Quick updates: Hairston, Damon, Nady

Buster Olney gives us two interesting nuggets today. First off, he says the Yankees never made an offer to Jerry Hairston Jr., despite their reported interest in bringing the jack-of-all-trades back. Jerry Jr. got his ring last year, so he headed to San Diego over the weekend for a little extra cash and the chance to play with his brother. Can you blame him?

Olney also mentions that the Yanks have had no recent contact with Johnny Damon. Ever since the Nick Johnson signing became official, there’s been basically zero movement on the Damon front. It’s apparent the team has no interest in bringing him back unless it’s on their terms and their terms only. Will Scott Boras crack? I say no.

And finally, Boras indicated that Xavier Nady is on schedule to be ready for Spring Training. “The doctors have his throwing program ahead of schedule,” said the superagent, however we’ve already heard that he’s out of the Yanks’ price range. Given the concern about a second Tommy John surgery, I don’t see why the Yanks should risk a roster spot and anything more than the league minimum on a proven league average commodity with basically zero upside.

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Left field closing arguments: Xavier Nady

Every time I think we’ve concluded this series, a rumor pops up and I think to add another player to the list. Yesterday, Joel Sherman said that the “player that most enticed the Yankees is Xavier Nady.” So, in what is hopefully the last post of this series, we’ll discuss Nady’s case.

It feels like we hardly got to know Xavier Nady. Acquired at the 2008 trade deadline with Damaso Marte, Nady made just 276 plate appearances during his tenure. An April elbow injury cut short his 2009 campaign right after it began, leaving many questions unanswered. Could he repeat his breakout 2008, or was it a fluke? Even without a breakout, could he hold the starting right field job with Nick Swisher right behind him?

Nady’s elbow injury, which resulted in his second Tommy John surgery, changed the outlook of his first crack at free agency. Even with a year that mirrored his 2007, a team with corner outfield needs, like the Braves and Giants, would probably have shown interest in him. The injury, however, has given teams pause. It shouldn’t take Nady the full 12 to 18 months of recovery — he doesn’t throw at max effort for 100 pitches at a clip, so he should recover quicker than a pitcher. Still, considering the low success rate of second time Tommy John victims (among them is Dave Eiland), it’s understandable why a market for Nady has yet to develop.

Offensively, Nady showed improvement in most aspects of his game from 2006 through 2008. His power jumped in 2007, as he went from a .178 and .173 mark in 2005 and 06 to .197 in 07. He sustained that in 2008, posting a career high .205 ISO. His batting average increased in 2008 as well, going from around .280 in 2006 and 2007 to .305 in 2008. This coincides with a rise in BABIP, .337 in 2008, up from .323 in 07 and .311 in 06. Nady did hit fewer fly balls and more line drives in 2008, which helps explain the spike.

Earlier in his career a platoon player, Nady showed improvement against righties from 2006 through 2008. His batting average, on base percentage, and slugging percentage each rose every year, most notably from 2007 to 08. Whether he could repeat that in 2009 was another question left unanswered due to injury. As I noted in this post, Nady was hitting .335/.368/.538 against righties in 2008 at the time of the trade. He ended up with a .317/.357/.529 line against righties. But while he didn’t sustain his first half marks against righties, his numbers against lefties also declined. So maybe he has turned a corner against right-handed pitching. But, because the most marked improvement came in one season, we can’t really say one way the other.

While Nady’s time in New York doesn’t look great on paper, he did continue to hit while the Yankees were still in the race. In August, while the team still had a fighting chance, Nady hit .308/.351/.523 in 114 plate appearances. The moo wore off in September, however, as he hit .223/.270/.379 in 111 plate appearances. So it’s not like he came to New York and fell off a cliff. That’s a good sign, I think…

On the down side, Nady’s ability to avoid making outs rests largely on his batting average. His 6.6 walk percentage in 2008 was a career high, though not by a lot. For comparison, Melky Cabrera walked in 6.5 percent of his plate appearances in his horrible 2008, and 8.1 percent in 2009. Thankfully for Nady, he’s shown himself to be a .280 to .300 hitter over the last four years he played, so that does help his case. But if he sees a decline in that batting average, he’ll be far less valuable to the team.

Defensively, he has shown himself as a below average player. Throughout his career he has almost exclusively been worth negative runs in terms of UZR. That did change in 2008, as he posted a 4.6 UZR/150 in left field and a 3.7 mark in right. He was, however, negative at both positions in 2006 and 2007 (though he didn’t play left in 2006). This suggests that Nady is a below average outfielder. It would have been nice to get a better read on him in 2009.

Yesterday afternoon, ESPN’s Keith Law commented on Nady, saying that he and Reed Johnson “represent marginal improvements ha may not justify the cost.” This, I think, holds true if Nady regresses to his 2007 form. His power is nice, but unless he keeps his walk rate at around 6.5 to 7 percent and sustains his .280 to .300 batting average, he doesn’t represent a significant upgrade over Brett Gardner. If, however, Nady comes back and plays to his final 2008 numbers, then he might be an improvement. Is that upside worth gambling the remaining budget?

In the skills post from last night, Gardner profiled as a three-skill player: speed, discipline, and defense. Nady possesses two: contact and power. Four current Yankee starters possess both of those skills. Other than Gardner, only Curtis Granderson has speed. So, unless Nady’s demands come down — perhaps to a million with incentives — the Yankees are probably better off saving that cash for a possible addition down the road. That is, of course, if they truly plan to stay within their current budget all season. If that’s just the Opening Day budget and the team is willing to spend more mid-season, well, then all bets are off.

Photo credit: AP Photo/Kathy Willens

With the lineup nearly set, is Nady worth the gamble?

“I will continue to look at any remaining piece, but it won’t be a big piece” – Brian Cashman on the left field situation.

There will be no Holliday under the Christmas tree. There is no Bay in the Bronx. Damon’s days in pinstripes have expired. So what, then, do the Yankees plan to do with left field? They currently have Brett Gardner penciled in there, and while some people are bullish on him, I think the Yankees would at least like to have a contingency plan. After all, not only is Gardner the top left fielder right now, but the fourth outfielder is Rule 5 pick Jamie Hoffman. That doesn’t seem like an ideal situation heading into the 2010 season.

Given the team’s current composition, and given the budget constraints the team faces, it appears a second-tier option will fit best. We’ve heard a few of those names bandied about lately: Mark DeRosa, Marlon Byrd, Xavier Nady. Each has his ups and downs, but when considering the Yankees’ situation, Nady fits the best. He’s a gamble, of course, but at this point his demands shouldn’t exceed what the Yankees are willing to spend. Taking a flier on his health could reap big rewards for the Yankees’ outfield.

The concern with Nady is his twice surgically repaired right elbow. He underwent the second procedure in early July, after first having it in 2001. The success rate for second-time Tommy John patients isn’t high, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. Most players who undergo the procedure are pitchers, who need their arms a bit more frequently than outfielders. Nady’s arm might be weakened by the second procedure, but maybe not all is lost. If his medical reports show progress, perhaps the Yankees can use him as a 4th outfielder and contingency plan.

Under the best case scenario, Nady works his way into a regular role, much like the team expected of him in 2009. He’s rated below average by UZR, which is a concern, but he’s played so many positions that it’s tough to get a good sampling on him. His bat, however, can make up for that. He almost certainly won’t hit like he did in Pittsburgh in 2008, but if he can hammer out a low .800s OPS, he’ll be a valuable asset on offense.

The worst case scenario puts the Yankees back to where they are right now, only without the budget to acquire another outfielder. That’s the main reason why I think the Yankees might stay away from Nady. If they’re bullish on Gardner, then they’re probably seeking someone who can fill in for him in case he gets off to another slow start, as in 2009. They might want to go with a more reliable option, rather than another gamble. But given the budget constraints and available talent, they might not have that luxury.

If the recent reports are true and the Giants really have offered Mark DeRosa $12 million over two years, the Yankees are likely out. That limits their free agent options to Byrd and Nady. By the numbers it appears Byrd might be a fit. In his last three seasons, with the Rangers, he’s posted wOBAs of .350, .370, and .345, all above average marks. His ISO has risen in each of those years as well. Yet I doubt he’ll replicate those numbers outside of Rangers Ballpark, and especially at Yankee Stadium, which does suppress righty power.

The last question regarding Nady is of whether he’ll sign a one-year deal for $4 million or less. Scott Boras represents him, and will probably seek more guaranteed money. But will any teams want to take that kind of gamble? Considering the lack of interest in three higher-profile corner outfielders — Matt Holliday, Jason Bay, and Johnny Damon — perhaps Nady ends up taking a small money, one-year deal to try and increase his value. Again, with Gardner currently penciled into left field, he has to figure he’ll get every shot to earn playing time.

If the Yankees can get him for under $4 million, they should give Nady a shot. It’s a gamble, sure, but there’s enough upside to make it worth the risk. That is, unless there’s something we don’t know about his medical report that has teams a bit reluctant to add him, even as a contingency plan.

Open Thread: You say tomato, I say Tabata

Prospect season is in full swing these days, and Baseball America is in the middle of posting their top ten prospects for each team. The Yankees list won’t be released until December 18th, but the Pirates’ list came out today, and old pal Jose Tabata checked in at number two behind Washington Heights’ own Pedro Alvarez.

You probably all remember Tabata as the talented, yet troubled outfielder that would tantalize you with his natural ability but frustrate you with his childishness. The Yanks shipped him to Pittsburgh in the Xavier Nady-Damaso Marte trade after having to suspend him twice for insubordination, and the now 21-year-old has enjoyed a bit of prospect rebirth with the Pirates. He hit .293-.357-406 between Double- and Triple-A in 2009, easily his best season since playing with Low-A Charleston back in 2006.

It’s all too easy to look back and judge trades in hindsight. Heck, the evaluation of Tabata trade has been a roller coaster since it was made. When it was made, everyone love it and called it a steal. When Tabata and Ross Ohlendorf were doing well for the Pirates while Nady and Marte went down with injuries, it was an awful move. When Marte turned Chase Utley and Ryan Howard into Corey Patterson and Yuniesky Betancourt en route to the World Series, it was pure genius. It doesn’t require any brainpower to judge a move in hindsight, nor is it an accurate way to do things.

The reality is that it was a move the team had to make and a move Tabata needed. The Yanks were just two games out of a playoff spot at the time of the trade, and adding an everyday outfielder enjoying a career year plus an accomplished lefty reliever made all the sense in the world. Meanwhile, it’s clear that Tabata was frustrated by the season he was having in 2008 (.248-.320-.310 before the trade), pulling himself from a game and leaving the park (suspension #1), then slamming his bat at the plate and showing up an umpire after looking at strike three (suspension #2). I can’t see Tabata making that kind of turnaround with the Yanks. He needed a change of scenery, and in the end it worked out for both parties.

Anyway, that’s my evening rant. Use this as your open thread for the night. The Knicks are in LA taking on the Lakers, while the Nets’ drive for 0-82 will continue out in Denver. Anything goes, just don’t be a jerk.

Matsui noticeably absent from Elias Rankings

Elias Sports Bureau’s free agent rankings were released earlier this afternoon, and they contain a few surprises. Despite numerous projections placing him firmly in the Type B bracket, Yanks’ DH Hideki Matsui is an unranked free agent. Although Matsui missed much of 2008 with injuries, he rebounded to have a stellar 2009 regular season campaign, and over the last two years — the period considered by the rankings — he hit .282/.368/.473 with 37 home runs and 135 RBI. Meanwhile, Xavier Nady, who played in just seven games this year, is a Type B free agent.

In unsurprising news, Johnny Damon is a Type A free agent, and Pettitte is a Type B. As Joe wrote earlier, the Yanks will most likely resign Pettitte for 2010. The remaining Yankee free agents — Eric Hinske, Jerry Hairston and Jose Molina — are also unranked.

First Half Review: Outfielders and DH

At 51-37, with the third best record in baseball, leading the Wild Card and just three games back in the AL East, the Yankees had a fine first half. Yet it was a tumultuous three months, wrought with streaks and injuries and strange trends, causing mass panic at times among Yankees fans. Over the extended All-Star Break, we’ll go over each position to see what went right, what went wrong, and how things look for the second half. We already looked at the starting pitchers, relievers, corner infielders, catchers, and middle infielders, so now it’s time to take a look at the outfielders and designated hitter.

The expectations

Coming into the season with no fewer than five outfielders on their projected Opening Day roster, the Yanks figured to sport a solid but relatively unspectacular outfield in 2009. Johnny Damon, Nick Swisher and Xavier Nady figured to man the corner outfield spots and work in some kind of harmonious rotation where everyone stayed rested and productive. Centerfield was going to be occupied by Melky Cabrera or Brett Gardner, whichever one happened to be hitting at the moment. Hideki Matsui was expected to contribute nothing beyond DH duty, which was fine.

After posting a .765 OPS as a unit in 2008 (20th best in baseball), the team figured to see an improvement in its outfield production this year given their depth. Damon was expected to produce at a similar pace to his first three years in pinstripes, while everyone assumed that a rebound for Nick Swisher and slight step back from Nady would combine to produce at the very least average production. Gardbrera was a bit of a crapshoot, and in most circles it was believed the team would probably need to go out and get someone at some point. Matsui just had to be Matsui, or close to it.

The results

Aside from a season-ending elbow injury to Nady just eight games into the season, everything has gone better than expected. Swisher has rebounded from his down year in Chicago while Cabredner has been better than anyone could have expected. Johnny Damon is enjoying the best season of his long career, just in time for his contract year. As a unit, the Yanks rank third in AL with an .815 OPS, trailing two of their AL East counterparts. You get one guess who those two teams are. Hideki Matsui has stayed relatively healthy and is having his best season since 2005.

It’s hard not to be pleased with the production the Yankees have gotten out of the outfield and DH this year. Aside from Nady everyone’s been able to stay on the field, and there’s more bodies than spots so there should be enough opportunity to keep the seemingly ageless Damon fresh.

Johnny Damon

Amazingly, Damon is having the best season of his career at age 35. However, it looks like the New Yankee Stadium has contributed greatly to his resurgence, as his home OPS is more than 200 points greater than his road OPS. He’s taken to the two-spot in the order like he’s been hitting there his entire career, which I think is what most of us figured would happen.

Unfortunately it’s not all good news for Johnny, because his defense in left field has been downright dreadful in 2009. Whether you trust newfangled defensive metrics or just judge defense with your eyes, it’s easy to see the Damon went from an above-average left fielder to one that’s shaky at best. In the team’s final two wins of the first half up in Minnesota, Joe Girardi replaced Damon with Melky Cabrera in the late innings for defense. More than likely we’ll see that continue in the second half.

Melky Cabrera & Brett Gardner

After winning the centerfield job outright in Spring Training, it took only 15 games or so for Melky Cabrera to reclaim the job. In what looks like an annual occurrence, Melky started the year on fire (.326-.394-.517 through May 13th) but trailed off afterward (.261-.320-.395 since). Gardner did pretty much the opposite, starting slow (.214-.273-.257 through May 12th) before picking up the pace (.322-.398-.492 since). The two have combined for a .293-.361-.439 batting line, fourth best among centerfielders in the AL and behind only the Orioles in the AL East.

Gardner has been a hero on defense, putting up an ungodly 20.1 UZR/150, trailing only Colby Rasmus and Franklin Gutierrez. Melky’s been solid, but as usual he tends to get overrated because of his arm. As a whole, the Gardbrera tandem has given the Yanks everything they could have wanted and more.

Nick Swisher & Xavier Nady

We weren’t sure how Girardi was going to get both Swisher and Nady regular at-bats this year, but that problem took care of itself barely a week into the season. Swisher has handled the everyday job with aplomb, doing his usual schtick of getting on base (.360 OBP) and hitting for power (.464 SLG). While he’s prone to the occasional botched play, overall he’s been slightly above average in right field with a 1.8 UZR/150. While it would be nice to have Nady healthy for the depth, Swisher has held down the fort just fine.

Hideki Matsui

It’ll be easy to talk about Matsui’s first half since all he’s done is hit, and hit he has. His .264-.367-.517 batting line is his best in years, and while the common perception might be that the New Stadium is artificially beefing up his numbers, Godzilla’s road OPS is more than 60 points higher than his home effort. While his knees look ready to explode whenever he has to run, Matsui’s a hitting savant that produces in all situations against any kind of pitcher regardless of what arm they throw with.

Expectations for the second half

Brian Cashman added some insurance in Eric Hinske not long before the break, which helps mitigate what would have been a disaster should another outfielder go down with injury. It’s tough to expect Damon to continue his career year, but a regression to his previous performance would be acceptable. The real question is whether or not Melky and Gardner can keep it up in center, because the Yanks have less than three weeks to decide if they need an upgrade.

I guess the expectation for the second half is what it was coming into the season, rock solid production but far from spectacular. Anything else is gravy.

Heyman on the Yanks: Nady, Girardi

Over the weekend, Jon Heyman has chimed in with two Yankee-centric items of note. Let’s break them down.

First, in a piece about the best and worst free agent signings, Heyman checks in on Xavier Nady‘s prognosis. Heyman wonders about Nady’s future: “One person said first surgeries have close to a 90 percent success ratio while second surgeries are as low as 20 percent.”

Will Carroll at Baseball Prospectus had a different take in Friday’s Under the Knife. Carroll said that Nady “should be fine” for Spring Training. Nady, clearly, isn’t a pitcher and should have a slightly different rehab path. Unless the scar tissue presents a problem, I don’t see why Heyman’s source would be right.

In another piece, Heyman handicaps the managers on the hot seat. Girardi, says Heyman, won’t be fired this year no matter the ups and downs of the Yankee season. He will however have to get the team into the playoffs.

Heyman notes that Girardi is the “handpicked successor to the legendary Joe Torre.” While Girardi is under contract for next season, Yankee officials higher up in the food chain than Cashman may not be keen to welcome Girardi back in 2010 if the Yanks can’t make the playoffs this year. They didn’t spend all of that money this winter to stay home in October.