Wednesday, August 13, 2014


The Position Players

In this our year of dwindling hopes and expectations, I thought what better time than to take a look at whether the Yankees have actually upgraded or downgraded with the acquisitions they’ve made.  Given their recent performance on the field, I think I know what overall conclusion I’ll come to, but I’m hoping that I’m wrong.

I’ll start at catcher.

Brian McCann was signed to a five-year deal and replaces Chris Stewart.  Last year Stewart was the epitome of futility at the plate (he hit .211) and behind it (he was second in passed balls with 12).

To date, McCann is hitting .238 with 13 home runs (Stewart had four) and has 8 passed balls while throwing out 43% of runners attempting to steal (Stewart had a 31% rate).  Given the increase in productivity as well as the better threat to throw runners out, I’ll label this acquisition an UPGRADE.

Let’s move to second base....

We started the season with Brian Roberts taking over for the richly departed Robinson Cano.  From the outset expectations were low, and Roberts pretty much met those.  He hit .237 and had a .974 fielding percentage.  That represented a significant drop in production from the position and there was only one label that could be given:  DOWNGRADE

When Roberts’ struggles appeared to be more permanent than temporary, GM Brian Cashman acquired Stephen Drew from the Red Sox and the Yankees declared that Drew would be their second baseman even though he had never played the position.

For whatever reason, many in media considered the Drew acquisition to be a much needed upgrade and had been calling for it from the moment the 2014 campaign began.

As a Yankee, Stephen Drew is hitting .154 and has a .947 fielding percentage at second base.  Sorry, but I’m failing to see where the upgrade occurred.  I’m labeling the Drew experiment a DOWNGRADE from Roberts (didn’t think that was even possible).

At third base we started the year with a combination of Yangervis Solarte and Kelly Johnson.  They were taking the hot corner over from the suspended Alex Rodriguez.  Solarte began the season on fire, and for a few brief weeks excitement grew over the possibility of his future in the Bronx.  Johnson, a multi-positional player, hit for a low average and struck out once every four at-bats.  Eventually Solarte cooled off and Johnson never really got going.  By the end of July both were traded elsewhere (Johnson to the Red Sox for Drew, Solarte to the Padres).  As much as I hate to do it, I’ll label this position another DOWNGRADE from Rodriguez to the collection of players that manned the position through July of this season.

At the end of July, the Yankees traded Solarte to the San Diego Padres for Chase Headley.  For a few years the Yankees had admired Headley from a distance, and finally they found the right time and player to land him.

Since coming to the Yankees, Headley has hit .250 and played a flawless third base (he has yet to make an error in the field as a Bomber).  He has also been called upon to play first base in five games and has done it well.  As of right now, the Headley trade can be deemed a success, and I’ll consider it an UPGRADE over Johnson/Solarte.

In the outfield there has been a couple of major pieces added that we need to take a look at.

First, there is Jacoby Ellsbury.  The former Red Sox centerfielder was signed in the offseason by Brian Cashman to a seven-year deal.  While he takes over at center field for Brett Gardner, he really isn’t replacing Gardner.  Instead, the addition of Ellsbury allows “Gardy” to move back to the left field – a spot where three years ago he made himself one of the best. 

As center fielder for the Yankees, Ellsbury has hit .278 and stolen 31 bases.  In the field he has been nearly flawless (one error in 305 chances).   He is hitting .296 with runners in scoring position (RISP), leading the regulars on the team in that category.  Initially slotted to bat at the top of the order, his success coupled with Gardner’s has allowed manager Joe Girardi to put Ellsbury in the heart of the lineup. 

Even though he has an occasional “slump” at the plate, overall Jacoby’s play is solid and he gives the Yankees a much needed spark both in the order and in the field.  He is an UPGRADE over former Yankees star Alfonso Soriano (who played left field until Gardner could move there).

In 2013, Ichiro Suzuki was the primary right fielder for the Yankees, with occasional starts from the likes of Vernon Wells, Lyle Overbay, Ben Francisco et al.  Overall Ichiro hit .262 and played decently in the field, but he isn’t what he once was.  This offseason Cashman signed Carlos Beltran to a three-year deal.   At 37, Beltran is not much younger than Suzuki (he’s 40) and certainly not as durable.  He has managed to play in 85 games (of 118) and continues to be bothered by various aches and pains.  When Beltran rests, Ichiro has occupied right field and hit .277.  You’ll never have to worry about Ichiro missing time to injury – he keeps himself prepared to play at any time.

While the potential is there for Beltran to be an upgrade on the position, to date I have to label it as yet another DOWNGRADE as he has not lived up to expectations.  Quite honestly, given his age, he may never be what Cashman envisioned.  His best days are behind him.

Overall, the reviews are mixed as to whether GM Cashman has really upgraded this team.  From an everyday player perspective, it would appear he has not.  The slight upgrades at catcher and third base are more than off-set by downgrades at second base alone.  In our next article, we’ll take a look at the UPGRADES/DOWNGRADES in the pitching staff.

Let us know your opinion!  Do you agree or disagree with our assessment?  We want to hear from you!


--Steve Skinner, BYB Senior Writer
Twitter: @oswegos1

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