In case you missed the news, the Yankees signed left-handed hitting OF/DH Jack Cust to a minor league deal yesterday. Cust is an interesting addition, and could be considered a possible replacement for Raul Ibanez if Ibanez continues to struggle. Cust was cut by the Houston Astros this spring after posting an Ibanez-esque .040/.200/.040 in 25 AB’s this spring. He posted a .213/.344/.329 triple-slash line in a limited role with Seattle in 2011.
Cust has made a career out of his excellent power and patience, though his inability to make consistent contact and mediocre defense hurt his value significantly. Cust put together some monster seasons earlier in his career with Oakland, including a wRC+ of 143 in 2007, and 130 in 2008. However, injuries and inconsistency derailed Cust’s major league career, and he has been reduced to fighting for a minor league contract.
Could Cust be a viable replacement for Ibanez? To determine this, it would be necessary to look at his performance against right-handed pitchers, since he would likely find himself primarily in the platoon DH role. Cust’s career numbers show that he has been better in his career against righties, with an wRC+ of 130 (compared to 97 against lefties), and this trend has held true for the past few seasons as well (though his wRC+ was only 99 against righties in 2011). This would appear to bode well for his ability to serve as a platoon player, though it is unclear whether he would actually be an upgrade over Ibanez (since both players have been absolutely atrocious in spring training).
Jack Cust does bring some intriguing things to the table, such as his ability to hit right-handed pitching at at least a league-average level, his home run power (which could rise in Yankee stadium), and his consistent ability to draw walks in about 15% of his plate appearances. However, these are counterbalanced by some serious flaws, including strikeout rates in excess of 30% and serious difficulty achieving a batting average north of .250.
Historically, Cust’s numbers indicate that he has a chance to be as good if not better than Raul Ibanez in the platoon DH role. Like Ibanez, he can fake playing the outfield and 1st base, but doesn’t have the range to be anywhere close to an average defender there. However, as with Ibanez, it is hard to look at his spring training numbers without reaching the conclusion that he may be washed up. There is room for optimism with Cust, however, in the sense that he is only 33, whereas Ibanez is 40. I don’t think it makes sense to kick Ibanez to the curb yet, but bringing in Cust as minor league depth certainly seems like a smart move.
Update: Apparently the Yankees weren’t done signing potential DH types, as Chad Jennings reports that the Yankees have also signed Steve Pearce to a minor league deal. Pearce, a right-handed hitter, has bounced between the minors and majors in his career with the Pirates, and has yet to stick in the bigs. He has a career wRC+ of 78 in the bigs, and has yet to live up to the promise of his minor league numbers. Unlike Cust, Pearce probably doesn’t profile as a DH candidate against righties, since he has a career wRC+ of 54 against them. He is better against lefties (career wRC+ of 120), so he could be a platoon option against lefties if Andruw Jones gets hurt (or Brett Gardner struggles against lefties).
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