Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Analyzing the Yankee Bench

The issues facing the Yankees' rotation and starting line-up have been well documented--for example, check out LoHud's post on the rotation. While some still seem to be unable to rid themselves of the sign-Ben-Sheets mantra, the basic problem facing the rotation is still the lack of a quality fourth starter.

With the Yankee line-up, the questions are a little more subtle--do you start Nady or Swisher? Gardner or Cabrera? Where do you bat Canò?

However, one of the issues that is receiving relatively little attention is that of the Yankee Bench.

Sure, the bench might not be as critical as the rotation, but anyone that says the bench isn't important simply didn't watch Yankee baseball in 2008.

So, for the sake of discussion, let's assume that the 2009 seasons started on 14 January and that the Yankees decided to DH Matsui and to start Nady over Swisher, and Gardner over Cabrera.

That leaves us with a bench of Melky Cabrera, Nick Swisher, Josè Molina and Cody Ransom.

The one guy listed there that you can almost guarantee the Yankees won't touch is not, in fact, Nick Swisher but Josè Molina.

Jorge Posada did have major shoulder surgery last year, and while he seems to be recovering nicely, we still don't know how his arm will respond in an in-game situation. If it responds poorly, not only is Molina an adequate back-up, he is, by some accounts, the best defensive catcher in the game. Hey, when you throw out nearly half of everyone trying to steal a base, I'm not complaining.

The other person that stands out on that list is Nick Swisher.

Swisher is clearly the best bat of the bunch, but that in itself presents its own problems. Teams don't generally give five-year, nearly $27 million contracts to players to come off the bench.

Had the Yankees been unable to sign Teixiera, Swisher would have been a very viable plan B, but as it is, the Yankees did sign Teixiera and now there are rumors rampant that the Yankees are looking to move either Nady or Swisher. Swisher is drawing more interest than Nady-which should tell you something about whether or not other teams think Swisher belongs on the bench.

Guess it also says something about the Yankees, that they can afford to have Swisher on the bench...

Cody Ransom was a great story when he came up last season and started Shane Spencering everywhere, but at 32 he doesn't exactly have youth on his side, nor does he have very promising career numbers, just in terms of games played alone.

That said, right now Ransom is the only bench option that can fill in at third, short and second, which is a very good reason for the Yankees not to move him. Between Rodriguez, Jeter and Canò, one is historically not looking at a whole lot of playing time from the bench, but things happen. Players get hurt, ejected, etc. One only has to remember the beginning of last season-while there is certainly no replicating the bat of Alex Rodriguez or Derek Jeter, one hopes to have more production than, say, Alberto Gonzalez.

So while Ransom remains a great story and a likable fellow, he's probably not the guy you want to see come up in the ninth inning with a man on second and two outs.

This brings us lastly to Melky Cabrera.

For a time in 2008 it looked like Cabrera was going to have a break-out year, and then, all of a sudden, he stopped.

It got bad enough to the point that Cabrera was sent down to AAA Scranton-though at this point it was becoming pretty clear that the Yankees were not going to make the playoffs.

As one ESPN analyst said last year, theoretically Melky Cabrera and Brett Gardner are both "warming the seat" for Austin Jackson...but Jackson is still likely a full season away from the majors, which means that the Yankees have a center field issue for 2009.

Since Nady has stated he doesn't play a good center and Cashman has stated that Swisher won't play center, that leaves the Yankees with the Cabrera/Gardner platoon.

Although Cabrera is technically a switch-hitter, his numbers suggest that he is much better from one side than the other. When you consider that Gardner has better speed and is patient enough to be a lead off hitter (although his power is sorely lacking), Gardner would seem like the better starting option.

The problem with trying to move Melky is that, after last season, the Yankees would be unlikely to be able to center a deal around him, unless they were trading for a player of a similar caliber--which isn't exactly what the Yankees need to do unless they are that desperate for a player at a certain position.

Defensively, Carera can be great--that is, as long as he's not getting distracted by the Roll Call (I should know, I was at that game!)--but right now neither his bat nor Garnder's offers anything like the power the Yankees are usually accustomed to getting from their center fielders.

The Yankees bench, if it started today, would be far from the worst that the Yankees have ever had--April 2007, anyone?--but it does present some concerns. There's only one player than can play all the infield positions (Ransom), a bat that is, from a cost-effective point of view, getting paid too much to ride the pine (Swisher) and the latter half of a center field platoon that might very well duke it out in Tampa to see who gets to hit in the nine spot.

Right now the bench is not the Yankees' overriding concern, but it is an issue that they should address in some fashion before the season starts.


  1. I like Ransom and Berroa I also like Swisher as a 4th ourfielder only until the trade deadline then move nady and incert swisher

  2. There was a thread over at the LoHud Yankees Blog about the declining production of Derek Jeter and possible replacements for him after his contract's up in 2010. With the addition of Big Tex and A-Rod, the natural switch from SS to 3B or 1B.

    There was mention about someone like JJ Hardy of the Brewers who has great potential and defense among the top-ranked shortstops in 2009 (including Jeter).

    It might me worth a look if you have the time. Otherwise, nice post!