Now, on to the position players. The departure of Abreu and Giambi left a couple of holes to fill and some pretty big numbers to make up. The two combined for 52 home runs, 196 RBI, and 24 stolen bases as well as each being on base over 37% of the time. The Yankees already had an in-house answer to the vacated right field position with Xavier Nady. The Yanks had aquired Nady midway through last season to play some outfield and provide right handed pop in the lineup. As for first base, there was no one within the system that the team felt comfortable playing there on an everyday basis. The general feeling was that with pitching being the main focus of the offseason, that the Yanks would have to be more creative with their approach to fixing the lineup. Their first answer came with an early offseason trade with the Chicago White Sox in which the Yankees parted with Wilson Betemit, Jeff Marquez, and Jhonny Nunez in order to aquire Nick Swisher and Kanekoa Texeira. Swisher is a switch hitter with power and the ability to play quality defense at the corner outfield positions and first base as well as a passable center field. I absolutely loved this trade. Swisher gave the team a viable first baseman with versatility and they lost only Marquez that was of particular value. Betemit had been fairly awful in his role as utility man for the Yanks and research suggests that Nunez and Texeira have fairly comparable potential. So, had the Yankees ended their fixes there, with Swisher and Nady replacing Giambi and Abreu, the lineup would be ok. It wouldn’t be over the top, but it would work. Not good enough.
Enter Mark Teixeira. Seemingly content with their acquisition of Nick Swisher to play first base, the Yankees were considered a peripheral player at best in the Mark Teixeira sweepstakes, until they swooped in at the eleventh hour and signed the switch hitting gold glover to an 8 year $180 million dollar contract just before Christmas. Teixeira was too perfect for the Yanks to pass up. Hit for power? Check! (33 HR last yr) Hit for average? Check! (.308 avg and a switch hitter to boot!) Drive in runs? Check! (121 RBI) Get on base? Check! (.410 OBP) and possibly the best defensive first baseman in baseball (certainly in the discussion). All that and he’s only 28 years old and doesn’t get hurt. He was by far the most complete position player on the market this offseason and plays a position at which the Yankees had a need; not to mention the fact the the Red Sox (chief rivals to the Yanks) had made him their offseason priority. How could anyone not love this move? With Teixeira signed, the question becomes what to do with Nick Swisher. Some suggest he play off the bench, but he’ll be paid over $5 million this year; an awful lot for a bench player. He also hit 24 home runs last year in what was an awful year for him. This to me suggests that his skill level is far too great to be wasted on the bench. Reports indicate that the Yanks are fielding trade offers for both Nady and Swisher. My hope is that they trade Nady and keep Swisher to play right field and here are my reasons why:
- Last season. It was a career year for Nady and an abysmal year for Swisher. In short, it was an abberation. Last year, Nady Posted 25 HR, 97 RBI, and an OBP of .357, while his averages over the previous three seasons are 17 HR, 60 RBI, and an OBP of .330 Last year Swisher posted 24 HR, 69 RBI, and an OBP of .332, while his previous three season averages are 26 HR, 82 RBI, and an OBP of .358
Swisher’s horrible year posted slighty better than Nady’s previous three season averages. I think It’s more likely Swisher bounces back than Nady continues at last years’ pace.
- Defense. Nady is a slightly above average right or left fielder. Swisher is a very strong right fielder, a strong left fielder, a strong first baseman and a passable center fielder.
- Switch hitting. Nady is a right handed hitter that hits better against righties than lefties. Swisher hits from both sides of the plate, giving him an advantage against lefties and also allowing him to make better use of the short porch in left field at Yankee Stadium when facing righties.
- Contract. Nady is a free agent after the season and a Scott Boras client; meaning that if he has even a decent year, he will be expensive to resign. Swisher is under contract for at three years with an option for a fourth, all at affordable rates. If the Yanks were to keep Nady, they may have to sign two entirely new corner outfielders for 2010.
- Youth. Swisher is two years younger. Every little bit of leverage against father time helps.
Remember those numbers the Yanks lost with Giambi and Abreu leaving? If they keep Swisher in right field and he bounces back to his previous three year averages; he and Teixeira should combine for at least 59 HR, 203 RBI, and be on base over 38% of the time. If Brett Gardner plays center field rather than Melky Cabrera, then the Yanks should completely negate the loss of Abreu’s stolen bases and then some. This configuration should have the team putting up better numbers in every category as well as playing better defense than the past. Also, last season, Jorge Posada contributed only 3 HR, 18 Runs, and 22 RBI while his average contributions over the previous three seasons were 21 HR, 74 Runs, and 85 RBI. Similarly, Hideki Matsui contributed only 9 HR, 43 Runs, and 45 RBI while his previous three year averages were 19 HR, 80 Runs, and 83 RBI. If you take into account that Matsui was also hurt for the majority of the 2006 season, his healthy numbers should project closer to 23 HR, 100 Runs, and 105 RBI. Assuming that Posada and Matsui can play significantly more than last season, the offense should have much better numbers on the whole. Stabilize and improve an offense that struggled to put runs on the board? Mission accomplished!
In other position player moves, the Yanks also added Kevin Cash on a minor league deal to provide catching depth, and Angel Berroa on a minor league deal to compete with Cody Ransom for the back-up infielder position. Good stuff!
So, what’s left to do? Many people have talked about the possibility of the Yanks signing Manny Ramirez. Although I would have a very difficult time rooting for a player featuring Ramirez’ personality, I admit that the lure of what he could do for the Yankees offense is immense. Given the current construction of the team, however, this move simply will not happen. The Yankees have no place to play Ramirez and far too much money tied up in immovable personnel to make him fit. The team supposedly explored possible trades for Hideki Matsui that would have freed up the DH position as well as some funds, but no one is interested in picking up an aging hitter that’s coming off his second knee surgery and has 13 million owed to him for the season. The Yanks could probably find someone that would take on Johnny Damon’s contract, but that would leave the team without a true leadoff hitter. Perhaps adding Ramirez’ powerful bat would make up for losing Damon as a catalyst, but it doesn’t appear to be a risk the Yanks are interested in taking. So unless a team comes out of the woodwork with a new found interest in Matsui, Ramirez will continue to remain a “What if” topic for Yankees fans. Therefore, other than irading Nady, the only other move I would suggest is to sign reliever Juan Cruz. The guy is just hanging out there on the market because his type A free agent status will force a team that signs him to give up a draft pick. He’s a set up guy with nasty stuff that racks up the strikeouts and would be a nice addition to the Yankee bullpen. Due to the free agents they’ve already signed, he wouldn’t cost the Yanks an early round pick the way he would most other teams. There seems to be some confusion in recent reports as to what the quota of type A and B free agents that a team can sign is, but if the Yanks can indeed sign another, this would be a good one.
I hope everyone enjoyed this overview of the Yankees offseason moves.
Note by Lisa – I would prefer to hold onto Nady over Swisher, and uhh, I wouldn’t protest Manny in pinstripes, especially with this A-Rod mess. Alex could end up being a distraction to the Yankees a la Barry Bonds to the Giants!
The whole A-Rod-steroid mess coming soon…