(The following is being syndicated from An A-Blog for A-Rod)
As important as it is for the Yankees to keep their key veteran players healthy this season, and as much as I want to see guys like Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez get regular rest to avoid wear and tear and trips to the DL, I was a little surprised to see Eduardo Nunez starting at shortstop in the second game of the season while Jeter got a DH day on Saturday. I was even more surprised to see Raul Ibanez in the lineup in right field Sunday while Nick Swisher got a DH day. Seeing as how both Jeter and Swish are coming off of Spring Training injuries, it’s perfectly understandable that Joe would want to err on the side of caution early in the season and give them a day off from the field. That being said, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t against the idea of Ibanez getting regular time in the field this season at the expense of healthy, better defensive options. In fact, given the showing he had in the field in his first game, I’d go as far to say that Ibanez should never be playing in the outfield.
With Nunez, there really isn’t much the Yankees can do as far as finding a better utility IF/OF option. As he showed on Saturday, he’s more than capable of turning the most routine defensive play into an adventure, but we’ve already known this about him for some time now and when you factor in all the good things he does bring to the table, it helps a bit to balance out what he takes away defensively. When you consider that Nunez’s issues in the field seem to be rooted more in focus and mechanics rather than physical ability, it does leave room for optimism that he can improve and clean up some of his error issues. With Ibanez, the situation doesn’t look so rosy.
Even in his prime, Ibanez was a marginal defensive outfielder at best, and that prime is pretty far off in the rearview mirror now. The fact of the matter is that Ibanez hasn’t been a useful defensive outfielder in years. He doesn’t get good reads or jumps on balls and doesn’t have the speed or athleticism to cover the ground needed to make plays, and his botch of the ball Matt Joyce hit to him on Sunday is Exhibit A, B, and C of that. You can make the small sample size case if you want, but for a guy like Ibanez with a track record of poor defense, that play on Sunday seems more representative of a continuation of a consistent negative trend rather than a one-time freak outlier. At his age it’s pretty much impossible to expect Ibanez to suddenly improve upon these physical deficiencies that make him so ineffective.
The difference between this situation and the one with Eduardo is that the Yankees have another OF option totally capable of playing, at the very least, a serviceable defensive outfield in Andruw Jones. Along with being Ibanez’s platoon partner in the DH spot, Jones is the “official” 4th outfielder on the Yankee bench and should get plenty of playing time season in both the DH role and as the left fielder on days when the Yankees are facing a left-handed starter. With Ibanez’s face-palmingly bad defensive debut this past weekend, Joe might want to consider using Jones exclusively as the 4th OF option if he wants to give one of the regulars a day off, even if it means keeping Ibanez out of the starting lineup altogether. He’s not a world beater against RHP by any means these days, but Jones put up a respectable .709 OPS and .316 wOBA against righties last season, and his ability to draw walks is an asset against righties and lefties. That production combined with the defensive value he brings to the table should be enough to make up for any potential loss in offensive output caused by Ibanez being on the bench, especially with the rest of the lineup around him.
I understand that the Yankees like Ibanez as a power lefty bat in the lineup, and I can respect their desire to maximize the number of opportunities that Ibanez gets to do damage with his bat, especially in home games where his swing and the short porch in right are a match made in baseball heaven. But if that means regularly using Ibanez as a starting outfielder on days where a starter is being rested, I question whether that is a winning formula. Raul Ibanez flat out sucks as an outfielder. There’s no other way to say it, and at this stage in his career he isn’t going to get better. Neither corner outfield in Yankee Stadium is a picnic, and I shudder to think at the idea of him trying to navigate those areas without embarrassing himself and costing his team runs. The Yankees have a much better defensive option in Jones and a possible better defensive option in Nunez for emergency cases. The right move is to play those better options and allow Ibanez to maximize his value with the greatest (and only) asset he brings to the table- his bat.
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