Replacing Nunez to strengthen the lineupBy
The 2011 Yankees have a number of flaws, but the bench isn’t one of them. At the start of the season they featured their deepest bench in years, and even with Eric Chavez on the DL they still have a quality cast of reserves. Once Chavez returns they’ll have that killer bench back and can focus on improving the weaker aspects of the team. Of course, the preceding statement makes two assumptions: 1) That Chavez makes it back in the next few weeks, and 2) That he stays healthy after returning. As anyone familiar with Chavez’s injury history knows, neither is a guarantee.
While there’s nothing wrong with using Chris Dickerson, or even Justin Maxwell, to fill Chavez’s bench spot, it does create a somewhat less flexible situation. Currently, Eduardo Nunez is getting a good helping of starts against left-handed pitching, while either Alex Rodriguez or Derek Jeter takes a half day off at DH. This isn’t a bad idea by any means; both Jeter and A-Rod could use the breather, and it’s hardly a bad idea to play Nunez against opposite-handed pitching. Still, he’s not the ideal guy to be taking all those at-bats.
At Pinstriped Bible, Steven Goldman discussed the “self-defeating” Nunez and his role on the team. One of this lines a bit further down in the article caught my attention: “‘Hard-hitting reserve infielder’ is almost an automatic contradiction in terms.” This is an argument that I often raise when defending a weak Yankees bench. There aren’t many quality reserves to begin with. Why would one of them want to play behind Alex Rodriguez, Robinson Cano, and Derek Jeter? That leaves the Yankees two avenues for finding quality bench players: trades and development. While I applaud the development angle with Nunez, they might find some success when looking outside the organization.
Yesterday Mike looked at the possibility of a Jose Reyes trade. Of course, when you trade for Jose Reyes he’s a starter, and the Yankees already have a starting shortstop. He might not be the best offensively, and he might be a shell of his former self at the plate, but it’s not as though the Yankees can simply trade for a shortstop and replace him. But what if they were to trade for a lesser infielder — someone who can give both A-Rod and Jeter days at DH, while taking a late-inning defensive role? There is one possibly available player for that.
The Dodgers, under .500 and in a tough financial situation, probably want to trim a sizable portion of their $120 million payroll. No one on the team makes more this year than Rafael Furcal. The Dodgers would help their situation by trading him and what remains of his $13 million 2011 salary. Not many teams would be willing to eat that kind of money for a mid-season acquisition, but the Yankees aren’t like other teams. They figure to have a good chunk of spare change set aside for deadline acquisitions. While pitching is the priority, they could do worse than picking up Furcal to help keep Jeter and A-Rod fresh through the second half.
At this point, Furcal’s stat sheet is a bit misleading. He got off to a slow start, though that easily could have been injury related. He returned at the end of May, and has heated up in his past few games, going 8 for his last 17 with a homer. If he rebounds to produce something resembling his normal numbers, he’ll be of much better use than Nunez in the backup infield role. And, if worse comes to worst, he’s a much better full-time fill-in.
(As a bonus, perhaps taking on Furcal could open an opportunity for the Yankees to also acquire the Dodgers second highest paid player, Hiroki Kuroda. But that’s the subject of a different post.)
Perhaps spending $6 million on a backup infielder isn’t the best use of the Yankees’ resources. They have other areas they can improve, and they don’t have an infinite pool of money. But I’m presuming that, because of the off-season disagreement over Rafael Soriano, that Cashman has a little more wiggle room than he would have otherwise. Furcal certainly isn’t the first choice; he’s probably not in the top five. He’s more of the deadline-day, nothing else has panned out kind of move. Yet his bat and his glove can provide some benefit to the Yankees’ lineup. With a Dodgers team likely to sell at a low cost in prospects, he’s someone the Yanks should keep their eyes on, if only as Plan Z.