The Yanks have been hot on Brewers’ centerfielder Mike Cameron this offseason, at least until the deal was deemed “officially dead” last week. With Brett Gardner unproven and Melky Cabrera perpetually underperforming (see, I was nice about it), it’s hard to blame the Yanks for seeking out a short term upgrade until Austin Jackson is ready. With Cammy off the board, perhaps the Yanks should turn their attention to another 2008 Brewers’ outfielder: Gabe Kapler.
Most Yankees’ fans probably remember Kapler from his exploits with the Red Sox, particularly during their 2004 World Series season. He played for the Yomiuri Giants in 2005, then returned for another season in Boston before serving a tour of duty as manager of the Low-A Greenville Drive (BoSox affiliate) in 2007. The itch to play returned, and he spent 2008 as the Brewers’ fourth outfielder/primary right handed pinch hitter.
Boy was that a smart decision. Kapler hit .301-.340-.498, setting career highs with a 117 OPS+ and .362 wOBP. He did most of his damage against southpaws (.354-.379-.622) and was money off the bench, hitting .323-.364-.548 as a pinch hitter. A .757 career OPS guy, Kapler’s also a tough at-bat, averaging 3.94 P/PA since 2003. He doesn’t draw as many walks as that number might lead you to believe however, and he struggles against breaking balls.
Defensively, Kapler’s good in all three outfield spots (he was unreal in center last year, posting a .945 RZR and 33.2 UZR/150) and has a strong arm. Maintaining his career average of 0.8 UZR/150 would be perfectly acceptable for a part time player. He’s also a tremendous person and clubhouse guy, which only continues the under-the-radar theme of bringing in “chemistry guys” this offseason.
Last year Kapler settled for a minor league deal that paid him $800,000 when he made the team, but this year he’ll be looking for a guaranteed roster spot and maybe even a full-time gig. He missed the last two weeks of the season and the NLDS when he tore his lat on a throw to the plate, so that’s something that has to be checked out in any predeal physical. The beauty of signing a guy like this is that you could still play Gardner every day while using Kapler against tough lefties and off the bench late in games. As far as Melky … well I dunno, I hope he enjoys Scranton.
KLaw ranked G-Kap the 35th best free agent in the class (subscription req’d), and when the alternatives are Willy Taveras, Corey Patterson and a not physically able to play everyday Rocco Baldelli, how do you not at least give Kapler a phone call? Quality bench players go a long way.