Over the next week or so, we’ll again break down what went wrong and what went right for the 2009 Yankees. The series this year will be much more enjoyable than the last.
While the big offseason additions received the majority of the media and fan attention during the season (rightfully so), the little moves the team made to tweak the roster midseason also played a key role in bringing them to the promised land.
For most of the first half, the best bat the Yankees had on the bench belonged to Brett Gardner, which was sad. That all changed in late June, when the team acquired World Series veteran Eric Hinske (and $400,000 to pay his salary) from the Pirates for two throw away minor leaguers (a.k.a. Casey Erickson and Eric Fryer). Hinske immediately became the team’s primary pinch hitter, and even chipped in a few starts here and there to keep the regulars rested.
Hinske famously clubbed five homers in his first seven games with the Yanks, and hit .226-.316-.512 overall. He also played three different positions (not including DH), and reached base in his only postseason plate appearance, eventually coming around to score.
The second midseason pickup came right on the July 31st trade deadline, when the Yanks used their surplus of minor league catching depth (in this case: Chase Weems) to import the versatile Jerry Hairston Jr. from Cincinnati. Hairston replaced the overmatched Cody Ransom as the all-purpose bench player, and he went on to play every position but pitcher, catcher, and first base for the Bombers. Hairston’s overall batting line of .237-.352-.382 wasn’t spectacular, but bench players that can get on base more than 35% of the time don’t grow on trees.
On the roster for all three playoff series, Hairston ignited a game winning rally with a lead off single in the 13th inning of Game Two of the ALCS. He later made a spot start in rightfield for the slumping Nick Swisher, going 1-for-3 off Pedro Martinez in Game Two of the World Series and igniting another rally with a lead off single. Although Hairston and Hinske saw limited action in the playoffs, both certainly contributed in big ways once their names were called.
The final midseason pickup came a week after the Hairston trade, when the Yanks shipped $100K to San Diego in exchange for Chad Gaudin. The righthander initially worked out of the bullpen, but soon displaced Sergio Mitre as the team’s fifth starter. The Yankees won all six of Gaudin’s starts, during which he posted a 3.19 ERA. Even though he was on call to make a start every round, Gaudin appeared in only one game in the postseason, mopping up a blow out win in Game Four of the ALCS.
No team is ever complete in April, and the Yankees did a tremendous job of upgrading their roster during the season while using minimal resources. Weaknesses were addressed by acquiring veteran players familiar with the roles they were being asked to fill, not players who weren’t accustomed to coming off the bench or pitching on an irregular schedule. The added depth rewarded the team down the stretch and in the postseason.