Whatever your position on Brian Cashman and the job that he has done, it is hard to argue with the fact that he often neglects to properly address the bench. Flops such as Josh Phelps and Morgan Ensberg stand beside dubious choices like Andy Phillips and Miguel Cairo to create a poor resume in the reserve department for Cashman. At this point, it seems that the 2009 Yankees will be similarly flawed. Joel Sherman’s article, linked in the Diamond Buzz section to the right, does a nice job in making this point. WIth a number of older players and injury concerns in the everyday lineup, this dearth of viable replacements may come back to bite the Yankees before the season is done.
A great bench should provide power from both sides of the plate, defensive prowess, and speed. Furthermore, all of the bench players need to be decent enough at their non-primary skills to actually function in all facets of the game once the are brought in. A speedy outfielder is worthless if he cannot hit better than .140. The current Yankee bench has the following players: Xavier Nady or Nick Swisher, Brett Gardner or Melky Cabrera, Cody Ransom or Angel Berroa, and Jose Molina.
Having Nady or Swisher on the pine is the one major strength of this bench. If the Yankees believe that Nady can give them similar production to Swisher, they should begin the season with Swish on the bench. He provides a bit more pop and significantly more versatility, with his ability to play either corner outfield spot, first base, and switch hit. From that point, things get a bit murkier. Molina is horrendous offensively (51 OPS+ last season), and his defense, while good, is not enough to compensate. Ransom is mediocre in all facets, while Berroa is good with the leather and obscenely bad at everything else. Finally, assuming Brett Gardner wins the Center Field job, Melky does not bring any of the skills that you want your fifth outfielder to have, as he has no on-base ability or pinch running skills.
While this situation does seem dire, the offseason is not over, and plenty of free agents are still available. Let’s run through the available options for backup catcher, utility infielder, and fifth outfielder, considering only players that the Yankees can get while giving up just money. Here is a list of remaining free agents, courtesy of MLBTR.
Backup Catcher: The backup catcher market is littered with aging veterans who do not fit the criteria of being cheap, durable, and good defensively, with Paul LoDuca and Pudge headlining that group. The best option is likely Javier Valentin, formerly of the Reds. A decent switch-hitting batter with acceptable defensive skills, he would be at worst an acceptable platoon partner for Jose Molina, and certainly merits a call for the GM.
Utility Infielder: This list of players is a bit more intriguing. If they were looking for one player who gave them defense, speed, and a bit of offensive prowess, it would likely cost them a draft pick and plenty of money, as Orlando Cabrera is the only player who fits that criteria. However, one option that the Yankees have is to carry two reserve infielders instead of a fifth outfielder, being that their DH can play outfield in a pinch, effectively giving them five outfielders anyhow. Were they to consider that route, the list of interesting names expands, as they could select one infielder to provide solid baserunning and defense, and the other to give a bit of pop. Possible names include Mark Grudzielanek, Damion Easley, Ray Durham, Nomar Garciaparra, and Ty Wigginton. Personally, I would take Wigginton and Grudz from that list, as both are smart players that provide positional versatility and offensive ability. Wigginton is not as good as he showed last season, but has always had some power, and Grudz has been a consistently solid performer and is a safe bet to provide quality production off the bench.
Fifth Outfielder: The market is bare in this category, as Jim Edmonds is likely the best option. However, Edmonds actually makes more sense for the Yankees as the starting CF, as he gives you plenty of pop, reaches base, and is still a league average defender. Of course, the Yankees have a great fifth outfielder on their roster in Gardner, but he may be the starter.
Conclusion: These are my three possible benches, considering cost and the following scenarios.
1) The Yankees come to their senses, play Damon in CF with Swish and Nady at the corners. If so, my bench would be Valentin, Wigginton, Grudz, and Gardner. That is a very strong offensive bench which is decent defensively and has a great pinch runner.
2) They sign Edmonds and start him: Valentin, Swisher, Grudz, and Gardner. Similar to option number one, with Swish replacing Wigginton, which adds a bit more skill both offensively and defensively.
3) Gardner starts in CF: Valentin, Swisher, Grudz, and Edmonds. Offensively, that is an excellent bench, and Swisher is proficient enough at the corner outfield spots to make it adequate defensively, as well. The speed stinks, but you cannot have everything under all scenarios.
What do you think they should do about the bench?
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