Long before the days of Mark Teixeira, the Yankees had an annual hunt to find a solid first baseman that could handle the position and relegate Jason Giambi to the role he was most qualified for: designated hitter. The names are all too familiar and none really wowed us: Andy Phillips, Morgan Ensberg, Craig Wilson, Tony Clark, John Olerud, the Tino Martinez redux … all forgettable in their own way. Then there’s Doug Mientkiewicz, who had his Yankees stint abbreviated by injuries.
Signed to be that Giambi caddy, Mientkiewicz got more attention for being Alex Rodriguez’s high school buddy than he did for being a member of the Yankees. There were articles and columns written about how having a long-time friend around might help Alex relax, since we were in the middle of the “A-Rod can’t handle the pressure!” era. The Yankees gave Mientkiewicz just $1.5M, peanuts compared to the rest of the roster.
His first appearance came in the first game of the season, when he pinch hit for Phelps in the sixth inning. The then-Devil Rays had replaced left Scott Kazmir with righty Shawn Camp, so Joe Torre went for the platoon advantage down two runs. Mientkiewicz sac bunted Jorge Posada to third and Robbie Cano to second with one out, and both came around to score when Derek Jeter singled two batters later. His leadoff single in the eighth started a three-run rally that put the Yankees ahead for good. Minky went 2-for-3 with a walk and an RBI in the next game, but then he went into a prolonged slump.
From April 6th through April 28th, a span of 19 team games, Mientkiewicz went just 4-for-46 with four walks (.087/.176/.174). He was so bad that God started killing kittens every time he batted. The poor play limited Minky to late-inning defensive replacement duties, but he earned a start against the Red Sox on April 28th, with the Yankees six-and-a-half games out of first. Mientkiewicz took Julian Tavarez deep in the third inning, turning a two-run deficit into a one-run lead. Although the Red Sox would eventually win because Scott Proctor and Sean Henn stunk, it was enough to buy Mientkiewicz some more playing time.
Over the next 30 team games, Minky hit .284/.333/.486 with three homers and six doubles in 83 plate appearances. A 3-for-4 game with a double and a homer off the facing of the upper deck off Curt Schilling on May 23rd highlighted a stretch in which the Yankees won just five of 18 games. It was also the highlight of his Yankees tenure. Boston would get revenge though. About two weeks later, Mike Lowell collided with Mientkiewicz while running out a ground ball, giving the first baseman a concussion and a fractured bone in his right wrist. Minky would spend the next 90 days on the disabled list, forcing Phelps, Phillips, Wilson Betemit, and Miguel Cairo to play the majority of the time at first base in the second half.
Mientkiewicz returned on September 4th, first serving as a defensive replacement exclusively. He assumed starting first base duties again in the middle of the month, and finished the season with a 17-for-45 flourish (.459/.545/.676). Like most of the Yankees, Minky didn’t do much of anything in postseason, going 0-for-6 with a walk against Cleveland.
Overall, Mientkiewicz hit .277/.349/.440 with five homers in 192 plate appearances as a Yankee. He struck out just 23 times and walked 16, plate discipline numbers consistent with the rest of his career. His .346 wOBA was damn close to the .349 mark Giambi posted and better than Johnny Damon’s .340 wOBA. Minky also played his usual stellar defense, posting a +4.0 UZR (+15.0 UZR/150) and +5 on John Dewan’s +/- system, numbers right in line with the rest of his career. All told, Mientkiewicz was worth 0.9 WAR in 72 games and 192 plate appearances, a 2.8 WAR pace over 600 plate appearances.
By no means was Mientkiewicz great in New York, but he was almost certainly the best of that first base lot that ran through town during the mid-aughts. He had a few notable hits and made plenty of brilliant defensive plays, though the injury ruined what could have been an even more productive season. For $1.5M, Minky was a relative bargain.