Tuesday, September 22, 2015
AN OPTION THAT MAKES SENSE
By now most, if not all of you know that I have been a constant critic of Brian Cashman. I’ve never liked his strategy of using the Yankees minor league system as nothing more than an incubator for trade pawns. His continuous search for lightning in a bottle with players on the downside of their careers has been a particular sore point. Why he thinks castoffs from competitors will suddenly have a jump in performance after years of decline is beyond me. Most baffling has been his infatuation (or as Michael Kay once intimated – “obsession”) with the second baseman he declared to be the team’s regular starter before Spring Training – Stephen Drew. Until last month, Drew had not finished a game in a Yankees uniform (over a hundred of them) with an average over .200. In fact, as I type this he ranks as the worst hitting regular second baseman in the team’s history. Despite the lack of talent at the plate from Drew, agent Scott Boras somehow managed to convince Cashman to re-sign the player for $6 million ($5 million plus incentives) this past off-season. The GM has defended his move by stating that there was “no better option”. Rob Refsnyder and Jose Pirela come to mind, but they are in the Yankees system and that apparently excludes them as possibilities.
In spite of my disgust, I must now give a tip of my cap to our General Manager for possibly finding a better “option” at second base. On July 30th it was announced that the Yankees had acquired Dustin Ackley from the Seattle Mariners in exchange for minor leaguers Ramon Flores and Jose Ramirez. At the time, Ackley was hitting just .215 for Seattle and had been used at all three outfield positions and second base (where he’s played the most in his career) by the Mariners. It seemed he was nothing more than a bit player of little consequence for the Yankees. As a left-handed batter – like Drew – it appeared he’d only be a backup available to spell the regulars around the diamond from time to time. The 27-year-old had been with the Mariners since 2011 and his average was on the steady decline. After just three plate appearances with the Bombers, Ackley was placed on the DL by the Yankees with a lumbar strain in his back. I thought we had acquired a slightly younger Drew and wondered what the point of it was.
Following his return from the DL, I’m finding out what the point was. Since rejoining the team, Ackley is hitting .409 for the Yankees and has injected the lineup with something more than a crap shoot at the bottom of the order. He’s given us life at second base, and as a result Manager Joe Girardi has gradually increased his playing time. In addition to his average, Ackley provides power (.864 slugging pct). While Drew has flashed power as well, he has not offered up the consistency at the plate that the former Mariner has (an impressive 1.280 OPS since Sept 9th). Drew has stayed on the roster primarily due to his ability with the glove, but Ackley is better in the field at second base and gives Girardi more flexibility at other positions – both at infield and outfield spots.
Statistics have shown that players are typically entering the prime of their careers at age 27. Until now, Ackley showed little to indicate that his prime years would be spent as anything but a bench player. Numbers aside, Dustin Ackley’s play has appeared more passionate and energetic than Stephen Drew’s. Once in a while, a player needs something to ignite his fire and bring out his true talent. Perhaps for Ackley that ignition was the change of scenery from Seattle to the Bronx.
Simply put, Ackley seems a better fit for the Yankees than “The Obsession”. Given that he’s younger and more naturally a second baseman, Ackley is a logical re-signing once this season is over. Brian Cashman need not worry about disappointing Jon Heyman as Dustin’s agent is none other than Scott Boras.
As the Yankees head into the playoffs, some tough decisions will need to be made as to who makes the post-season roster and who doesn’t. Does Manager Joe Girardi actually take two left-handed hitting second baseman, or does he make the more reasonable decision to carry Ackley (and Brendan Ryan) and finally cut loose the anchor around the bottom-of-the-lineup’s neck, Stephen Drew? It will be an interesting choice that he will make.
Regardless of what I think of him, Brian Cashman has made a few moves this year that truly have created a hope for this team. Among them is the acquisition of Didi Gregorius, the call-ups of Greg Bird and Luis Severino, and finally the trade for Dustin Ackley. Most of the time I’ll criticize you Brian – we just have different philosophies as to how to build a team that carries on the Yankees legacy, but I applaud the deal that may have finally filled the hole at second base. Well done.
--Steve Skinner, BYB Senior Writer
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