Where does Hairston fit on the 2010 Yanks?

It’s not quite Jerry Hairston’s time of winter yet. Teams seem to make their bigger moves in December, viewing January with an eye to secondary players. The Yankees, with a solid rotation, bullpen, and lineup already assembled, could start looking at possible bench options over the next few weeks. A versatile, familiar player like Hairston could be in their plans.

With a 12-man pitching staff and a set DH, the Yankees have room for four bench players. One of them goes to Francisco Cervelli, leaving two spots for utility infielders and outfielders. With this scheme it makes sense to carry a player who can handle both the infield and outfield. Jerry Hairston is not only one such player, but he’s one who plays good defense at most positions.

In an article on ESPN Insider Tom Tango looks at a trio of unheralded players from this decade. Their bats keep them from the starting lineup, but their defense makes them valuable assets off the bench. Says Tango of Hairston:

He started between 40 and 98 games at five positions (SS, 3B, LF, CF, RF) in addition to his 515 starts at 2B. Since 2002, his UZR is +34 runs overall and his WOWY is +46 plays in the infield and +32 plays in the outfield.

Having a player like Hairston on the bench makes the team more flexible. Because he can spell players at multiple positions, it allows the Yankees to keep a power bat — like, say, Eric Hinske — on the bench. Also, if they do intend to start Brett Gardner in left, they could also carry Rule 5 pick Jamie Hoffman. That’s not a bad bench heading into the season, and we know that if something like the bench or bullpen isn’t working, the Yankees can fix it on the fly.

The question, as with all free agents, is of whether Hairston wants to sign on, and whether he’ll sign for the Yankees’ price. Perhaps Hairston would prefer a team that offers him more playing time, or possibly more money. But if his demands are in line, I can’t see a good reason why the Yankees wouldn’t pursue him. He’s a useful player, especially on defense, where he can play multiple positions, both infield and outfield. That sounds like a valuable asset off the bench.

Open Thread: 90 years ago, Babe Ruth became a Yankee

The deal wasn’t announced until January 1920, but it was 90 years ago today, December 26, 1919, when the Boston Red Sox sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees for $125,000. If you want to read up on the occasion, Mark Newman at MLB.com writes about the trade’s circumstances.

We conclude the day with an Open Thread. Things should pick up a bit tomorrow, hopefully. Maybe we’ll talk about something other than left field.

All we’re going to talk about is left field

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.

On the day after Christmas, my GM got for me…

With the holidays behind us, the next six weeks will be the sprint to Spring Training. Some big name outfielders – Jason Bay, Matt Holliday, Johnny Damon – remain unemployed, and the right big signing could tilt the balance of baseball power. For the Yanks, the moves this winter have come quickly and with an eye toward both 2010 and 2011. Brian Cashman knows which players – both outfielders and pitchers – will be on the market next winter, and he has filled his holes with an eye toward keeping roster and fiscal space available for those better players next year.

Still, the Yanks have a few spots open. They could use a better left field option and maybe some bullpen work. As we head into the second half of the Hot Stove League, what’s on your wish list? Do you want another bat? A live arm? Something else entirely? Personally, I’d love to see Damon return at the Yanks’ price, but I’m not holding my breath there.

Remembering Billy, twenty years later

BillyMartin

Billy Martin, right, celebrates a World Series victory with George Steinbrenner and Yogi Berra.

For Yankee fans of a certain age, Christmas Day is one tinged with sadness. On December 25, 1989, twenty years ago today, Billy Martin died in a drunk driving accident outside of Binghamton, New York. At the time, he had seemingly come to a peace with George Steinbrenner and was serving as an adviser to the Boss. He was 61 then with four World Series rings as a player and one as a manager.

Many of us don’t remember Billy. We hear tales of his playing days from our parents or grandparents and were not alive for or aware of the many times he was hired and fired. Martin, though, as Moss Klein, the long-team Yankee beat writer for The Star-Ledger, writes today was one of a kind. He was combative and fiery on the field and more so off as he struggled with his inner demons and fought with umpires, players — Reggie Jackson and Billy had some relationship — and his boss. A few weeks before his death, rumors swirled that Billy would be back in the dugout come March.

In the end, Billy died as he lived — on his own terms with no seat belt. As Klein writes, “As a manager, he could usually figure out a way to win. But sadly, he could never figure out how to manage himself.”

Today, those of us too young to remember Martin often don’t know what to make of him. As a player, he hit just .257/.300/.369 over 11 seasons and was seemingly more famous for getting traded from New York after a nightclub incident at the old Copacabana. But in Murray Chass’ obituary and George Vecsey’s profile and the comments from mourners, we see a man troubled and beloved by those who knew him.

To this day, no one really knows what happened on the icy roads in Binghamton twenty years ago. William Reedy, the other man in the truck that night, died this year in July, and as his obituary notes, he first said he was the driver to protect Martin. During his trial on drunk driving charges, he claimed that Billy was behind the wheel, but the jury found Reedy guilty anyway.

To me, Billy has always been an enigma. He shows up in Yankee biographies at odd moments. He plays a big role in the tale of Yogi as told by Allen Barra for a few years before his exile to Kansas and then reemerges as the manager in Jonathan Mahler’s The Bronx is Burning. He couldn’t live with the Yankees, and he couldn’t live without them.

Christmas Day Open Thread

"Awwwwww yeah!!!"

Happy Holidays to all of you who make RAB part of your daily reading. Go and spend the day with friends and family. Baseball can wait.

Details on Nick Johnson’s contract

The Yankees and Nick Johnson finalized their one year agreement two days ago, bringing the lefty swinger back to the Bronx six years after he was traded away. The basics of the deal are well known ($5.5M for 2010 with a mutual option for 2011), however the AP has some of the minor details:

  • The 2011 option is for the same base salary with a $250,000 buyout. If Johnson comes to the plate at least 550 times next year, the buyout jumps to $500,000. Both sides have to pick up the option for it to kick in.
  • The guaranteed value of the option year can increase to $6M with 500 plate appearances in 2010, $6.5M with 550 plate appearances, and $7M with 600 plate appearances.
  • Johnson could potentially pocket another million bucks in both years of the deal with plate appearance based incentives: $50,000 each for 400 and 425 trips to the plate, $75,000 each for 450 and 475, and $125,000 each for 500, 525, 550, 575, 600, and 625 plate appearances.
  • If both sides pick up the mutual option and Johnson reaches all of the incentives, he’d take home a total of $14.5M.

There doesn’t appear to be any no-trade protection or any other benefits like that, which is always a plus. Hopefully Nick The Stick stays healthy and it’s $14.5M well spent.