EAST ON THE EDGE OF FOREVER
As you know, I’m up in Boston
on book-tour duty. I’ve had enough train action in recent weeks that I’m
starting to feel like the Joe Biden of the Internet baseball set. Then again, I
shouldn’t complain, as some of my brethren down in Florida are having to scoot to all corners
of the globe to follow both their normal team assignments as well as peek in on
In this part of the woods, the worries are, as you would
expect, oriented around the Red Sox and if their offense will hold up in the
coming season, and if the Yankees have trumped them by adding CC and A.J. There
are few good answers at this point except to flip the switch on the season and
see what happens, but that moment is a month away yet, so we all get to nibble
our fingernails a bit more — Boston fans on their offense (and maybe their
starting pitching, too), Yankees fans on their offense and defense (and defense
is pitching is defense, so this is a bigger issue than is usually acknowledged)
and Rays fans wondering if it was all a dream (it wasn’t, but that doesn’t mean
the sequel will be easy). The WBC gives us an extra week to think about these
things, which now that I think about it, might be good for the collective
mental health. In the same way that Joe DiMaggio’s hitting streak kept a nation
on the edge of war distracted for one last summer, if this year’s baseball
season starts late and drags into November, well, that’s one more week when the
specter of financial ruination can be put off. I hope.
Meanwhile, today’s exhibition action was more exhibition-y
than usual, with the Yankees taking on a team of Major League All-Stars in a
WBC tune-up — not a good day to be Phil Hughes or any of the other young
pitchers required to face Dustin Pedroia, Adam Dunn, Ryan Braun, etcetera, not
to mention Derek Jeter. As such, the story wasn’t really in the pitchers today
but in the hitters — the Yankees hitters. Brett Gardner put together another
strong day, and against real Major League pitchers like Roy Oswalt. If he keeps
up his current pace, it’s going to be very difficult for the Yankees to deny
him the starting center field job. And then, of course, he’ll have to keep it
up, because with his first 0-for-4, someone will be arguing that it’s time to
see if Melky has learned to hit by sitting on the bench.
The Gardner vs. Melky competition may seem like small beer
given that we’re talking about the team’s ninth-place hitter, but given the
probable offensive shortfall the Yankees will see in left and right field, and
potentially other spots on the diamond, getting something rather than nothing
out of that position could make a small but significant difference in what
should be a tough division race, perhaps a swing of two or more wins. That
could be the difference.
More from me when I’m not comatose from doing two AM TV
spots. It’s always shocking to me to see so many people awake and producing
television programs when they should be sleeping. Those of you in the
Boston-New Hampshire-Rhode Island-Vermont-Canada-Atlantis region, I look
forward to seeing you this evening.
A COUPLE OF VERY QUICK NOTES AS WE HEAD INTO THE WEEKEND
? Too bad that Andruw Jones turned down the Yankees’ non-roster invite. The Yankees had nothing to lose by making said offer, and Jones everything to gain. I’d like to have an actual Andruw sighting, preferably of him in fighting trim, before I would be inspired to offer him anything more substantial than that.
? Despite rumblings of “collusion” in the land, I prefer to look at many of the free agents still without deals as evidence of the financial crisis putting pressure on general managers to be smarter. Every one of the remaining players has serious flaws, whether it be Manny’s character issues or Adam Dunn’s defense or the general downward trend of Bobby Abreu’s game or the potential that Orlando Hudson won’t hit outside of Arizona. Those players could help their ultimate teams, and probably will, but it’s not unreasonable for clubs to try to drive a hard bargain with them. That should have been true in any economic environment, but it’s particularly valid now.
? It’s fascinating how the Joe Torre book is going to boomerang on Torre. Anyone (apparently, including my YES classmate Michael Kay) with a negative story on Joe is now going to feel free to retail it, with the knowledge that he gave them implicit permission to do so. In the coming years, his reputation is going to be almost continually assailed, to the point that the very nature of his impact on his best teams is going to be called into question. I said last week that this book, on its own merits, was a great example of a man destroying his own reputation, but let us go a step further and say that the aftermath of this book will lead to an even greater savaging of the man. He put everything on the table, seemingly without restriction (whatever his protestations to the contrary), and it will be open season on him as well. And here’s the thing, Joe, and this is something I know very well from studying the life of Casey Stengel: the players are going to outlive you by a long, long time and will be commenting on you long after you’re gone. You’re not going to get the last word in, so you might as well mend fences if you want history to paint a fair picture.
? A transcript of today’s chat can be found here.
? With the conclusion of the Yankees Hot Stove show’s run for this season, I’d like to thank the entire cast and crew for having me on. Enjoy Florida, guys.
At the risk of boring the more advanced members of the class, I want to revisit Xavier Nady one last time before midterms. Your grade, and that of the Yankees, depends on your ability to answer several true-false, multiple choice, and fill-in-the-blank questions about Nady, so it’s imperative that we come to grips with the subject. Please open your text books/hymnals to page 355 and sing along to Buddy Holly’s classic “Maybe Nady” as we repeat together these key facts:
Nady is 30 years old and is a career .280/.335/.458 hitter. Despite his 89-game surge with the Pirates and brief hot streak with the Yankees, he is at this late stage of his career to be any better than those career rates in the future. He has never rated as a great glove. Per 162 games, he has averaged 30 doubles, one triple, 21 home runs, and 34 walks.
Last season, the average Major League right fielder hit .276/.347/.451. In 2007, the average right fielder hit .281/.351/.453. In 2006, the rates were .277/.347/.460. In the American League East, the standard is a bit higher, given that the competition lists the J.D. Drew/Rocco Baldelli combo, the Matt Joyce/Gabe Kapler combo, Alexis Rios, and Nick Markakis. Only one of the four, the Rays’ Joyce-Kapler mélange, may not exceed the averages. Should Nady play every day in right field and snap back to his 2006-2007 .334 on-base percentage, the Yankees would be operating at a significant deficit relative to the competition.
Now, Nady is not without value, because Johnny Damon is getting old and Nick Swisher has his limitations, and when most teams have to bench a starting corner outfielder due to injury or fatigue, they tend to wind up with Reggie Abercrombie out there, and the road to hell is paved with Reggie Abercrombie. The road to the postseason is paved with having a substitute like Nady. He’s not quite good enough to be a starter on a winning team, but overqualified to be a reserve. The smart teams will hold him to 300 at-bats or so and/or flip him to a team whose starter is even further below average than he is.
In short, Nady is not the kind of player a championship-caliber team plans on starting unless they have no other alternatives. The Yankees have alternatives. It could be Swish Nicker, who has comparable power to Nady and will out-walk him by 50 or 60, so his batting average need not be better than .250 to surpass X-marks-the Sub, or it could be a player we kicked around in yesterday’s installment, like Adam Dunn. They Yankees can flip Nady or not. They can pay the freight on keeping him and have themselves a very positive role player. The one thing they shouldn’t do is mistake his little contribution as something worthy of a starting role.
Review complete. Close your notebooks. You can play silent ball for the rest of the period.
SHOW THREAD: BACK IN THE BUNKER TONIGHT
I’m off to the Death Star-like YES HQ for another stay in the Dot-Com Bunker on the Hot Stove show. If you’ve got any comments, I’ll be checking the comments right up to and even during show time, so get ’em in. Any topic is fair game, including Bob Lorenz’s haircut — but only in a constructive way. Bob is the most tenderhearted regional sports network host you’ll ever come across. Those calloused NESN guys can’t touch Our Bob for generosity. It’s very difficult to see unless you have a top of the line high-def set, but on every Yankees postgame, Bob has a dish of candy out on the desk just in case any of you happen by the studio. He’s that kind of guy. See you at 6:30 p.m. EST.
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.