GARDNER-ING AT NIGHT
My associates at Baseball Prospectus have released the weighted-mean PECOTA
projections, which means I can talk a bit about some of the forecasts
PECOTA sees Brett Gardner batting .253/.339/.351 and sees
something like a full season of playing time coming down the pike. Many
of the other projection systems (Fangraphs does
us the service of gathering those in one place) are of like mind — if
you average their forecasts, you get .262/.343/.361. PECOTA figures
Melky the C at .267/.326/.376, while the other systems compiled at
Fangraphs average out to .274/.334/.390. Last year, the average Major League center fielder batted .268/.334/.420, which means that both of
these fellows would have to exceed their median projection for the
Yankees to break even, putting aside the possibility of crazy-good
defense. It should be noted that the Gardner projections are a good
deal more speculative than the Cabrera projection given that the former
has just filtered up to the bigs. The Cabrera projections are
speculative in their own way, assuming that he’s going to go back to
what he was doing after a year of misery.
My conclusion: Jim Edmonds
would make a nice one-year rental, playing four days a week. Edmonds,
being neither a Type A nor type B free agent, is still available to the
The Cubs made two deals today with minor ramifications for the American League, as both of the pitchers they detached are heading to the Junior Circuit. The A’s acquired reliever Michael Wuertz and the Orioles picked up starter Rich Hill.
Wuertz heads to Oakland in return for two Minor Leaguers, outfielder Richie Robnett and infielder Justin Sellers, both of whom are so talented that you are unlikely to ever hear their names again. The former has a .257 career batting average and the latter .256, and neither has the other tools to make up for their general inability to hit with consistency. As such, the A’s get to decorate the back of their bullpen with Wuertz, a slider specialist who tends to be harder on lefties than on righties. Wuertz always seemed like the first guy that the Cubs would bounce back to Triple-A if they experienced a roster crunch, but as he was out of options that source of amusement was closed to them, hence the trade.
Hill is a depressing case, a pitcher who seemed like he’d be a five-year fixture after strong work in 2006 and 2007, but he sailed over the edge of the world in 2008, completely losing his control. He walked 18 in 19.2 innings at the major league level and 44 in 47.2 innings in the minors. The Orioles agreed to give up only a player to be named, the identity of which is no doubt contingent on their ability to bring Hill back to his senses. Here’s hoping they have to give up a good prospect. Yeah, I know they’re division rivals of the Yankees, but come on — it’s the human thing to do.
Jon 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.