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Left Field Options

Columns — By Tom K on January 6, 2010 11:31 pm

Since I was so “accurate” with my pitching options entry, I have now decided to breakdown some of the options for left field in 2010.

I intentionally decided to withhold typing this up until after Jason Bay and Matt Holliday signed; as it seemed that a strong percentage of Yankees fans wanted one or the other very badly.  I am not one of those fans; while Holliday would have given this team a shot at legendary offense status, the fact is that you don’t need to be a legendary offense to win.

So, let’s run down the candidates – internally and those who are available on the market.

Brett Gardner (26 years old; .270/.345/.379; 26-for-31 stolen bases) – Back when he was a prospect in the Yankees’ system, a lot of people commented on the unique qualities of Gardner.  He wasn’t exactly a unique prospect; but he was a unique Yankees prospect in that his power had no projection whatsoever, but his speed/defense/plate discipline were all above average attributes.  Thus far, Gardner hasn’t done a great job taking walks at the major league level (34 in 425 career plate appearances), but his minor league history suggests that there could be improvement on the horizon.  The benefits of Gardner taking walks are obvious:  He can steal plenty of bases, and he doesn’t have much power anyway.  If you have a choice between a walk and a single, take the walk – the defense can make a play on a potential single, after all.

Reed Johnson (33 years old; .255/.330/.412) – Reed isn’t as much competition for Gardner as he would be a complement to Gardner.   Johnson has a history of injury issues, especially to his back, but also has a history of hitting very well vs. left-handed pitching (.313/.378/.463 in his career; and he has maintained this throughout his career).    He’s also, according to UZR, a very solid left fielder who can probably also spell Nick Swisher in right.     The injuries are a valid concern, however – so the Yankees would have to determine whether or not he can hold up even as a platoon player.   Injury issues do not tend to get better for baseball players approaching their mid-30s.     Overall, he’d likely be quite cheap – and if you can get lucky with his health, he’ll be productive in a 4th outfielder/platoon role.

Johnny Damon (36 years old; .282/.365/.489) – Someone in the front office was paying good attention when they recommended that the Yankees sign Johnny Damon.   It could have just been a lucky guess, but I doubt Brian Cashman takes very many lucky guesses when he looks to sign a player to a 4-year contract.   Damon produced his 2nd and 3rd best slugging percentage seasons while with the Yankees, all while being beyond his prime.    His defense has definitely tumbled through the years (something tells me that the Yankees thought he’d still be an adequate left fielder even as his contract winded down; but it didn’t work out that way), but overall, Damon was one very solid investment for the franchise.    So, what do they do now?  By most accounts, Damon has cost himself money on the free agent market; the Yankees were much more willing to give him a decent contract a month or so ago than they are now.   Now, they want him back at a bargain price and nothing else.      Something to ponder:   Despite a BABIP of .314 in September, Damon still stumbled to a .247/.350/.315 finish; random data noise or the beginning of an offensive decline?    That could be one reason why the Yankees would probably refuse now to go beyond one year.

Rick Ankiel (30 years old; .231/.285/.387) – Talk about UGLY.   Ankiel was flat out brutal at the plate in 2009; the Cardinals insisted on throwing him out there as often as possible (404 plate appearances), but the Cardinals at the end of the day would have been better off plucking some kid off of a high school diamond and inserting him into their starting lineup.    However, it should be noted that Ankiel did slug .417 off of right-handed pitching, and has slugged .462 off of them in his major league career.    This is not to say we should ignore his 2009 totals (afterall, his batting average & OBP vs. righties were brutal), but it could give a glimmer of hope to the Yankees if they feel his swing is made for the ballpark.   The ultimate low-risk, high-reward player if you can get him at a bargain bin price, and he may just have to take such a deal at this point.  There’s plenty of corner outfield fish in the sea, and not many fishermen are going to want to catch a guy coming off of this type of season.    The Yankees, however, have a hole to fill and a ballpark that may make Ankiel more intriguing to them than most other teams.

Xavier Nady (31 years old; barely played in 2009) – We obviously all know about Nady, a corner position player who put up a solid though not spectacular 2008 season that lead the Yankees to dealing for him midway through that campaign.   Nady has a .792 career OPS, and 108 OPS+ putting him right on the borderline as a corner outfielder.   He doesn’t really bring any one great attribute to the plate; not a big home run hitter, not someone who takes a lot of walks, not someone who is going to hit for a big average, and not someone who will steal much when he does get on.    However, he does just enough at the plate to make him a useful major league contributor and hits left-handed pitching very well (and is good enough vs. right-handed pitching where you feel comfortable giving him playing time to keep him sharp).    If reports are accurate, Nady’s price tag is too steep currently for the Yankees.  That does seem a bit odd to me, given he is coming off of an injury.  My thinking would be that Nady will gladly accept a one-year deal loaded with incentives in an attempt to reestablish his market value for 2011, but if he doesn’t feel the same way, then he is no great loss obviously.

Jamie Hoffman (25 years old; 4-for-22 in 2009 cup of coffee) – From the sounds of things, the Yankees are very intrigued by Hoffman.   So much so that they traded Brian Bruney for the mere rights to draft him in the Rule 5 draft, with no guarantees that they’ll be able to keep him.   From minor league reports, it appears that Hoffman is a gifted defensive outfielder without much power.  He has good speed, but has yet to translate that into a high stolen base percentage and is supposedly good versus left-handed pitching.    This is not the type of player you hand the keys to in spring training for a starting job, but if the Yankees feel there is potential here, they could use him as the 25th man on the roster.      I would rather have Gardner, though so his best chance to make the team in my opinion is if Gardner is handed the left-field job, leaving an additional opening on the bench.

Marcus Thames (33 years old; .252/.323/.453) – Thames’ claim to fame was hitting a home run off of Randy Johnson in his major league debut.   Some may even think that is his only claim to fame, but Thames has become a very useful major league power hitter.    One comparison I like to make is GlenAllen Hill; Thames can’t play defense very well, he’ll strike out a ton, and he won’t take a huge amount of walks.   But when he does connect, the balls jump out of the ballpark.  He has hit 101 home runs in 1,549 career plate appearances and boasts a .491 career slugging percentage despite having a .243 career batting average.   The Yankees are obviously not lacking for power, but Thames can definitely fill a role on the bench as a right-handed bat for Girardi to go to to give Nick Johnson, Brett Gardner, or Nick Swisher a night off.    He’s used to playing a reduced role, which is also helpful.      The biggest drawback of course is the defense.     Given that one role for Thames would be that of pinch-hitting for Gardner late in a game, you’d probably want another OF on the bench to go into the game once he is done hitting.  Perhaps that is where a Hoffman could come into play.

Fernando Tatis (35 years old; .282/.339/.438) – Hey, I like to make fun of Omar Minaya & the Mets as much as anyone.   But whether it was by dumb lack or not, Tatis turned into a very wise two-year investment by the Mets’ franchise.    Tatis was worth 1.6 wins over replacement in 2008, and followed that up with a 1.5 WAR in 2009.   These aren’t numbers that legends are made of, but for a part-time player, you can’t help but notice that he has been useful.     In a very small sample size of 178 innings in 2009, Tatis posted a 17.1 UZR in left field.   (In 2008, his number was -5.2 in 284 innings; though his overall outfield number was -0.8).   I am not advocating the signing of Tatis, but if it is a right-handed bench bat that the Yankees are after, they could do worse…even if he would be sloppy seconds.

Rocco Baldelli (28 years old; .253/.311/.433) – We’ve all heard about Baldelli’s illness; and whether or not he has the severe case or the not-so-severe case, the bottom line is that it will always affect his ability to play major league baseball.   The mere fact that he can actually play baseball is a testament to his will and his athletic ability.    He has plenty of limitations in that you won’t be able to play him everyday; and there may be a period of several days where he’ll have trouble getting onto the field.   But Baldelli is still a solid contributor when he does put on the uniform.  He played a poor right field for the 2009 Red Sox, but has been generally a solid outfielder throughout his career.     However, the bottom line is that Cashman probably wants to bring in someone who gives Girardi flexibility, and Baldelli doesn’t really offer that as you don’t know if he’ll be able to play until he comes to the ballpark every day. It’s no fault of Baldelli’s of course; but it is a tough way for a major league manager to operate.

Gary Sheffield (41…)  OK, I am only kidding.   Relax.

As for the trade market, you can probably always find a team or two dangling a corner outfielder in front of you.  In some cases, it’s a high-salaried player they just want to dump.  In other cases, it’s just the mere fact that there is no big shortage of corner outfielders & corner outfield prospects, making more players expendable.    I just don’t personally see anyone out there who the Yankees would be looking to acquire at this point.  For one thing, they have dealt away a decent chunk of their middling prospects over the past few seasons, thinning out the “middle layer” of their farm system a bit.    For another, they don’t want to take on someone else’s salary problem at this point and they probably feel that the free agents on the market are just as useful as anyone they could trade for.

A name you may hear, however:

David DeJesus (.281/.347/.434) – DeJesus is a decent enough hitter who was a terrible defensive center fielder in 2008.   (Though it should be noted that he has been generally solid in center field in his career).   However, he played a majority of his time in left field in 2009 and came out smelling like a rose, putting up a 15.7 UZR.   Over the course of his career, DeJesus is an 18.8 in left field in 2,263 innings.  In other words, if you want to sure up the defense with a bat that is a bit more of a sure thing than Gardner, than DeJesus could be your man.    However, the Royals probably overvalue him (they are the Royals, after all) and although I would personally see him as an upgrade over Gardner, it’s not by much.  Definitely not by enough for me to give up much of value to get him.   Chone has him at 2.5 WAR in 2010; Gardner is a projected 2.2.

Who would I choose?  I would personally go with Brett Gardner while adding Marcus Thames for some pop off of the bench from the right-side of the plate.  In an ideal world, the Yankees would have a “jack of every trades” in the #25 spot on the roster (a Jerry Hairston type) who can fill in everywhere and go in for defense on those nights you use Thames to pinch hit for Gardner late in the game.    The Yankees supposedly wanted to see if Ramiro Pena can be that type of player, and the jury is still way out there on whether or not he can do it.

Tags: Brett Gardner, Brian Bruney, Brian Cashman, David DeJesus, Fernando Tatis, Gary Sheffield, Jamie Hoffman, Jason Bay, Johnny Damon, Marcus Thames, Matt Holliday, Nick Johnson, Nick Swisher, Omar Minaya, Ramiro Pena, Randy Johnson, Rick Ankiel, Rocco Baldelli, Xavier Nady

2 Comments

  1. good article, but you don’t mention Ryan Church, who, IMO, would be a better option than 2-3 of those guys – if not alll

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