The wrong call on Randy Winn (and Kevin Russo)

Yankees welcome back Granderson with a win
Game 49: Taking it easy on Curtis

I know I’m in the minority when I saw this, but the Yankees made the wrong call when cutting Randy Winn.  I say this not in support of Winn’s ability, but in support of Kevin Russo’s.  While I believe that Russo likely at this point can bring more to the table than Winn, he’s not a big enough improvement to justify having Russo lose important development time.  Russo has the ability to be a decent super-sub type of player, and riding the pine at the big league level isn’t going to help.  If there is a serious injury and someone is going to get 300 AB’s, I’d much rather it be Russo than Winn, but for the role the Yankees need to fill now, Russo is not the man for the job.

As the winner of the Winn/Russo battle (as 4th or 5th outfielders), Russo is going to maybe start one game a week. How much more can Russo possibly bring to the table than Winn?  Winn is the better defensive outfielder, and he also has the ability to play CF.  Now Russo likely will be more productive with the bat than Winn, but a glance at his triple slash line (.250/.286/.350 in a very SSS) doesn’t show the type of impact some feel he has had.  A couple of “big” hits and everyone thinks he’s off to a great start, but he’s not.  If Russo were 30 years old, I could care less.  Russo, however, is 25 and has a chance to be an important (and cheap) player off the bench for the Yankees for years to come.  He needs to be in the minors getting reps all over the diamond to see if he can become that player.

Russo does not have the bat to be a corner infielder or outfielder, and likely doesn’t defend well enough to be a full time 2B.  If he’s relegated to 4th or 5th OF now, he’s eminently replaceable.  Kevin Russo the outfielder carries almost no value, Kevin Russo the jack of all trades does.  I’d like to see Russo get the chance to be a Mark Derosa or Jerry Hairston type of player, instead of being just another guy.

If you send Russo down, he’s a short drive back the New York if he’s truly needed.  Right now he’s not needed; he’s a short term luxury that comes at a long term price. (My) best case scenario is that the final shoe has not yet dropped.  Maybe the Yankees bring up Greg Golson in a few days to become the final OF on the roster and get Russo back to Scranton.  Maybe they pick up one of the available OF’s still looking for jobs (Rocco Baldelli, Eric Byrnes, Elijah Dukes?), maybe they make a trade to pick up a veteran to fill the job.  In any of these scenarios, I have no problem with them cutting Winn today; I just don’t want this to be a long term thing at the expense of Russo.  Likely his only chance of having a long term career (and maximizing his value to the Yankees) is by learning to play everywhere.  Let’s hope they find a way to make that happen sooner rather than later.

For more of my work, head over to Mystique and Aura.

Yankees welcome back Granderson with a win
Game 49: Taking it easy on Curtis
  • blake

    Im sorry, I cant take this pst seriously when you suggested that the yankees might go get eric byrnes…

    • Aaron S.

      Don’t forget the fact that Baldelli has come out and said that if he plays it’ll only be for Tampa Bay. So basically it was suggested the Yankees go for a guy working for the Rays who hasn’t played well in years (in Baldelli), a guy who’s retired and happily hitting homers for his softball league (in Byrnes), and a guy who was cut and seemingly never heard from again (in Dukes).

  • mustang

    So agree. I guess I’m with you in the minority. Also throw in the fact that they just chucked 1.1 million out of the window.

    • The Three Amigos

      It is only 700K if someone picks up Winn. Or, 0 if some team is dumb enough to claim him off waivers.

      • mustang

        Read below.

    • mustang

      All these issues for a possible bit of improvement to back-up bench player seem a little too much.

    • Captain Jack

      After reading the defense, I feel that it’s a reasonable position to take. However, I feel that the ideal situation is dump Winn and bring in someone who can at least contribute then send Russo back to Scranton.

      I feel that, ideally, the Yankees trade for another outfielder who can be the 4th OF and DH, or at least give the Yankees flexibility in the OF so that guys can DH and get days off regularly. The Indians can’t possibly have any use for Austin Kearns, and while he should cool down some…he still sports a career .343 wOBA. He can’t play CF but he has show an above average arm in his career and he’s been great in the corners traditionally.

      While I personally would like a bigger name to trade for…I think the most realistic options are Kearns and DeJesus. There’s probably not going to be too many sellers in the NL aside from The D-Backs, Astros, Pirates, Brewers, maybe the Marlins, and the Cubs probably should sell, but there’s not too many players the Yankees would realistically target on those teams. Also, if the Royals have zero interest in Alex Gordon, the Yankees should see what it would take to get him. He’d be a better back up corner infielder than Pena or anyone in the system, and he may be able to play the outfield.

      • mustang

        Agree with all this.

    • YankFanDave

      I also agree with you Steve. Seems odd that when the OF is back to full strength (cross your fingers for both Curtis and Swish) and the OF and team need more of a defensive/PR OFer on the bench they make this move.

  • yoo-boo

    Not bad. Today, Granderson is given day off against southpaw so I guess Yanks go with a platoon for a while. Winn looked worse from right side. Russo’s development is complete. What skills you have seen in Russo will not be changed. Russo staying in bigs makes sense.

    • whozat

      “Russo’s development is complete”

      Your crystal ball is amazing. In reality, though, you have no idea whether Russo is a good defensive corner OFer right now, none of us do. It’s probable that he could get better with more reps out there, since he’s had about 20 games in the OF ever. Maybe he could even learn CF, making him more valuable.

      No, but you’re right, his development is complete.

  • Bryan

    Eric Byrnes retired on May 15 ! Hard to take this article seriously !

    • Zack

      You put a space then the !, incorrect grammar. Hard to take your post seriously!

      • rafael

        Maybe s/he’s French.

  • The zack

    I really can’t fathom a reason to really care one way or another. Winn clearly showed himself completely useless at the plate. Russo has shown himself at least slightly more capable, and he isn’t Thames in the OF, so what’s the big deal?

    Other than getting more experience playing the OF, what can he really “develop” into in the minors?

    • Steve H

      Other than getting more experience playing the OF, what can he really “develop” into in the minors?

      More time at SS and 3B to see if he can handle it (especially at SS).

      • Count Zero

        Meh — what does it really matter? Realistically, how many games is he going to play at SS or 3B in Scranton? A dozen at each? Maybe? Do you really think that’s going to make him significantly better at either position? A cozen games at age 25? I very much doubt it.

        Russo is 25 — he either hacks it as a UF now or he becomes a career minor leaguer.

        And let’s face it — Winn wasn’t contributing on either side at this point. If he was a good LIDP, that would have been one thing — but at this point he’s pretty mediocre in the field.

  • Steve (different one)

    I appreciate the effort, as this is well reasoned, but I will personally file this under “who cares?”

    As the article acknowledges, this probably isn’t the final roster move.

    I think it’s very, very likely that Russo heads back to Scranton at some point this season to continue his “development”. If nothing else, getting a real taste of the bigs is probably just as valuable as playing in Scranton for an extra few weeks.

    If playing Russo over Winn garners an extra fraction of a win at the expense of a small amount of development of a non-prospect, so be it.

    We should actually be applauding the Yankees for recognizing they made a mistake on Winn and recognizing the sunk cost for what it is, and correcting it before it costs them further. Player evaluation mistakes happen, it’s the sign of a good org to recognize and cut bait.

  • V

    I disagree. How many games have we seen come down to a pivotal at bat, with the tying runs on base, and watch Winn foul off or miss 89 mph fastballs down the middle?

    Winn is an offensive zero at this point. If there were a designated fielder position, he’d have a spot, but he doesn’t at the moment.

  • West Coast Yankee

    Not your finest post. Winn was a mistake, a zero. God forbid Kevin Russo should soak in a little Yankee atmosphere, spend time observing Jeter and Mariano, take batting practice with Kevin long, get some at bats that actually mean something and actually help this team which he already has.

    Give the guy his shot, no one thought Cervelli could hit remember?

    • Drew

      Give the guy his shot, no one thought Cervelli could hit remember?

      Not the point. It’s a matter of developing his defense so that he can be a NYY Super Sub for a long time.

    • Steve H

      Give the guy his shot, no one thought Cervelli could hit remember?

      Cervelli still can’t hit, unless his 91 AB’s (with a .380 BABIP) this year have changed everything we’ve seen in the past.

    • Poopy Pants

      Don’t you know Cervelli sucks???


      • poster

        Er, it IS a SSS.

  • Peter

    I’m sorry, but Russo is 25, not 21, and he spent the entire 2009 season at AAA. He doesn’t have a lot of developing left in him.

    • Drew

      Speaking of 21. Guess how many games he’s played in the OF since he turned 21…
      13 Games. I’d say there is room for some development there.

  • Ft. Lauderdale Frank

    I tend to agree. If Russo got sent down he could stay sharp by playing every day and at different positions. By staying in NY, he will get limited time in the field and at bat and when he is called upon to play for someone, be it a couple of days or extended time, will he be sharp and ready?

  • Andy in Sunny Daytona

    I like the thought of Gardner, Granderson and Golson all playing the outfield together. The “G-Whiz” Defense.

    • Steve H

      And we have J-Whiz (on his hands) behind the plate.

  • West Coast Yankee

    Well, reasonable people can disagree on this. I think Russo has played enough in the minor leagues, five years and 1,300 at bats and he’s batted .315 in AAA.

    We also need a super-sub in the Jerry Hairston, Jr. mold. He can play 3B, 2B and the corner outfield positions. Peña is a complete zero at the plate.

    One other factor, I think it was a necessary “team” move to DFA Winn for this reason. Letting him go is akin to cleaning your garage. Get rid of the old stuff that doesn’t work. Team gets younger. Psychological benefits.

    • Steve H

      If there’s enough AB’s for Russo I’m happy with it, but I think (like you said) if Pena is still getting those extra AB’s at 2B/3B, then Russo isn’t filling the super-sub role, he’s strictly a backup OF.

  • Kevin

    I would have preferred keeping Winn too for the time being, if only because of our upcoming games against NL West teams. Clearly, we should be trying to develop Russo as Mark DeRosa lite, and he can’t learn the corner OF positions and stay sharp in the IF on the bench.

    That being said, I’m not exactly losing sleep this, since I can’t see Russo being here too long. In the short-term, Joe might decide that Golson’s speed and D are bigger assets to the team, or decide to give Huffman a shot. In the long-term, we will almost assuredly make some Hinske/Hairston type addition by the deadline. In the midst, Colin Curtis will presumably be back.

  • ZZ

    If Russo can prove he can hit major league pitching, even if it is in a limited sample, that will be much more valuable than the time spent getting reps at different positions in AAA.

    When you consider Russo is 25 and is not a key part of the long term plans of the Yankees, success at the major league level cannot be matched.

  • MikeD

    He’s 25. Development time is over. Time to help the big club, even if it’s only one day a week.

    • steve (do)

      This, it’s not like they called up montero to dh

    • whozat

      given the tiny marginal upgrade, you really don’t think that getting more than 20 games in the OF over his ENTIRE CAREER has any value at all?

  • Poopy Pants

    The wrong call was signing Winn in the first place.

    • MikeD

      I didn’t have an issue with signing Winn since it was as a 4th OFer. He had been a good player for a number of years up until 2009. If he bounced back he’d be an excellent addition. If he didn’t, well, then the Yankees would do exactly what they just did. Cut him. He’s fungible and, btw, so is Russo. They’re giving the kid a shot. If he doesn’t cut it he’s back to AAA and the Yankees look for another option. To me this is not about getting reps at 3B or SS in the minors. The Yankees want to see if he can provide any offense at all on the MLB level. If he can, they’ll use him as a Hairston-type player. That’ll mean less ABs for Pena, too, and that would be a good thing. The kid can’t hit.

      • RL

        “That’ll mean less ABs for Pena, too, and that would be a good thing. The kid can’t hit.”

        The problem is Girardi seems to keep giving Pena games at 3B when A-Rod gets a night off. If they’re going to keep Russo up, he should get those games. If he’s not getting more than a game a week, let him develop more in AAA to work on his OF skills.

  • zs190

    I don’t agree. Russo is what he is, there isn’t much to gain from spending more time in AAA. He’s had a full season worth of PA in AAA (550) and he’s hit consistently around the same, I don’t expect him to get better with the bat by spending more time in AAA.

    Defensively we know he’s a roughly average at the positions that he can play, 2B/3B/LF and I’m not convinced he has enough range to play SS/CF in the big leagues. They tried it in AAA and I don’t think they liked what saw so I don’t expect him to gain much defensively by staying in the minors either. If anything, I expect to improve more defensively while in the big leagues because the best fielding instructors are in the big leagues.

    Yeah, it was frustrating to see Pena at 3B but consider the circumstances

    -Russo had played in the last 6 games, including 5 starts.
    -Pena has barely played and managers generally want to play bench guys once in a while to keep them sharp and it just happens that Alex is the one that needs a day off.

    Going forward I expect Russo to be the guy that plays about half of the games subbing for Alex and start a few games against LHP to give a couple days off for the starting OF’s.

    I think you are overrating Russo. He’s a .280/.340/.380 kind of guy that hits for a decent average, walk a bit and hit some gappers for doubles. If you play him more than the 1, maybe 2 start a week then something has gone wrong.

    • zs190

      My wording might have been a bit unclear, I meant half of the games that Alex needs time off, not half of all the games.

  • mike c

    dukes could be a very high upside signing if they could pull it off. get the kid a shrink and put him on a winning team and he could be a good player

  • chriso

    I disagree that Russo would be better off spending more time in AAA. As some others have noted, he’s 25 already, and has plenty of MiL experience. And I think he IS viewed as a utility player, even now.
    Russo is playing LF because the Yanks need him there. If they needed him at 2B or 3B, he’d be there. He’s not shown the ability to play SS.
    I think the guy the Yanks would have liked to bring up as a left fielder is Colin Curtis. But he’s injured.
    And, as for Ramiro Pena, who some seem to have a need to slam, he’s a terrific fielder, and that’s why he’s on the team. With all the firepower the Yankees have, they can well afford to carry a guy with a great glove and a light bat. Pena can also run a bit, which gives them a late-innings pinch-runner option.
    But bottom line is that Russo is such a minor issue. Winn looked done as a major leaguer from game 1. Looked overmatched by even mediocre ML pitchers. Russo, at least, might get a little better over time. Winn was, obviously, on the downside, on a steep slide down.

  • JoeyH

    Best case for Russo – Mark Derosa(when healthy) ?

  • Tonymo

    Were you once training for GM position under Brian Cashman! Only the federal government spends more and gets less for than the Yankees under Cashman.

    I’m trying to imagine Cashman having to play under the same rules (economic)as the other GMs in the game!

    Yes his $400 million spending spree the off season before last finally brought a W.S., despite the computer printout robot in the dugout!

    But look at those guys now. He very likely spent $400 million for ONE championship. That’s quite a ROI (return on investment)!