In 17 days, the Yankees will begin their inevitable march toward a 27th World Series championship. Meanwhile, they still have no set center fielder. With Grapefruit League action a-dwindlin’ in Tampa, it’s time to check in on everyone’s favorite positional battle.
We start with a Jayson Stark rumor:
GLOVE AFFAIR: The most-heard observation about the Yankees this spring: That team could have serious, and potentially fatal, defensive issues. They’re range-challenged in left, in right and at shortstop. (Ed. Note: That’s a shot at Jeter.) They have reliability issues at second. Alex Rodriguez is now a major question on every level. And nobody knows what kind of defensive catcher Jorge Posada is capable of being over the long haul. There are rumblings the Yankees are poking around again on Mike Cameron’s availability.
So basically, that paragraph boils down to blah, blah, blah, and oh, yeah, the Yanks are back on the Mike Cameron bandwagon. If Stark’s sources are telling the truth, I’m not really sure what the Yankees see in Cameron. He’s having a terrible spring for the Brewers; he’s old; and he’s not cheap. The Yanks have two center fielders in camp who could do the job, and while Cameron may still be a better defender than Melky Cabrera, Brett Gardner, a weaker hitter, is just as good, if not, better at getting to fly balls.
Cameron, a few months older than Johnny Damon, doesn’t fit the Yankees’ move toward younger, more versatile players either. Perhaps the Brewers are trying to stir up interest in a contractual albatross, but I just don’t see Cameron arriving in the Bronx any time soon. Meanwhile, the Brewers are denying any and all trade rumors, and this looks like a big nothing from Stark. Shocking, I know.
Back in Tampa, Bryan Hoch checked in with Melky Cabrera. The displaced starter now battling for his position feels as though he has a shot at the job, and Joe Girardi is conceding nothing. “This offseason, I worked really hard, so when the opportunity came, I’d be ready to play,” Cabrera said to Hoch. “I worked on defense and hitting and was working out every day. It’s helping a lot. I’m ready to go.”
For his part, with a few weeks of spring games left, Girardi is not giving the spot to either player. “Melky’s playing at a very high level, as well,” Girardi said. “I’m happy with the way Melky is playing. He’s really started swinging the bat, and you see him doing little things — bringing the defense in with drag attempts and shooting balls by them.”
For what it’s worth, Brett Gardner is far outhitting Melky in Spring Training. Cabrera is hitting a Melky-ian .250/.341/.361 through around 40 PAs, and Gardner is hitting .382./447/.765 in the same span.
The Yanks though are far from finished with the auditions. According to Hoch, the team likes Cabrera’s arm in center, and the decision may come down to defense, a factor that should favor Gardner’s speed and range. In the end, Hoch notes that the Yanks could carry both players, and considering that Melky is out of options, they very well might so as not to lose the youngster. I wouldn’t, however, pencil in anyone but Gardner for that Opening Day spot quite yet. Who emerges as the center fielder by game 100 is anyone’s guess.