Yanks’ center field spot up for grabs, in a way

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Yanks hope to honor Bernie

Well, the collective you must be wondering what happened to Melky Cabrera and River Ave. Blues. After an off-season in which we seemingly took turns expressing our doubts of Melky, we cooled the Cabrera criticism for the last few weeks.

Worry not; Melky — and the Yanks’ center field spot — is back in the news. This time, we’re not the only ones noting some doubts over the long-term viability of Melky Cabrera. In a PeteAbe piece, Brian Cashman notes that Melky doesn’t have a center field stranglehold:

But while general manager Brian Cashman has locked second baseman Robinson Cano into a long-term contract and has staked his own reputation on the abilities of young pitchers Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy, he’s not yet prepared to invest as heavily in the 23-year-old Cabrera. “Melky has to fight for what he has,” Cashman said. “I can’t stand here and tell you he’s going to be our center fielder moving forward. That’s up to him.”

Cabrera hit .273 with eight homers and 73 RBI last season, taking over for Damon in early June. But there were concerns. Cabrera hit .180 in September before going 3-for-16 in the division series against Cleveland. His on-base percentage fell from .360 in 2006 to .327 last season…

It wouldn’t be wise to get comfortable. In 24-year-old Brett Gardner and 21-year-old Austin Jackson, the Yankees have one player on the verge of being ready for the majors and another who is moving quickly in that direction.

While Gardner is less of a threat to Melky than Austin Jackson is, the Melk Man is right to work hard for that spot. Prospects are a-knockin’.

But despair not, Melky Lovers. As E.J. Fagan noted at Pending Pinstripes, Melky’s PECOTA comparables are promising. E.J., urging as to wait another season before passing judgment, notes that Carlos Beltran and Bernie Williams, to name a few, are high on the list of comparables to the young Mr. Cabrera. While much of that has to do with the fact that Beltran and Williams are two of the few outfielders to break into the Majors at such a young age as Melky did, Cabrera could develop into a top-flight player. We just don’t quite see it yet.

Feel free to hate away on our Melky hating. Much like Brian Cashman, we too are expecting Melky to fight for what he currently has and hopefully improve in the process.

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Yanks hope to honor Bernie
  • dan

    Fair enough. I consider myself neither a Melky lover nor a Melky hater, and some of the criticism you receive for your views (partially from me) is unfair, considering that everyone has an opinion on his future without actually KNOWING what it will be.

  • http://mvn.com/milb-yankees EJ

    I don’t disagree with the RAB assessment of Melky entirely. Melky’s got an ugly swing that a lot of people don’t see power developing from. That said, PECOTA likes more than just his age – it likes his strike zone discipline a lot.

  • Guiseppe Franco

    Not a Melky hater here. I just don’t think he’s anything more than a fourth outfielder.

    I hope he proves me wrong and develops into a Bernie/Beltran type player, but I really don’t expect him to get much better than he is now.

    • TurnTwo

      i can agree with this…

      To me, both Melky and Gardner project out to be 4th OFs for their careers as of right now. but thats ok, given the production we get from the rest of our lineup from other positions.

      if melky continues to play solid defense, hit .280, have 8-12 hrs, obp around .340+, he’ll remain in CF.

      if he doesnt, and Gardner’s got an OBP around .360-.370+ and like someone else said, 25-30 SBs, he’ll get a call… and rightfully so.

  • RollignWave

    A Beltran / Bernie comp definately seems too optimistic but something along the lines of a Coco Crisp 04/05 seems fairly realistic.

    as for the swing. lots of player change their swing later in they’re career. as I’ve meantioned before on PP Kirby Puckett is an ultimate example of this. and at the similar stage Kirby make Melky look like Mickey Mantle power wise.

    obviously that’s the extreme example. still though. given the context. something like a .290/365/460 type of player with 15 to 20 HR ceiling seems definately with in the realm of possibility. is that a super star? no. is that a 4th OF? no.

    It’s a fairly simple logic, most player break into the majors around age 24 to 26 . a guy breaking in earlier then that typically have a higher ceiling then what they originally show. sometimes A LOT higher. if a kid plays like a star in his early 20s he’s a likely HOF candidate. if he’s passable he’s likely an above average player. (this doesn’t necceasily hold true for pitchers though. there’s much more cases of pitchers peaking early then hitters)

    I like Ajax’s a ton. but looking at realistic comparasons (in order of similarity, Vernon Wells, Curtis Granderson, BJ Upton, Grady Sizemore) none of them were established before age 22, in fact Wells and Granderson took awhile to really establish (Wells 24, Grandrson 25) and other then Sizemore they all had a bit of struggle before really establishing. I think he’s future is probably better then Cabrera. but it’s also very likely that by the time he really establish that Cabrera will be pretty close to FA anyway. and we’d have a pretty clear idea of where he’s headed.

  • bart

    should have traded him and prospests for Santana – a better deal than the mets gave the twinkies. But i would not have trade him for other then Bedard or Santana — he may have the uoside everyone is hoping for 2 years to figure that uses uop 2 years of a stil potent offense that ( i should not say this) can cary him. In 2011 he has to be the real deal on offense though as Jeter and Posada age further and matsui and Damon give up the ghost.

  • Al the Man

    Great post…. I agree with everything you said.

  • Rob

    Let’s say this:

    June rolls around and Melky’s putting up a .350 OBP with .400 SLG.

    Gardner is at The Office putting up a .380 OBP with .370 SLG with 25 SB and 5 CS.

    What do you do?

  • Chris

    Why are we crying out for Bernie-esque production from a quy who shouldn’t hit higher than eight or ninth in the line up? Yesterday I saw him draw a 6 pitch walk, go up with a man on third and hit a well placed sac-fly. He grounded into a double play, which is not good, but he also had a very solid day out in center, battling what looked like nasty sun and wind, which is far more than I can say for that guy Werth, who Philly started out there. 0-1 with a walk doesn’t look good in a box score, but Melky had a really good baseball day yesterday, and the skip even went in to make sure he knew it after the sac fly. We’re also forgetting that Melky happens to be the best friend of the second baseman whom you’re all touting. I think that they didn’t trade Melky because it would have alienated Robi in an arbitration year when they were trying to lock him down for a while. Chemistry does matter on this club. I don’t expect this guy to be Bernie. I don’t even expect Crisp levels because we’ll never see that kind of speed on the base path from Melky. All I want is a guy who’ll hold down the bottom of the lineup and do all the little baseball things that Girardi says is so important. Why can’t we promise him the job for this year? I want to see what the kid’ll do if, for once, he doesn’t have to worry about playing every day so that he can worry about his bat instead. He won’t be MVP, but he’s not as awful as some would make him out to be.

  • Alvaro

    I wouldn’t rule out Damon getting more than a few games in CF this season. I don’t agree with the conventional wisdom that he can no longer play an adequate CF.

  • Rob

    One thing on Melky that I do hold in his favor: In both 2006 and 2007, he struggled mightily in September. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say he’s worn down both years. Without that month his numbers look something like:


    So if the problem is simply that he’s just not physically strong enough, then he could have a fine career as his body matures.

  • Bo

    I dont see how you can hate on a 23 yr old who already has 1000+ at bats in the major leagues and has proven great defense.

    Relax and let the kid grow here.

    Coming from guys who made t shirts up to save 3 prospect pitchers, I think a lil patience with a 23 yr old CF’er is not beyond question.

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Ben K.

      He has a very good arm, but his defense is not very good at all. People tend to see the arm and think he plays a stellar center field when that’s just not the case.

  • Rob

    You’re probably well-aware of it, but you guys are also setting yourselves up for an embarrassing fall should Melky prove to be legit. More power to you for sticking your necks out, but I don’t think the evidence is clear one way or another for the solid front you’re giving.

    Just my two cents.

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Ben K.

      Much like Brian Cashman, we too are expecting Melky to fight for what he currently has and hopefully improve in the process.

      That’s pretty much my hedging our bets right there. I’m not saying Melky will be bad; I’m saying that we don’t expect him to be great. Hopefully, he’ll improve and prove us wrong. But we won’t be surprised when, in two years, he’s no longer the starting center fielder.

      • Bo

        Who ever said Melky was going to be great? When did being solid become well not good enough?

    • Rob

      Fair enough, Ben. But you’re selectively hedging. However, if you listen to your users I think the majority would say you’re pushing too hard in one direction and specifically more so than the evidence suggests. On some level I admire that courage, but I won’t be surprised if a lot of folks stop by to have a laugh at your expense. We saw it last year through August. Then after his horrendous September they mostly receded back in the background. Still, this thread shows, I think, a common retort – It’s still too early to call the outcome on Melky one way or another.

  • pete

    as for the defense question, in left or right he makes one of the better all around defenders in the league. In center he’s an average defender. That said, people seem to forget about the incalcuable value of an arm like melky’s. Probably the only better CF arm than his in baseball is Ichiro’s, and i’d say they’re comparable. Essentially, Melky in center means no softly hit sac flies to center, and if there’s a guy on 2nd, a hard hit single to center won’t score him. Combine that with average speed (for a CF), a decent bat with a mature approach, and room to improve his swing, I’d take him at 23. I see him as somebody who’s going to hit around .300 (.290-.305) just about every year in his prime (26-32), with 10-20 HR potential every year. I’d take that in the #9 spot any day. People tend to undervalue outfield arms. Melky’s combination of skills – elite arm strength, elite throwing accuracy, average speed, decent hitter for average, passable hitter for power, mature plate discipline, ability to move runners over, bunt, etc. Has a lot of value to a team, especially when it means having a cheap centerfielder and not trading prospects. Plus, lets not forget the intangibles. Remember the last two years, he’s come in when the yankees were in a rut, and the yanks have been the best team in baseball each of the last two years after making him an everyday player. So yeah, he’s never going to hit .330, or 30 hrs, or play crisp-esque defense with the glove, but he’s certainly not a 4th outfielder.

  • TurnTwo

    if melky can continue what he’s been doing, it will not hurt this team. if he can improve a little bit, he would be a bonus to the team.

    if he falters, or remains about the same on a productivity level, and Gardner is getting on base in Scranton at a .380 clip and stealing bases left and right, then you give him a shot.

    i think competition is good, and i like the different dimension Gardner’s speed can add to the lineup, but overall i would say its Melky’s position to lose.

  • Rich

    I think Melky will be an .800 OPS hitter, but there is nothing he can do to stave off A-Jack once he is ready, which could be late this season. Melky then becomes a valuable trading chip, unless he then becomes a placeholder for Tabata.

    • Rob

      .800 OPS and his arm makes a fine, if underpowered, RF’er for 2009.

      • Rob

        I don’t think Ajax will be ready this year. Late 2009 or start of 2010 seems more likely.

    • TurnTwo

      we all know he projects to have 5-tool talent, but what makes anyone think AJax is going to be seriously ready for late 2008?

      • Rich

        I think it’s possible, given how well he did after the promotion, that the light has gone on for him.

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Joseph P.

      If Melky can put up a .800 OPS, the Yanks will find a spot for him.

  • marc

    thise is a sidenote but did anyone else see that Torre has the Dodgers taking a look at tanyon sturtze also lol… poor him and proctor…. the stories those arms could tell

    • Bo

      If I never have to hear about Torre burning out mediocre middle releivers again I’ll be real happy.

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  • Bo

    You can say what you want but Melky is still younger than Gardner. A guy many of you say is in the conversation for CF even though he can’t hit a lick.

    And hes a yr and some change older than Ajax. A guy that will be a top 10 prospect by the end of the yr. Key word being prospect.

    • TurnTwo

      he cant hit a lick? maybe you meant cant hit for power… but thats not his game.

      you’ve basically right now got a battle between 4th OF-type players… one who has a little more power and is proven at the MLB level, or one who has a lot more speed, but unproven at the upper levels just yet.

      All things being equal, it’s up to Girardi to determine if he can utilize Melky’s extra ‘power’ or Gardner’s extra speed in this lineup to make it a better team.

    • Rob

      I agree completely that it’s up to Girardi to manage matchups. With how slow they are to the plate, how fantastic would Gardner be against Wakefield and Matsuzaka? Out of the 9 spot, he works a walk 38% of the time, and then he’s a complete pest with Damon, Jeter, and Abreu up.

      P.s We’re going to see the same game from Ellsbury.

  • Ramadan

    Brett Gardner is a nothing prospect. Leave Melky alone.

  • B

    Bret Gardner needs to crack a .700 OPS in AAA before he’s even mentioned in any of these conversations.

    • Rob

      Gardner has shown he needs a second crack at a level. But you’re right. We have to see what he does the first half of this year. But I know I wouldn’t be surprised to look up and see .380 OBP and .400 SLG in June.

  • Bill

    More than anything I think Cashman and Girardi are trying to motivate Melky and make sure he doesn’t get complacent thinking he has the CF job locked up. Melky is still plan A there, but they just want to let him know that they have a plan B and C so he better come prepared to play. That makes me think that maybe Melky hasn’t come into camp in exceptional shape. Let’s remember that he was also among the players that struggled early last year. However guys like Damon and Abreu came into this year in great shape. Nothing really has been said about Melky, could this be implying that they are less than impressed with his conditioning? I think more than anything it is motivation, but they do view Jackson as the future in CF and certainly haven’t comitted to a future that includes Melky. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Yankees pulled the trigger on a move there. I do however think they are undervaluing him.

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  • http://www.thechuckknoblog.blogspot.com Nate

    Could Beltran and Bernie be on their because their both switch hitters or does PECOTA not care about that. I can’t remember.

    • RollignWave

      they care about position context for sure.

      but he’s comp is very very well becauese of a few simple reasons

      a. most MLBer establish themself around age 25 . Cabrera essentially established himself at age 21. so he’s wayyyyyy ahead of the average player there.

      b. most guys who establish themself this young weren’t very good when they first came up. if a hitter was immediately good at this sort of age. (like Ken Griffey Jr and A-rod.) they’re typically no-brainer hall of famers. however, they typicaly get better.

      some of the comps i bring up when people put the whole (but he doesn’t look like he’ll get better debate) is Kirby Puckett / Steve Finely / Roberto Clemente. I find it hard to make compelling argument that they showed anything that suggested their potential before they broke out… all at much later stages of their career then where Cabrera is at and I laugh if anyone suggest they have crazy mad power tools . they don’t, Kirbry was a 5’9 slap hitter. Finely showed you what a 4th OF REALLY should look like with his low .600s OPS at age 25. and Clemente threw up about 4 season of 4th OFish numbers before he suddenly added 15 to 20 more HR power (and he was also pretty small) the thing they have in common was that they were all speedy guys who had very high contact rate. Cabrera doesn’t really have the former but he clearly has the later.