(Note: This post was originally drafted prior to the news of Alex Rodriguez‘s needing meniscus surgery. With A-Rod on the shelf for 4-6 weeks, the Yankees’ likelihood of acquiring an extra bat at the deadline likely increased; fortunately the recommendations made below still apply.)
Last year at the All-Star break I did a three-part series taking a look at the Yankees’ perceived areas of weakness and how the team might go about fixing each of them. This year I’ve condensed the “Areas of Need” series into two posts (pitching to come tomorrow), as I’m not sure the team’s needs at the break are as pressing as they were last season, A-Rod’s injury notwithstanding. Sure, everyone could use a top-flight starter, another bat or bullpen help, but this year’s squad has performed a good deal better than I think many of us had expected prior to the season, and if there are upgrades to be had, they will most likely only be at the fringes. However, that won’t stop the Yankees from being linked to anyone and everyone.
Need #1: A bat
Throughout the first two months of the season the struggles of Nick Swisher and Jorge Posada led many in Yankeeland to call for a new outfielder and/or DH, though given Swisher’s big-time turnaround and Posada’s better play of late, those pleas seem to have died down. While the Yankees boast the second-best offense in the league, this year’s squad has certainly had a tendency to go into team-wide slumps, though every member of the everyday lineup (save Derek Jeter) is boasting a wOBA above .320, so it’s not as if there are many weak spots. The obvious move would be to depose Jeter to the bench in favor of Eduardo Nunez, but we all know that’s not happening.
If the Yankees did import a bat, they’d presumably look for a righty bat to platoon with Posada, who’s been execrable from the right side (.184 wOBA). While one could argue that the Yankees already have a solid righthanded bench bat in Andruw Jones, he isn’t exactly crushing lefties (.336 wOBA), and it’d be nice to see some sort of upgrade from the righthand side, especially considering the team’s best righthanded bat in Alex Rodriguez has continued his bizarre struggles against lefties.
My search begins by scouring the teams with .500-or-below records, given that these squads, for the most part, are already looking at next year.
I can’t recall the last time the Yankees and Orioles consummated a trade, but Mark Reynolds and his .366 wOBA would look pretty nice coming off the bench, even if he does have a reverse platoon split. Though both are playing reasonably well I can’t imagine — nor do I want to see — the Yankees reunite with either Melky Cabrera (a shocking .349 wOBA) or Wilson Betemit, neither of whom can hit from the right side.
I would take free-agent-to-be Laynce Nix and his .502 SLG off the Nationals’ hands, even if he is a bit OBP-challenged (.315) and lefthanded. A wRC+ of 122 is nothing to sneeze at. The Marlins’ best hitters are all under team control for an eternity, so it’s not even worth speculating on their position players. Similarly, the Reds’ most prolific hitters aren’t going anywhere for a while. Pending free agent Johnny Gomes could make some sense, as his 110 wRC+ is better than four of the Yankees’ everyday players, although his 34% K% doesn’t exactly scream reliable bench option.
One name I surprisingly haven’t heard mentioned in conjunction with trade deadline acquisitions is Carlos Pena, who overcame a slow start to post a respectable .225/.339/.461 line, including a 14.4% walk rate. Given that the Cubs aren’t going anywhere along with Pena being in a walk year, he seems like an ideal bat for a contender. Of course, he bats from the lefthand side, but with Pena aiming for the short porch in right I’d be happy to overlook handedness in this instance.
Astros’ part-time righty Matt Downs is having an eye-opening season (.393 wOBA in 117 PAs), but I’d imagine the reason that he doesn’t get to play every day is because he can’t hit lefties (.186 wOBA). However, he smokes righties (.441 wOBA). Given the Astros’ current state of affairs, Downs seems like an ideal candidate for a trade, although there’s no precedent for him hitting this well at the Major League level, so if he did become available he’s probably a case of buyer beware. The Padres’ Chris Denorfia has put up a nice season, though he’s under team control for two more seasons.
My brother and I were joking this weekend about how it seems like Ty Wigginton goes yard every time he plays in Yankee Stadium, and I’d have no problem with Wigginton and his righthanded power bat (107 wRC+) getting some part-time burn. I’m not sure I’d even waste my time with the Dodgers, who only have four players slugging higher than .400, and one is Chad Billingsley. Matt Kemp isn’t going anywhere, and Andre Ethier can’t hit lefties, though I’d still gladly have either if the Dodgers did decide to deal ‘em.
Two other players I would be interested in adding — even though they’re both in the midst of rather disappointing seasons — are Josh Willingham (.327 wOBA) and David DeJesus (.292 wOBA), both of whom may well be on the trading block given that the A’s aren’t competing this year as well as the fact that they’re both upcoming free agents. Willingham is in the midst of what would be his worst full season, with his walk rate way down and K rate way up, but perhaps a change of scenery from an extreme pitcher’s park to one of the more hitter-friendly environments in the land would do this career .263/.362/.470 hitter some good. I’ve been a fan of Willingham’s for a while now, and would love to see him in Yankee pinstripes.
DeJesus’s offensive output has been even meeker than Willingham’s, but he’s currently boasting a career-high walk rate (though that goes along with a career-high K rate), and has also hit into some pretty bad luck, with the 5th-worst BABIP in the AL at .246. Given that three of his Oakland teammates join him in the top 15 lowest BABIPs, DeJesus seems like another candidate who could benefit from a change of scenery. Another potential knock is that he doesn’t meet my criteria of hitting from the righthand side. Still, you could do worse than having DeJesus on your bench.
For what it’s worth, ZiPS Rest-of-Season (RoS) has Willingham hitting .244/.345/.430; .343 wOBA, with 11 home runs; and has DeJesus at .257/.335/.381; .317 wOBA. All of these numbers are improvements on what they have accomplished to date.
Of course, I have no idea what Beane would be looking for in exchange for a rental, and I’d certainly be wary of dealing with the one GM who always seems to extract top value in his dealings. Regardless, the thought of adding Willingham for the stretch run is pretty enticing and may be worth the gamble.
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