What Went Wrong: Winn & Kearns

Prospect Profile: Mason Williams
If they were free agents today: Lee or Sabathia?
You hit it in the wrong direction, Randy. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

Given the general construction of their roster, it’s always difficult for the Yankees to sign quality bench players as free agents in the offseason. No one in their right mind wants to sit for weeks at a time behind a cast of All Stars, especially when their playing time will impact their future earnings. As a result, the Yanks have had to resort to signing cast-offs late in the offseason and/or trading for help at midseason. They did both in 2010, signing a reserve outfielder right before pitchers and catchers reported, then replacing him with a trade deadline pickup. Unfortunately, neither worked.

Randy Winn

The Yankees signed Winn to a relatively cheap contract in February, a one-year pact worth just $1.1M guaranteed, though there was another $900,000 tied up in incentives based on plate appearances against left-handed pitchers only. That told everyone right away that they viewed him as some sort of a platoon bat, not to mention a defensive specialist and occasional pinch runner.

As it turned out, Winn’s tenure in pinstripes lasted less than two months. He was designated for assignment on May 28th, less than 50 games into the season. His time with the Yanks featured just 71 plate appearances (0-for-11 vs. LHP) and a lowly .276 wOBA, though I will say that I thought he had some decent at-bats. He seemed to work the count well and at least make the pitcher work, though the results just weren’t there. Perhaps even more damning is that the supposed defensive specialist cost the team 1.2 runs in 162.2 defensive innings. Mash it all together, and Winn was worth three-tenths of a win below replacement level during his time in New York. Thankfully the Cardinals lessened the blow somewhat by assuming roughly $270,000 of Winn’s contract when they signed him in June.

Austin Kearns

Fans know Kearns' strikeout face well. (AP Photo/Brandon Wade)

After Winn flunked out of pinstripes and it became painfully obvious that Marcus Thames was a hazard to himself and anyone around him defensively, the Yanks went out and acquired Kearns from the Indians in exchange for a player to be named later (Zach McAllister) at the trade deadline. The former Red had rebuilt his value with the Indians in the first half, wOBA’ing .343 overall and (more importantly to the Yanks) .353 against southpaws.

Kearns instantly improved the team’s bench and overall depth, and his first three weeks in pinstripes were superb: .434 wOBA in 45 plate appearances while filling in at both outfield corners and occasionally pinch-hitting. That was basically all the Yankees would get out of Kearns though, as his production simply cratered after that. His final 74 plate appearances of the season featured just 24 times on base (inflated by four hit by pitches and one reached on an error) and 26 strikeouts, or one every 3.08 times to the plate. Although he made the postseason roster, Kearns didn’t make it into a single game even after Mark Teixeira‘s injury.

Kearns wasn’t a total loss for the Yankees (.310 wOBA) because his defense was rock solid (1.6 runs better than average), coming in at three-tenths of a win better than some replacement level scrub. In his defense, he was battling some sort of hand/wrist injury down the stretch that I’m sure hampered his swing, but still. Kearns was as close to useless as it gets in the last six or so weeks of the season.

* * *

A pair of approximately replacement level fourth (or fifth, depending on your point of view) outfielders didn’t sink the Yankees’ season, though they certainly didn’t help. Thankfully the starting trio of Brett Gardner, Curtis Granderson, and Nick Swisher were all above average performers this year, ditto Thames in a reserve role, so the lack of a true outfield bat off the bench wasn’t as much of a problem as it could have been.

Prospect Profile: Mason Williams
If they were free agents today: Lee or Sabathia?
  • Klemy

    I think this one could have been a post with just the title, then nothing else. No explanation would be needed.

    • BigDavey88

      I “lol’d”

      I was really hoping Winn would be able to stick, don’t know why I like him, it’s just one of those things.

  • http://twitter.com/cephster Ross in Jersey

    For a time there it seemed like every time there were a couple runners on with 1 or two outs, Kearns would come up and strike out. I certainly think he was battling some type of injury, because he looked solid early on and then completely fell off a cliff.

    My favorite memory of Kearns will have to be when Cervelli wanted to mock the “claw” in the dugout and Kearns promptly told him to shut his face.

  • Not Tank the Frank

    The moves Cashman made midseason were straight cold-blooded. Even with Kearns’ lack of production, if Cashman makes those kinds of deals to solidify the bench midseason, I take it every time.

    • http://twitter.com/cephster Ross in Jersey

      Well said. Especially when Theo comes out a few weeks later and says “The Yankees were willing to spend a little bit more” …. as John Henry spends $450 million on a soccer team :)

  • theyankeewarrior

    The best part about these deals is that they didn’t really hurt the Yankees. They just didn’t help.

  • larryf

    meh-neither one of these guys can carry Greg Golson’s jockstrap at 475K per year…

  • YankeesJunkie

    The Winn deal was always sort of iffy, however I expected Kearns to provide a little more pop with the bat during the final stretch of the season. However, considering the ability and youth of the Yankees OF next year, Golson as a 4th OF/defensive replacement/pinch runner is not a bad idea.

    • larryf

      This. Golson can strike out to the tune of Austin Kearns but can do everything else better. He has just turned 25 and has 30 AB’s in the majors. Don’t want to get off topic so let me just say that Winn and Kearns were both disappointments.

      • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

        Golson can strike out to the tune of Austin Kearns but can do everything else better.

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ekQ_Ja02gTY (safe)

        • larryf

          ok-maybe a few less homers than Kearns’s 12-15. Big deal. I hope Golson has a chance to be with the team all season this year.

          • ROBTEN

            There’s a reason that Golson has 30 PA at 25. His career .263/.309/.398 line in the minors does not really announce that there’s any “there” there beyond a 5th outfielder/defensive replacement.

            Even as a member of the “Prospect Huggers” club, I would hope (and would expect) that anytime the Yankees can pickup a .257/.353/.423 (Kerns) or .284/.343/.416 (Winn) ML hitter on the cheap to take over at the 4th outfielder spot that they would do so over a player like Golson.

            I’m all for giving the kids a chance, but I don’t get the Golson love that pops up in every thread now.

      • http://theyankeeu.com Matt Imbrogno

        Golson can definitely strike out like Kearns but he will never walk like (11.3 career BB%) or hit like (.341 wOBA, .166 IsoP) Kearns.

  • http://www.secondavenuesagas.com Benjamin Kabak

    Remember the three weeks after the trade deadline when Kearns was good? It really fell apart quickly for him.

  • JerseyDutch

    I always thought Winn was a stand-up guy and was sorry he couldn’t produce for us. The one thing I noticed is he always seemed a bit timid at the plate, with a kind of scared look on his face and body language that made him look like he was shrinking away from the ball. I don’t know, maybe just my perception, but I would have liked to see him with a little fire in his eyes.

    • ROBTEN

      I don’t think that it was a lack of fire as much as a lack of bat speed.

      Over the past two seasons, during which time Winn’s stats have fallen off from his career levels, all of his swing percentages are up while the number of pitches he saw in the zone was down. This says to me that Winn had to start his swing earlier than in previous seasons to compensate for a slower bat, which pitchers then realized and adjusted to by pitching him out of the zone.

  • Preston

    I was on board with the Kearns trade when it was announced for a player to be named. But his bat had already disappeared and I was almost missing Colin Curtis (at least when a kid struggles there is the hope he’s just adjusting to big league pitching) when that player to be named turned out to be Zach McCallister. I know he was struggling in AAA but he was 22 and had success at every other level. I think he could have provided more value to the team going forward than a couple of months of a 4th outfielder.