I heard this in a soundbyte by Jason Giambi on ESPN Radio this morning, so unfortunately I donâ€™t have a link to provide. The long and short of it: Giambi is going to prepare this spring as if heâ€™s a first baseman. Says him, it would make it easier to step into the role if forced to during the season. We all know Giambi, though; heâ€™s not exactly going to be content riding the bench for all but his three to five at bats.
This leads me to a misconception among some Yankees fans (though Iâ€™m not sure how common): that Giambi is being pulled from first base because heâ€™s a terrible defender. While thatâ€™s true, itâ€™s certainly not the entire reason why Brian Cashman plans to use him as a DH this season.
Rather, Cashmanâ€™s plan revolves around Giambiâ€™s health. Heâ€™s 36 years old, and his body is a bit older because of his steroid abuses. Playing out in the field â€” diving for the occasional ball out of his range (if you can call it range) and stretching for throws â€” is only going to expedite the breakdown of his body. Thereâ€™s significant risk that if heâ€™s out there four or five times a week, weâ€™ll see a late season drop-off similar to 2006. With a hitter of Giambiâ€™s caliber, thereâ€™s no reason to take that risk.
There are but two factors that stand in the way of this being a perfect move. First is the issue of Giambiâ€™s splits. It is common knowledge that he has hit significantly better over his career while playing the field (.871 career OPS as a DH, 1.011 as a first baseman). Thereâ€™s really no explanation for it beyond his comfort factor, and that may not even go a long way in this case. However, if heâ€™s spending a full year at DH, it stands to reason that heâ€™ll find his groove in that role and produce like he did as a first baseman.
The other factor is the platoon at first base. Doug Mientkiewicz was brought in to hit against right handers, and Andy Phillips and Josh Phelps are left to duel over the other side. Problems exist with both halves of the platoon. Minky has relatively even splits (.759 career OPS against righties, .780 against lefties), and actually hits for a tad more power against lefties (.400 career SLG vs. .420). If you plan to use him as your starting first baseman â€” which isnâ€™t exactly a wise move in my opinion â€” thereâ€™s no reason to set him up with a platoon.
If Josh Phelps mans the other side, there wonâ€™t be much of a problem (.857 career OPS against lefties). Problem is, no one knows if heâ€™ll impress enough to make the team, and if he does, his health comes with no guarantees. Beyond my opinion that Andy Phillips has no business on the Yankees roster, he has terrible numbers against lefties (a career .489 OPS against lefties, compared to .746 against righties). To place him in a platoon would be beyond foolish; it would actually make the team worse.
So what if Phelps doesnâ€™t stay healthy or doesnâ€™t play well enough to make the team? I suppose Andy Phillips could serve as the backup first baseman, but there are certainly better options. Why not let Giambi serve as the backup and play once a week in the field? That will keep him a bit happier, since heâ€™ll get some playing time out there. And it will allow the Yankees the flexibility of an extra roster spot which they can use on someone who impresses in camp (Kevin Thompson and Bronson Sardinha are the guys Iâ€™d like to see). Of course, this path would give cause to sentimental fans to scream: â€œGive the spot to Bernie!â€ You could do worse, I suppose, but the team should be concentrating more on finding filler cogs in its minor league system.
This, of course, is all contingent on how things play out this spring. The point is, though, that the Yankees would be wise to let Giambi take some fielding practice in Spring Training. Lord knows, we donâ€™t want to see Andy Phillipsâ€™ name on the Opening Day roster in any kind of platoon scenario.
Image courtsey John Iacono/SI