Thoughts after another win over the Rangers

(Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

The Yankees have won three straight over the Rangers and seven of their last eight overall, restoring some order to the universe after playing sub-.500 ball for about three weeks. They’re on the verge of sweeping Texas in a four-game series, something that was honestly unthinkable when the week began. The Yankees are playing so well and with the quick turn-around for the afternoon game today, there’s no use for a focused post this morning. Instead, here is a collection of some random thoughts. Feel free to expand or add to the discussion in the comments…

1. I think that we, as a fanbase, don’t give Freddy Garcia enough credit. He had that brutal April and it seems to have lingered in everyone’s minds, but he’s been rock solid ever since regardless of role (starter or reliever). Part of the problem is that he doesn’t fit the profile of the type of pitcher that usually succeeds in the AL East. He’s not a hard-thrower and he doesn’t miss bats, but he generates lots of weak contact and simply outsmarts hitters. When I saw the weather prior to the game last night, my thought was that the Yankees were in pretty good shape because Garcia’s a veteran starter who has pitched through everything. A little rain wouldn’t bother him. Freddy really does deserve a lot of credit for stepping up once Andy Pettitte went down.

2. He isn’t going to continue hitting this well through the end of the season and into the playoffs, but don’t the Yankees have to find a way to keep Eric Chavez in the lineup once Alex Rodriguez comes off the DL? They could get him three or four starts a week at third base and/or DH, but to do so they would have to take some playing time away from Ichiro Suzuki and Raul Ibanez. I suppose they could platoon those two and use Ichiro in left for the fly ball pitchers (Phil Hughes and Garcia) while Ibanez gets the call for the ground-ballers (CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, and Ivan Nova). Either way, Chavez has been far too productive to turn him back into a once-a-week type player. Someone’s going to lose at-bats when A-Rod comes back and it shouldn’t be him.

(AP Photo/H. Rumph Jr)

3. Isn’t this Melky Cabrera stuff just sad? You know I’m not the biggest Melky fan in the world, but it’s sad because he was so close to a life-changing contract. We have no idea how much the added testosterone helped his performance, but the story about him getting into shape and taking his career seriously after getting released by the Braves seemed completely plausible. Melky always had some skills, he makes lots of contact and he has a pretty good idea of the strike zone, so it’s not completely unexpected that he turned into a BABIP machine during his peak years. Now his free agent value is destroyed — I was thinking something along the lines of six years and $80-90M this offseason, but he might have to settle for a one-year, prove yourself contract now. He was staring at money that would put his great great great grandkids through college, now he has to do it all over again to land that kind of payday. Rough.

4. On the heels of his perfect game yesterday — which was just absolutely brilliant, I can’t tell you how filthy he was if you didn’t see it — would you take Felix Hernandez over any other pitcher if you had one game to win? I’m pretty sure I would. The top three names that immediately jumped to mind for me were Felix, Justin Verlander, and Clayton Kershaw, but I’d rather have Hernandez over the other two. MLB Network joked (or maybe it wasn’t a joke) yesterday that the ninth inning of the perfect game were the three biggest outs of his career, and that kinda bummed me out. Felix has never pitched in the postseason and only once have the Mariners finished above third place during his career, but he just seems to give off that vibe that he would be untouchable on the big stage. Maybe I’m completely off the mark here, but he always seems to perform his best when facing top teams like the Yankees or Red Sox or Rangers or the Rays yesterday.

5. Is this not the most likable Yankees team in quite some time? At least since the 2009 squad, and I think you might even be able to go back farther than that. The mid-aughts teams were just awful in that regard, full of grumpy and unlikeable players that came off as far too corporate (Gary Sheffield and Kevin Brown stand out as notable examples). This team has likeable players all over the place, from Chavez to Sabathia to Kuroda to Curtis Granderson to Robinson Cano to many others. They’re all just very easy to root for and it makes the whole baseball fan experience that much better. The Yankees placed a renewed emphasis on makeup and character a few years ago, and I think this is a byproduct.

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Eric Chavez, fill-in superstar

(Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

It was just a footnote in last night’s win over the Rangers, but Eric Chavez hit another homer as he fills in for the injured Alex Rodriguez. The no-doubt blast — it cleared the home bullpen and landed in the right field bleachers — was his 13th homer of the season, raising his season line to .293/.350/.540 in 220 plate appearances. That looks an awful lot like the .275/.350/.496 batting line he put up during his glory days with the Athletics from 1998-2005.

“It’s hard to argue with what he’s done,” said Joe Girardi about his temporary third baseman after last night’s game. “He has been great for us. He’s in the middle of one rally, adds an add-on run later on to make it 6-2, and those runs are important because you can give (David Robertson), (Rafael Soriano) and some of your guys a day off. You might say ‘You won by six runs,’ but any time you can do that, it’s important when you’re in a stretch of 20 days in a row.”

The Yankees plucked Chavez off the scrap heap last season and he did a decent job for them off the bench, hitting .263/.320/.356 in 175 plate appearances while missing a bunch of time with a foot injury. It was his most playing time in five years due to all those back and shoulder and neck problems, and his value stemmed primarily from his knack for the big hit — Chavez put up a .416/.468/.537 line with runners in scoring position and had a number of big, late-inning knocks. He was a solid role player, that’s pretty much it, but this year he’d become so much more.

The difference between Chavez this year and last year is the power production, which I’m sure is even surprising Chavez and the Yankees at this point. His .247 ISO is the second highest of his career, and his 20.3 HR/FB% is a career-best since the data started being recorded in 2002. Although the friendly confines of Yankee Stadium are surely helping him out, Hit Tracker classified eight of his 13 dingers as either “Plenty” or “No-Doubters.” Those are balls that landed at least 50 feet beyond the wall. Three of the 13 were opposite field jobs out to left, and all three came on the road (one at CitiField, two at Comerica Park). So yeah, not all of these homers are squeaking over the short porch.

I wish I could find the link now, but I remember seeing an interview with then-pro scouting director and current assistant GM Billy Eppler last summer where he mentioned that when the Yankees look for part-time players, they target players who used to be stars because they know what it takes to perform at a high-level on a daily basis. For some reason that quote stuck with me. Chavez doesn’t have the resume of Andruw Jones or Ichiro Suzuki, but he was very much a star-caliber player back in the day. He hit for average, hit for power, got on-base, and played a world class third base for a half-decade on a contending team. This guy knows what he’s doing, and he’s paying huge dividends for the Bombers this summer.

Girardi has done a pretty good job of keeping Chavez rested, but it can’t be easy to sit him on the bench for a day or two when he’s hitting like this. He’s the oldest 34-year-old in the league given his injury history, so maintaining that delicate balance between keeping him productive and keeping him healthy will be one of the skipper’s biggest challenges going forward. Chavez has turned himself into one of the more indispensable players on the team with his performance, stepping up in a huge way when A-Rod went down. I also think he’s one of the easiest-to-root-for players the Yankees have had in quite some time, and not just because he’s mashing at the plate.

Giants tried to acquire Eric Chavez before trade deadline

Via Buster Olney, the Giants tried to acquire Eric Chavez from the Yankees prior to the trade deadline by offering outfielder Nate Schierholtz. I’m curious about the timing of the offer; I assume it came before San Francisco acquired Marco Scutaro. That trade happened four days after Alex Rodriguez got hurt and five days after the Yankees acquired Ichiro Suzuki.

Chavez, 34, is having a fantastic season off the bench (113 wRC+) and is indispensable following A-Rod‘s injury. I like Schierholtz more than most, he would have been a nice and cheap left-handed platoon outfielder for the next two years as the Yankees try to get themselves under the $189M luxury tax threshold in 2014. He ended up going to the Phillies in the Hunter Pence trade. I do think the offer was more than fair (if anything it favors the Yankees) but this isn’t a vacuum, the timing and roster pieces didn’t really fit. For shame.

Update: Eric Chavez fine after leaving game with foot issue

9:59pm: Joe Girardi said after the game that it’s nothing serious and they took Chavez out just to play it safe. They’ll check him out again tomorrow just to make sure nothing lingered.

9:45pm: Eric Chavez left tonight’s game after the eighth inning, apparently with some kind of foot issue. He took a swing in the seventh and winced/hopped around a bit, but ensured Joe Girardi and the trainer that he was fine. Chavez finished the at-bat and was replaced defensively in the next inning. Pretty sure it was just a precaution, but you can’t be too sure with him.

Update: X-Rays negative after Chavez hit-by-pitch

10:28pm: X-rays came back negative and Chavez is walking around with a big wrap on his ankle. Sounds like he’ll live.

10:02pm: Eric Chavez was pulled in the ninth inning of tonight’s game after getting hit by a pitch in the left shin in the eighth. It stiffened up on him and Joe Girardi said it’s unclear if he’ll be available tomorrow. The Red Sox are starting left-handers in each of the next two games, so Jayson Nix is expected to start at the hot corner anyway.

Third base in the short-term

(REUTERS/Robert Sorbo)

Day one without Alex Rodriguez went well, as the Yankees mounted their league-leading 31st come-from-behind win to take the series from the Mariners. Starting third baseman Eric Chavez went 0-for-2 with a strikeout and a pair of walks (one intentional) while presumed platoon partner Jayson Nix came off the bench to hit the go-ahead three-run double in the eighth inning. The seven-game West Coast trip went about as poorly as possible, but at least they picked up that nice little win before coming.

As I said, Chavez and Nix are expected to platoon at the hot corner either until the Yankees either make a trade or get A-Rod back from the DL. Obviously Chavez’s penchant for getting hurt is a concern, especially with the increased workload. As the left-handed hitter in the platoon, he’ll see the majority of the playing time at third. Here’s a quick look at the projected opposing starting pitchers for the next two series…

  • Friday vs. Red Sox: RHP Aaron Cook
  • Saturday vs. Red Sox: LHP Jon Lester
  • Sunday vs. Red Sox: LHP Felix Doubront
  • Monday vs. Orioles: RHP Miguel Gonzalez
  • Tuesday vs. Orioles: RHP Chris Tillman
  • Wednesday vs. Orioles: LHP Zach Britton

Now obviously these things are subject to change, especially with the trade deadline looming, but the next six games project to feature three right-handed and three-left-handed opposing starters. Chavez won’t have to start more than two consecutive games — next Monday and Tuesday — for at least a week. The Mariners come to town after the series with Baltimore and if they trade southpaw Jason Vargas as rumored, they’ll likely have five right-handed starters in their rotation. After that the Yankees are off to Detroit for four games and they have five right-handers in their rotation since Drew Smyly is on the DL. That’s when things will get tricky with the platoon and resting Chavez.

The trade deadline is 4pm ET on Tuesday, so the Yankees have plenty of time to swing a (major or minor) deal for a third baseman. I get the sense that Eduardo Nunez will eventually be back to replace Ramiro Pena, perhaps even as soon as tomorrow, and will get a chance to man the position regularly. The Yankees didn’t call him up yesterday just because of the travel and the timing — by not going to Seattle he’ll be able to play in two Triple-A games (yesterday and today) instead of zero big league games. Even if they leave Nunez down for a few more days, the schedule works in their favor through this weekend and early next week as far as not overtaxing Chavez.