I’ve never tried to hide my dislike of Miguel Cairo. Part of it is because he’s not a very good baseball player. Part of it is because I picked him up on the recommendation of a friend in fantasy baseball way back in 1998, and he burned me with a .268/.307/.367 season. But mostly, it’s because he’s not a very good baseball player. I was quite relieved when in the winter of 2005, Brian Cashman declined Cairo’s (or, more accurately, his agent’s) demand for a one-year, $2 million contract — though I was obviously dismayed at the ensuing moving (need I even mention it here?).
Yankees fans fell in love with him in 2004, by far his best major league season, when he hit .292/.346/.417. Predictably, his OPS dropped in his 2005 stint with the Mets, tumbling from .763 to .620. Yes, 2004 was nice for Cairo, but it will never be reflective of his true ability. Rather, his 2003, 2005 and 2006 seasons demonstrate what he will provide a team. In those seasons he OBP’d .289, .296 and .280, respectively. Even in a utility position, that is simply atrocious.
Baseball traditionalist like John Sterling try to have you believe that Cairo provides value. “It seems like he’s on base in every game he plays,” says Sterling (roughly paraphrased, though that may indeed be the exact quote). This simply is not true. A utility infielder has two jobs: to play good defense and to not kill the team at the plate. Even a .320 to .330 OBP would be acceptable for a utility infielder. Yet, Cairo hasn’t even broken .300 in the past two years. As for his defense, it’s average at best. The Yankees can and should get better than a limp bat and average defense from a utility infielder.
Problem is, quality utility infielders aren’t exactly common, and when they are effective, it’s not usually on a consistent basis. However, when you know a player won’t be effective — and we know that of Cairo — why even bother? What, you can’t find another infielder who will OBP .280?
I’ll admit, there’s an inherent problem with the Yankees finding a quality utility infielder: lack of playing time. A-Rod, Jeter and Cano aren’t the type that take days off, so barring DL-inducing injuries a utility infielder would be looking at starting maybe 15 games, and getting an additional 20 or so late-inning at bats in blowouts. Why, then, would a player sign on when there’s a good chance they’ll only get between 80 and 100 at bats?
Perhaps that’s the reason why Ronnie Belliard signed a deal to play backup for the Nationals. Personally, I can’t stand the guy and the way his tongue hangs out at the plate — it makes him look like a cartoon dog. But he’ll supply you with the desired .320 to .330 OBP, though I can’t speak for his defense. He’s played exactly one major league game at shortstop, but that can be remedied. When Jeter rests, Alex moves to short (there’s no reason to rule that option out), and Belliard plays third.
The question, though, is whether the Yankees approached him and he turned them down because of the playing time issue, or if they even thought to approach him at all. It’s quite a shame when Miguel Cairo is signed as a utility infielder before Ronnie Belliard, so I’m really hoping it’s the former.
This shouldn’t be an issue next season. Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez (a nickname I’m hoping sticks even after the government official leaves his post) should be in the utility role by then. I’m sure we’ll be writing about his performance and progress over the course of the year.