The best and worst New York athletes of the decade

With just under a week left in the decade*, the lists have started flowing. The Daily News has four of them today: best New York athletes, worst New York athletes, best New York sports moments, and worst New York sports moments. We’ll check in on the Yankees from each list, but as will become evident almost immediately, this is more of a “our favorite New York athletes,” rather than a measure of athletic ability.

Alex Rodriguez checks in at No. 4 on the best athletes list, topped only by Martin Brodeur (who doesn’t play in the Big Apple), Mariano Rivera, and, of course, Derek Jeter. On the worst athletes list, Kei Igawa holds the No. 7 spot, worse than Jerome James, but not worse than Eddy Curry. The list features many Mets, but two Yankees rank worse than any players from New York’s second team. Kevin Brown rates the third worst athlete, while Carl Pavano rates second worst. Only the unassailable Stephon Marbury stands between Pavano and the top spot. Again, the list is more “athletes we hate” than “bad athletes.”

On the best sports moments list, Derek Jeter’s flip play ranks No. 8, the 2001 World Series miracles rank sixth, Aaron Boone’s walk-off ranks fourth, the 2009 series ranks third, and the 2000 Subway Series championship ranks second. That’s a pretty Yankees-heavy list, though they didn’t own the top spot. That deservingly belongs to the Giants for beating the Patriots in Super Bowl XLII. On the worst list, Clemens’s bat toss at Piazza rates the eighth worst moment, the 2001 Series ender rates sixth worst, and baseball’s steroids issue rates fifth worst. I won’t even make mention of the decade’s worst moment in New York sports. You all know what it is.

The lists are mostly for fun, but they do underscore just how much the Yankees own this city. They not only dominate the best of lists, but also the worst of lists. Hey, it’s tough to hate something if you don’t care. Also clear: the angst over the Knicks. But that’s a subject for another day, on another blog.

*No, there was no Year 0. If you want to go strictly by the calendar, the decade goes 2001-2010. But guess what? The year before Year 1 was…Year 1. We’ve come to celebrate decades from 0 through 9, so please, no decade bickering in the comments.

Fan Confidence Poll: December 28th, 2009

2009 Season Record: 103-59 (915 RS, 753 RA), won AL East by 8 games, finished with the best record in MLB by 6 games, won 27th World Series

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Yanks could look at Dye as a left field caddy

Since all we’re going to talk about is left field, how about this rumor from Phil Rogers of the Chicago Tribune: “Jermaine Dye is drawing interest from the Yankees.” As we’ve discussed, the Yankees could use another outfielder. Even if they want to give Gardner every shot, a solid backup should be in the plans. Since Jamie Hoffman is not that, we could see the Yanks make a move for a lower-tier left fielder.

Dye has name recognition value, but not much beyond that. He’s coming off a horrible year in which he hit .250/.340/.453. To sign him would be to bank on a significant bounce back year. For a younger player it might be worth the gamble, but Dye will turn 36 in a month. It might have been an off-year, or it might be a sign of declining skills. At what point is that a worthy gamble?

In 2009 Dye posted his worst offensive season since an injury riddled 2003. His power faded, as his .203 ISO was his lowest since 2004, and a .044 drop-off from 2008. His BABIP fell to .269, his lowest in a decade, apparently driven by an alarmingly low line drive percentage, 16.9, again his lowest since 2003. Defense has never been a strength, and over the past four seasons he’s posted a lower than -21 UZR/150.

There are some indicators, however, that Dye could bounce back from his poor season. While he hit fewer line drives, they turned almost exclusively into ground balls. His 43.6 fly ball percentage nearly matched his 2008 mark. Also nearly equal was his HR/FB ratio, at 15.6 percent, just a tick down from his 16 percent mark in 2008. Most of his power loss came in the gaps, as he hit just 19 doubles in 2009. Despite the down year he still hit 27 home runs. He also greatly increased his walk percentage, to 11.3 percent. Because of that he posted a .340 OBP, impressive considering his .250 batting average.

Considering the risks attached to Dye, combined with his poor defense, I wonder if the Yankees would also consider Eric Hinske. A much cheaper option, Hinske could probably post numbers similar to Dye in 2010, on offense and defense. UZR likes Hinske a lot more than Dye rating him positive at all but one position, third base, throughout his career. That doesn’t quite pass the eye test — Hinske seemed a butcher in the outfield last season, but I think it’s a safe bet he’s better than Dye.

The biggest difference between the two players is their handedness. Hinske, a lefty, has hit righties far better throughout his career, while Dye, a righty, does most of his damage against left-handed pitching, though his career platoon split isn’t dramatic. Since the Yankees feature a lefty-heavy lineup, perhaps they’d prefer Dye, a righty, to caddy Brett Gardner in left.

The good news is that Dye’s price tag shouldn’t be out of the Yankees’ range. He’s a second-tier corner outfield in a robust market, and will likely settle for a low base salary contract sometime in January. At that point, he might be worth the risk. A righty outfielder with the potential for a big season, especially at a low cost, should certainly interest the Yankees. They might have to wait him out, but his price could drop below what Bobby Abreu signed for last winter.

The Yankees have no reason to rush to seek outfield depth. Many options remain on the market, and likely will remain through January. By taking their time, the Yankees can watch the asking prices for many second-tier outfielders fall. Then they can slide in and sign a player they prefer. Dye is just one of many choices. If he wants a situation where a job is his to lose, he won’t choose New York. But if he wants the chance and is willing to sign for the Yankees’ price, I don’t see why the Yankees wouldn’t give him serious consideration.

Of course, there are plenty of players they should give serious consideration. In the end, they have room for only one. Dye could be as good a choice as any.

The openest of open threads

As is pretty obvious at this point, the three of us have been most most of the weekend. We’ll start serving up actual content again at midnight. But for now, another open thread, at its regularly scheduled time. I’m assuming most of the talk will be about the Cowboys-Redskins, but anything goes.

Football Open Thread

The Giants are duking it out for a playoff spot, and are taking on the Panthers at home at 1pm ET. The J-E-T-S are stuck playing the 14-0 Colts on the road at 4:15pm ET. Good luck with that. Talk gridiron here.

Jeter named Daily News’ New Yorker of the Year

It’s been quite the year for Derek Jeter. First he passed Luis Aparicio for most hits as a shortstop in MLB history. Then he passed Lou Gehrig for most hits as a Yankee. Then his team plowed through the playoffs to win its 27th World Series title, his fifth in a 14-year big league career. Now he’s been named the Daily News’ New Yorker of the Year. The award, I’m sure, will go next to the three other awards Jeter won this season: the Hank Aaron Award, the Roberto Clemente Award, and the SI Sportsman of the Year. The Daily News did not reveal their voting process, so I can only wonder how close Justice Sonia Sotomayor came to the award. In any case, congratulations to Derek on yet another 2009 award.

Glove slap: iYankees

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.