I can almost envision Lou Abbott and Bud Costello talking about the 2010 New York Yankees now:
Costello: “Who’s in left?”
Abbott: “No. Who’s on first.”
Costello: “I don’t know.”
Abbott: “I don’t know is in left”
So it goes with the Yankees. Who, what or I don’t know has shifted to left-field and it is anybody’s guess who will play there come Opening Day on April 4 at Fenway Park.
Last season left-field, for the most part, was manned by Johnny Damon. But after a season in which the 36-year-old veteran hit 24 home runs, drove in 82 runs and batted .282 the Yankees allowed him to become a free agent without even an offer of arbitration.
Damon said he wanted to remain a Yankee but his agent, Scott Boras, was seeking a ridiculous four-year, $52 million contract. The Yankees chose to pass. Though Damon has lowered his demands to a reported two years and $20 million, the Yankees have let him seek offers from other teams.
Rumors say the Braves have an interest in him but they are not likely to pay $10 million for two seasons for the privilege.
The Yankees did have other options in left. For one, they could have tried out rookie Austin Jackson, the 23-year-old gem of the team’s minor-league system. But, alas, the Yankees decided to package the potential five-tool star in a trade with the Detroit Tigers that yielded outfielder Curtis Granderson.
The Yankees immediately announced Granderson was the team’s center fielder and that 2009 center fielder Melky Cabrera would move to left field.
If the Yankees were serious about cutting payroll, it would seem odd for Yankees general manager Brian Cashman to trade Jackson for Granderson’s four-year contract that calls for him to make $5.25 million this season but about $13 million in the fourth season. Jackson would have cost considerably less.
Still, the shift of Cabrera makes sense with the newly frugal Yankees considering that he made a paltry $1.7 million in 2009. But, once again, the Yankees vacated left field when they used Cabrera in a package that brought right-hander Javier Vazquez back to the Bronx — along with his $11 million salary.
There is no doubt that getting Vazquez (15-10, 2.87 ERA) from the Atlanta Braves solidified the starting rotation because there are now four pitchers who are capable of pitching 200 innings or more. It also would allow either Joba Chamberlain or Phil Hughes to shift to the setup role in the bullpen. However, it also vacated left field again.
Now the Yankees are touting Brett Gardner as their starting left fielder. Or they could keep Gardner in center and move Curtis Granderson there if the team is dissatisfied with Granderson’s defense in center.
Either way, Gardner certainly is a low-cost alternative to Damon. But it seems odd that Cashman is protesting poverty in his inability to bring Damon back. Cashman said he only has $2 million left to spend on an outfielder.
Well, it seems to me that if he paid just a bit less than $10 million to sign Damon for two years, kept Jackson and Phil Coke instead of making the Granderson trade and used Jackson and Coke to obtain Vazquez instead of trading Michael Dunn, then the Yankees would have not needed to obtain Boone Logan.
They then could have signed Nick Johnson to DH for $5 million and had an outfield of Damon, Cabrera and Nick Swisher with Gardner in the wings and Dunn could have replaced Coke without pushing the Yankees over their budget because they let Hideki Matsui sign with the Angels.
If I have done the math correct, I think this would have got the Yankees close to their so-called budget limit without affecting the performance level of the team.
Now without Damon in left, the Yankees reportedly are looking at signing right-hand hitting outfielder Reed Johnson or perhaps bring back injured Xavier Nady or utility man Jerry Hairston Jr. for about $2 million. This would give the Yankees a right-hand hitter to platoon with Gardner or Granderson, who hit a woeful .182 against lefties in 2009.
With less than a month before pitchers and catchers report to Tampa for spring training, I know that Yankee fans are getting nervous about the opening in left field. Pundits like Jon Heyman of the MLB Network are beginning to wonder if the decision to allow Matsui and Damon go in the offseason in favor of Granderson and Johnson has weakened the offense.
It is a valid question.
I am not sure if even Abbott and Costello can answer these questions.
Costello: “The left fielder’s name?”
Abbott: “Oh, he’s center field.”