t need great, just a 300 hitter with 80 RBI’s…he could give us that. I think Jeter will do better than last yr. He was hit on the hand in the middle of the yr. and his production declined, so I expect a bounceback yr. offensively. I think Posada & Matsui will do fine, Both sound as if they’re progressing well. I’m not too worried about them, if you think too much about what-ifs you’ll drive yourself nuts. Cano, I think, will have ab reakout yr., as will Gardner-and they have great starting pitching. Yanks’ll be fine.

I have no idea what kind of season Damon will have beyond say an OPS+ in the range of 105-115, but he is in his walk year, and that often has a way of boosting a player’s production.

Posada hasn’t even caught a game yet, so I agree that he is a concern,

I’m more concerned that Swisher won’t start every game than I am about his production.

What in Cano suggests a bounceback? He’s declined 2 seasons in a row, and honestly, he’s looked lost ever since Mattingly stopped being in the Yankees dugout (presumably coaching his swing)

I’m really starting to think that with Cano, the .340+ average was the fluke, and he’s honestly a .290 hitter. And at .290, he’s not very good.

Doesn’t it worry anyone else that Damon suddenly had a great season at such a late age? No offense, but I trust no player anymore.

Here’s hoping that Gardner’s good. It’s depressing to think that, once, Melky was considered the future of the outfield. It’s been a rapid freefall.

Maybe Ransom will be another Scott Brosius, who had a lousy 1997 only to be superlative as a Yankee.

And why the jihad against Derek Jeter? There are such things as intangibles that Jeter provides (that the baseball pros recognize) that Arod for all of his millions does not. We will be better off without Arod — addition by subtraction. No need for his homers in blowouts and laughers. And no more of his off-field distractions, until May.

Maybe amdream23 can tell us exactly how many of A-Rod’s 208 homeruns as a Yankee have been in blowouts and laughers. Judging from the “addition by subtraction” baloney, perhaps 207 of them?

What Yankee player has produced more than A-Rod in the past five years? Ah, that would be “nobody.”

Besides being another one of those mythical “true Yankees,”
Brosius had the good fortune to play on Yankee teams that actually had some pitching.

I get a kick out of all the whining fans and media, whose blind hatred for the guy continually fuels controversy, who then turn around and bash A-Rod for being a distraction.

Has there ever been a MORE talented player LESS appreciated? And New York fans are supposed to be sophisticated. What a joke.

Steve, while you run a good blog, I think you cheapen your own stance and validate the detractors when you devote entire blog entries to defending your stance against the negative comments of your readers.

Well, the Yankees are selling “the new Cano” and I’m buying. I think he’s going to do good.

jimlyttle,
The Yanks will never win a Championship with A-rod and that’s saying alot about him as a player. Great numbers no doubt but he’s missing something as a player that I can’t put my finger on. Sure he gets lots of flak but he brings it on himself. When departing Texas he was quoted as saying something to the affect of not having to play with those kids anymore. Is that anyway of handling yourself when you are given the opportunity to go to the Yanks and compete for a championship, which we are patiently waiting for? Or is opting out of your contract during the WS a classy move ? Just a few examples of A-Rod fanning the flames of discontent. And if he does win a Championship with the Yanks I will gladly eat crow for my opening statement that I made the day they acquired him but as of this moment I’m in no need of crow recipies.

tm5to1-“Missing something as a player?” Everywhere he’s been, all of his coaches say he’s a hard worker. For all the controversy he causes, doesn’t Manny cause more? And A-Rod actually makes an effort when he plays. The point I’m making is if Manny can win a WS, A-Rod certainly can. Sorry, but he does make the Yanks a better team.

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