The ‘…and left field’ gapBy
When Brian Cashman spoke on Day One of the Winter Meetings, he stressed the team’s priorities this off-season. “Pitching, pitching, pitching — and left field,” he said.
So far, it’s been a winter of mixed results. He re-signed Andy Pettitte to shore up one of those pitching spots, and he could still explore Ben Sheets or Justin Duchscherer. Either would be a good fit for the Yanks, but even without them, they have a stellar staff.
CC Sabathia summed up those feelings. “They don’t give us enough credit, I don’t think,” Sabathia said. “Everybody keeps talking about Boston now, Seattle now with Cliff and Felix [Hernandez], but I think we’ve got some pretty good guys in our clubhouse that can match up with anybody. They never talk about me or A.J. or Pettitte. I guess we like it like that. We’ll just keep sneaking up on people.”
With a front line of veterans, a back end of youngsters and many other potential fill-ins, the Yanks do not suffer from a lack of pitching. But what about Cashman’s final piece? What about that left field hole? With Johnny Damon on the way out — he and the Yankees remained approximately $6 million apart on a two-year deal — the Yankees’ left field situation is somewhat blurry.
In a way, as Tyler Kepner explores, the Yanks have plugged in some of their more glaring holes. Writes The Times scribe:
In the big picture, the Yankees are swapping two older left-handed hitters who made $26 million in 2009 (Damon and Hideki Matsui) for two younger left-handed hitters whose contracts average about $14 million in 2010 (Curtis Granderson and Johnson). They are replacing a speed guy and a slow guy with another speed guy and another slow guy.
The Yankees ultimately decided that Matsui was more of a health risk than Johnson. That notion would have been laughable a few years ago, when Matsui was an iron man and Johnson was brittle. But the Yankees feared that Matsui’s surgically repaired knees would only get worse, while Johnson seems to have no pre-existing injuries.
Johnson works the count well, a trait the Yankees value, and like Matsui, he excels against left-handers. Granderson does not, but he appealed to the Yankees for his defense, power and youth.
The Yankees had to contend with a budget this year, and so far, they’ve done a good job of finding younger and cheaper replacements for two of their stalwarts. Yet, left field remains a hole. If the season were to start tomorrow, Melky Cabrera would be the Yanks’ starting left fielder, and that is an inadequate solution. As a center fielder, Melky turned in an sOPS+ of 104. In other words, he was slightly better than the league average center fielder. As a left fielder, though, his .752 OPS would have been .028 below the league average for the position and would have ranked the Yanks 12th in the league at left field.
The Yanks could hide Melky’s bat in center over the last few years, and maybe they can do the same in left. His arm will play well there. But the team can’t expect Melky — or Brett Gardner, the more productive offensive player so far — to hold down left field. Chris over at iYankees thinks the team could find the money for Matt Holliday, and I have to image Cashman and Steinbrenner are considering it. After all, that “and left field” need isn’t going to fill itself.