Via MLBTR and Chad Jennings, we’ve learned the obvious: the Yankees are seeking a right handed hitting outfield bat for the bench. Reed Johnson was once again mentioned, as was Johnny Gomes. The other name that came up between the two posts was Rocco Baldelli.
Before going too much farther into this, I feel I should throw in a disclaimer of sorts. I’ve always had a soft-spot for Baldelli. He’s Italian and he played high school ball against my cousin. I was definitely a fan of his when he came up with the Rays, and my father and I used to joke that when he eventually realized his potential and became a free agent, he’d obviously become a Yankee. As we all know, though, Baldelli’s career hasn’t quite worked out as well as we though it would, mostly due to injuries. Anyway, onward and upward…
The case for Baldelli is, like Reed Johnson’s case, based largely on the fact that he’s pretty good at hitting left-handed pitching, which is what you want out of a right-handed hitting bench outfielder. For his career, Baldelli has posted a line of .295/.346/.485/.831 in 610 plate appearances against lefties. As a vs. LHP caddy for Brett Gardner, he could be pretty valuable. There are, however, some problems.
First, there’s simply the issue that he’s only played three games in left field, one in 2008 and one in 2009. He’s played the majority of his time in CF (4.2 UZR/150 in 397 games) and RF (-14.3 UZR/150 in 41 games). The sample sizes for all three positions are relatively small. I think, however, it’s safe to assume that if he were to play left field, Baldelli would probably be in the middle of his CF numbers and his RF numbers. In limited playing time, he’d only need to not be a butcher in LF.
The other glaring negative against Rocco is his mitochondrial disorder that prevents him from recovering from activity quickly. We can spin this as a positive in that he won’t get much time in the field if he’s a strict platoon partner with Gardner. He may also get a sporadic pinch-hit appearance against a real tough lefty if Curtis Granderson can’t right himself vs. LHP. However, what makes this such a big negative is the fact that if an injury occurs, Baldelli would most likely not be able to step in and play every day, like other bench outfielders could.
As it always does, the decision to sign Baldelli–or Johnson, or Gomes, or Nady–will come down to cost. Last season, Baldelli made just $500,000 in his time with the Red Sox. The Yankees could probably offer a similar deal to Rocco, maybe including some incentives. There hasn’t been any sort of market for him thus far in the offseason, so the Yankees would hold a great deal of leverage in negotiations. For a low base salary ($500K-$1MM?), with some PA incentives thrown in, Baldelli could be a cheap, effective prescription to the Yankees’ bench OF issues.
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