Yanks, Hairston in ‘serious talks’

On Friday evening, Mike reported that the Yankees were interested in bringing back Jerry Hairston, Jr. for at least the 2010 season. Late last night, ESPN analyst and former outfielder Chris Singleton reported that the two sides were in “serious talks.” He noted that Hairston would provide an offense-minded backup for A-Rod and Derek Jeter while serving as an outfielder as well. The Yanks have expressed “strong interest” in Hairston, and the two sides will probably reach a deal soon. The Padres remain interested, but the Yanks are definitely the frontrunners right now. (Hat tip MLBTR)

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Yanks interested in bringing back Jerry Hairston Jr.

Via MLBTR, the Yanks are one of five teams that have expressed interest in free agent jack-of-all-trades Jerry Hairston Jr. Sucka got no juice, the proprietor of said rumor, says that Jerry could get as much as $2-3M on a one year deal, though he’s received multi-year deals as well. The Yanks could certainly afford that, especially since he’d also double as a backup backup plan for left field.

The bench right now is decidedly young, and Jerry did a bang up job during his stint in pinstripes last year. It’s not every day that you can find a guy to come off the bench and get on base 35% of the time while running into the occasional fastball.

What Went Right: The Midseason Pickups

Over the next week or so, we’ll again break down what went wrong and what went right for the 2009 Yankees. The series this year will be much more enjoyable than the last.

The Midseason Pickups

While the big offseason additions received the majority of the media and fan attention during the season (rightfully so), the little moves the team made to tweak the roster midseason also played a key role in bringing them to the promised land.

For most of the first half, the best bat the Yankees had on the bench belonged to Brett Gardner, which was sad. That all changed in late June, when the team acquired World Series veteran Eric Hinske (and $400,000 to pay his salary) from the Pirates for two throw away minor leaguers (a.k.a. Casey Erickson and Eric Fryer). Hinske immediately became the team’s primary pinch hitter, and even chipped in a few starts here and there to keep the regulars rested.

Hinske famously clubbed five homers in his first seven games with the Yanks, and hit .226-.316-.512 overall. He also played three different positions (not including DH), and reached base in his only postseason plate appearance, eventually coming around to score.

The second midseason pickup came right on the July 31st trade deadline, when the Yanks used their surplus of minor league catching depth (in this case: Chase Weems) to import the versatile Jerry Hairston Jr. from Cincinnati. Hairston replaced the overmatched Cody Ransom as the all-purpose bench player, and he went on to play every position but pitcher, catcher, and first base for the Bombers. Hairston’s overall batting line of .237-.352-.382 wasn’t spectacular, but bench players that can get on base more than 35% of the time don’t grow on trees.

On the roster for all three playoff series, Hairston ignited a game winning rally with a lead off single in the 13th inning of Game Two of the ALCS. He later made a spot start in rightfield for the slumping Nick Swisher, going 1-for-3 off Pedro Martinez in Game Two of the World Series and igniting another rally with a lead off single. Although Hairston and Hinske saw limited action in the playoffs, both certainly contributed in big ways once their names were called.

The final midseason pickup came a week after the Hairston trade, when the Yanks shipped $100K to San Diego in exchange for Chad Gaudin. The righthander initially worked out of the bullpen, but soon displaced Sergio Mitre as the team’s fifth starter. The Yankees won all six of Gaudin’s starts, during which he posted a 3.19 ERA. Even though he was on call to make a start every round, Gaudin appeared in only one game in the postseason, mopping up a blow out win in Game Four of the ALCS.

No team is ever complete in April, and the Yankees did a tremendous job of upgrading their roster during the season while using minimal resources. Weaknesses were addressed by acquiring veteran players familiar with the roles they were being asked to fill, not players who weren’t accustomed to coming off the bench or pitching on an irregular schedule. The added depth rewarded the team down the stretch and in the postseason.

Photo Credits: Reuters, Reuters, and Reuters

Open Thread: Old Stadium demolition photos

Old Stadium with NYC skyline

The appropriately named Demolition of Yankee Stadium blog has a few new photos of the ongoing demolition at 161st Street and River Ave. The facade is gone, which is pretty sad. In related news, the demolition of old Tiger Stadium was completed Tuesday, surely a sad day for Detroit natives.

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In other Yankee news, Jerry Hairston underwent an MRI scan today on his wrist. The scan showed tendinitis in his left wrist, and he received another cortisone shot. He is day-to-day and remains on the bubble for the Yankee playoff roster. Meanwhile, the Pirates, home to the Yankee pitching retreads, claimed Anthony Claggett off of waivers. He will join Jeff Karstens, Ross Ohlendorf, Steve Jackson, Eric Hacker and Casey Erickson in Pittsburgh. That’s quite a motley crew.

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Use this puppy as your open thread for the night. The Mets are off just like the Yanks, but the Tigers and Indians square off on the MLB Network. Alex Ovechkin comes to the Garden to take on the Rangers in preseason action as well. The Devils are also playing. Talk about whatever you want, just follow the guidelines and be cool.

Replacing Jerry Hairston

Jerry Hairston Jr.Even though the Yanks walked away from Anaheim with a much needed series win, they may have suffered a pretty significant loss when supersub Jerry Hairston Jr. left yesterday’s game in the middle of his 7th inning at-bat after hearing “a pop” in his right wrist. Apparently Jerry has dealing with wrist issues for quite some time, initially injuring it when he dove for a ball while with the Reds. He’ll hit the MRI tube later today, at which point we’ll know the extent of his injury, but I can’t remember the last time I heard a player said they heard something “pop” and it didn’t turn out to be serious.

On the surface it might not seem like such a big deal, especially since Hairston’s hit just .175-.306-.325 in the team’s last 32 games, but he gave the Yankees two things: extreme versatility and a usable bat off the bench against lefthanders. We’ll get back to the versatility thing in a second, but for now let’s discuss the value of Hairston’s bat off the bench.

You may think his offensive contributions are insignificant, and in the grand scheme of Yankee Universe they kinda are, but the guy has hit .252-.326-.439 off southpaws this season, by far the best any righty on the Yanks bench can offer. Melky Cabrera offers the next righty bat off the bench, going .253-.329-.407 off lefties, but chances are he’ll be starting in center since Joe Girardi seems to like having Brett Gardner ready to go as a pinch runner late in games. Based on what we’ve seen out of Girardi the last two seasons, I think it’s extremely unlikely he’d send Eric Hinske or even Gardner up to plate to hit against a lefty late in games, regardless of what the numbers say. So with Hairston potentially out for a while, the Yankees may have to do without a righthanded hitter on the bench in the playoffs.

(Sorry, but Shelley Duncan doesn’t belong anywhere near a Major League playoff roster.)

Getting back to the versatility issue, it’ll probably take two players to replace Hairston. Ramiro Pena is the no doubt about it backup infielder in Jerry’s stead, but he’s never played the outfield in the big leagues and got just 18 total chances in a handful of games in centerfield with Triple-A Scranton. There’s just no way you can send him out there in the playoffs and expect him to get the job done. There’s also the little matter of Pena hitting .284-.318-.363 as a big leaguer, just .091-.130-.091 against lefties (SSS warning). He’s a more than acceptable backup infielder on the defensive side of the ball, but he offers almost nothing at the plate

As for replacing the outfield portion of Hairston’s contributions, the leading candidate would be Fast Freddy Guzman. The Yanks are fortunate enough to have two approximately league average centerfielders on their roster, so Hairston didn’t figure to get much playing time in the outfield anyway (he’s played just 90 innings out there for the Bombers). There has already been some talk about Guzman making the postseason roster as a pinch runner, and a lengthy injury to Hairston should all but guarantee his spot. Surprisingly,  Guzman has a .900 OPS against lefties in his career, but the small sample size warning applies again. In reality, Guzman offers little value at the plate like Pena, with a career .541 OPS in the bigs and .704 in the minors.

We still don’t know how badly Hairston’s wrist is hurt, and while we all hope it’s nothing a little rest and/or cortisone can’t solve, the Yankees have to be prepared for the worst. They’ll probably have to go into the postseason without a reliable righty bat on the bench to send up against lefthanders, but how often would they have pinch hit for someone in this lineup a playoff setting anyway? The loss of Hairston’s flexibility is what really hurts.

Photo Credit: Rob Grabowski, US Presswire