Left field. You’re going to be sick of seeing those two words in the next week or so. I’m already nearing that point. With the rotation, the bullpen, and eight ninths of the starting lineup in order, the Yankees have just one area left to address this off-season. It makes sense, then, that we’d discuss that one position far more than the rest. Left field will become a tired topic soon enough.
The names, too, will become boring bullet points by year’s end. We know that the Yankees are looking at Reed Johnson and Mark DeRosa. Because of their 2009 affiliations, Xavier Nady and Johnny Damon will remain in the conversation. Marlon Byrd’s name will come up every once in a while, especially if one or two of the aforementioned four come off the board. And, of course, as long as Jason Bay and Matt Holliday remain on the market, there will be some chance, no matter how small, that the Yankees remain players.
Then there are those who want none of the above, thinking that Brett Gardner can be the starting left fielder. I’ve addressed the Gardner point before, noting that while he had a useful year in 2009, it’s tough to project his next season. In order to be effective, Gardner needs to be on the base paths. Can a slap hitter with no power maintain a respectable walk rate? It’s possible, but I wouldn’t bank on it. Hence, the focus on left field as a position to — not upgrade, per se, but enhance.
I think that last point is worth reinforcing. Many of the Yankees numerati want to see the Yanks hand Gardner the job. We’ve linked to a few of those recently, and Will Moller of IIATMS recently added his own take. I do think, though, that the Gardner point gets overstated. The Yankees are not looking for someone to take the job from Gardner. Rather, they’re looking for someone to enhance their options at the position. This is why I think that DeRosa isn’t an optimal fit, but someone like Nady or Reed Johnson might be.
The Yankees feature above average offensive players at every position. They can stand to get average production out of left field. What they don’t want, of course, is to get below average production from that position. Their offense can probably absorb a void out there, but it’s not optimal for a championship team. Adding a player like Johnson or Nady to the fray provides the Yankees another look in left field — a right-handed bat among a lefty-heavy lineup, and insurance against a Gardner let down.
Signing Johnson or Nady not only enhances left field with another option, but it also addresses the bench. As we’ve learned the past few years, as we get closer to Spring Training the bench becomes a more prominent discussion topic. Maybe the Yanks can already have a decent one in place by the time that discussion arises.