"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Abreu Abreme

By now you’ve probably heard the news. After months of rumors, the Yankees finally traded for Bobby Abreu yesterday afternoon. Not only that, but they get to have their cake and eat it to as the deal also brought them back-of-the-rotation starter Cory Lidle, satisfying the team’s need for both another big bat and a viable fifth starter. And all it cost them was a quartet of expendable minor leaguers. More on the identities of those four at the end of this post, but first let’s take a look at the two players the Yankees have acquired.

Bob Kelly Abreu is exactly a month and a half older than Derek Jeter and arrives in New York with a career hitting line of .301/.412/.507. Here’s a complete list of active players who have hit at least .300/.400/.500 on their careers (minimum 1200 plate appearances, or three full seasons) along with their current ages:

Barry Bonds (42)*
Frank Thomas (38)
Chipper Jones (34)
Manny Ramirez (34)
Todd Helton (32)**
Bobby Abreu (32)
Lance Berkman (30)
Albert Pujols (26)

*Bonds’ career average just dipped to .299, but he deserves inclusion anyway
**Helton is more than six months older than Abreu

The Yankees have just acquired the third-youngest established .300/.400/.500 hitter in baseball.

That said, the key to appreciating Bobby Abreu’s talent is understanding that, despite his company above, he is not a home run hitter. To wit, here are the career home run totals for the four youngest players on the above list (career plate appearances per home run in parentheses)

Helton – 282 (20.6 PA/HR)
Abreu – 198 (30.9)
Berkman – 208 (20.3)
Pujols – 234 (16.3)

Rather, Abreu’s greatest strength is his ability to get on base. Only five players with a minimum of 1200 plate appearances reached base more often than Abreu over the last three seasons (2003-2005). Of those five (Bonds, Helton, Pujols, Berkman and J.D. Drew), only Albert Pujols currently has a higher on-base percentage than Abreu, who ranks fifth in the majors with a .427 mark. Notice that Jason Giambi’s name didn’t pop up anywhere in there? Bobby Abreu is a bigger on base threat than the man whose bones repel baseballs out of the strike zone.

Then there’s what Abreu does once he’s on base. Only eight men have stolen more bases over the last three years than Abreu, and Alfonso Soriano, Jimmy Rollins, Jose Reyes, Johnny Damon and Tony Womack are not among them. Here are those eight and Abreu along with their stolen base totals and success rates:

Scott Podsednik – 172 (79%)
Juan Pierre – 167 (73%)
Carl Crawford – 160 (83%)
Chone Figgins – 109 (75%)
Ichiro Suzuki – 103 (79%)
Dave Roberts – 101 (78%)
Carlos Beltran – 100 (88%)
Rafael Furcal – 100 (85%)
Bobby Abreu – 93 (80%)

Get the picture? Despite his bulky appearance (Abreu reminds me of a left-handed version of Sammy Sosa or Jose Canseco when he’s at the plate) and his 2005 Home Run Derby crown, Bobby Abreu is actually more of a lead-off type. He gets on base at a staggering rate and is a prolific and successful base stealer once there (he’s 20 for 24 on the bases thus far this year, good for an 83 percent success rate). That he also happens to hit about 20 home runs every year is a compliment to those core abilities.

It is for that reason that I’m undisturbed by Abreu’s recent power failure. In 174 games since last July 4, Abreu has hit just 14 home runs and slugged just .416. Over that same stretch, however, he’s reached base at a .402 clip and stolen 30 bases at a 77 percent success rate. He’s still doing the things that make him valuable to his team.

Then again, he’s hit just .255/.385/.384 outside of the hitter-friendly Citizen’s Bank Park over that stretch and is coming off a dreadful July in which he’s hit just .250/.313/.367 in all parks. Ask the Phillies fans who never did appreciate the fact that he was one of the best hitters in all of baseball during his eight-plus seasons in Philadelphia and they will tell you that his victorious Home Run Derby performance last July ruined his swing. His .300/.444/.550 April and last year’s .320/.419/.510 August prove that theory false, though one does have to hope that a change of scenery will be able to revive Abreu’s bat. To that end, though the left-handed Abreu hits equally to all fields and the bulk of his deep fly outs actually go the opposite way, it won’t hurt that the right field foul pole in his new home park is 16 feet closer to home plate than the one in his old home park, or that the left field foul pole is 11 feet closer.

As for how Abreu will work his way into the Yankee line-up, after taking Larry Bowa’s number 53 he should be inserted into one of the top three spots. Given Derek Jeter’s tremendous season, it’s tempting to put Abreu second and push Jeter down to the three-spot, but one could also stagger the line-up’s lefties by going with something like this:

L – Damon
R – Jeter
L – Abreu
R – Rodriguez
L – Giambi
S – Posada

That order also gives the Yankees an average of 20 steals from each of their top three hitters, with Rodriguez with nine swipes of his own from the clean-up spot (never mind that Giambi and Posada are a perfect 3 for 3 on the bases this season).

Abreu will replace the part-time platoon of Bernie Williams and Aaron Guiel in right field. Abreu does not have the greatest defensive reputation, and his Rate stats support the fact that he’s below average, but he’s a sure improvement on poor old Bernie and brings a strong throwing arm to go with his foot speed. With Abreu and Cabrera, the Yankees suddenly have a pair of strong throwing corner outfielders.

Exactly what the Yankees have in store for Bernie, Guiel, and now-sixth outfielder Bubba Crosby remains to be seen. Likely either Guiel or Crosby will be demoted to make room for Abreu on the roster, while we might see more of Jason Giambi in the field and Bernie at DH in the near future, knowing Joe Torre’s inability to keep Bernie on the bench.

I wouldn’t mind seeing that against lefties, actually, as Andy Phillips hasn’t hit southpaws one bit this season (.195/.235/.247) and Bernie has hit them a ton (.327/.397/.505). In fact, that gap is so large that I wouldn’t even mind seeing this set-up when Chien-Ming Wang is on the mound. Against righties, meanwhile, Torre might want to give some thought to giving Aaron Guiel (.220/.343/.508 vs. righties) some starts in right while bouncing Abreu to DH, as Guiel is an above average fielder and has had greater success against righties than Phillips (.268/.298/.493), who again would be forced to sit while Giambi played the field.

Speaking of which, for all of those who believe that Giambi’s strong performance as the team’s primary DH this year has exposed his unerringly consistent DH/1B splits as a small-sample or injury-related fluke, I present his 2006 splits:

As 1B: .270/.443/.572
As DH: .227/.361/.577

Indeed, the best Yankee line-up is one with Giambi in the field and a strict Williams/Guiel platoon at DH (with Guiel occasionally swapping positions with Abreu against righties). That set-up will limit Andy Phillips’ starts to games Chien-Ming Wang pitches against his fellow righties, when the difference between Phillips and Guiel at the plate and the difference between Phillips and Giambi in the field make the defense-first arrangement more appropriate than it is against lefties.

As for Cory Lidle, I’m adopting a wait and see approach here. Normally, Lidle wouldn’t be a pitcher I’d want on my staff. But as the man who will replace Sidney Ponson in the rotation, I’m happy to have him. That said, here’s a quick comparison of Lidle, Ponson and Shawn Chacon using their career numbers entering this year (ages in parentheses):

Name Age ERA+ K/9 BB/9 K/BB WHIP
Cory Lidle 34 99 5.53 2.33 2.37 1.32
Sidney Ponson 29 94 5.42 3.01 1.80 1.44
Shawn Chacon 28 100 6.06 4.60 1.32 1.48

That’s a modest improvement to be sure. Indeed, Lidle could easily bomb just as badly as those other two, but the Yankees simply could not go forward with their existing options for the final spot in the rotation and, at the very least, Lidle, unlike Chacon or Ponson, did not pitch his way out of his team’s rotation. In fact, his last two starts have been stellar. Against the hot-hitting Braves and Diamondbacks in hitter-friendly Citizen’s Bank Park, Lidle posted the following line over two starts: 16 IP, 10 H, 5 R, 4 HR, 1 BB, 13 K. It can’t hurt to give this guy a try, especially given the fact that he’s piggy-backed on the Abreu deal, which would have been a more than fair deal for the Yankees even without Lidle. That said, Brian Cashman has been quoted as saying that he would not have made the trade had he not gotten a starting pitcher as well.

Lidle’s last start for the Phillies came this past Thursday, so he’ll be on regular rest on Tuesday if needed, and available to pitch in any game after that. Even before Randy Johnson’s poor performance on Saturday, Joe Torre had decided to give the Big Unit an extra day of rest this upcoming week by starting Ponson against the Blue Jays on Thursday despite the fact that the Yankees won’t need a fifth starter again until Saturday in Baltimore. Thus I believe we can expect Lidle to slip right into Ponson’s Thursday start, with Sir Sidney getting a one-way ticket out of town. Indeed, as soon as the Yankees announced that they were going to skip the fifth spot in the rotation until after the trading deadline, I was pretty sure that Ponson would not be taking another turn for the Yanks.

Speaking of guys leaving town, here’s the skinny on the four minor leaguers going the other way:

Matt Smith you know. He’s the guy with the 0.00 career major league ERA in 12 innings. I like the look of the left-handed Smith, who also posted a 2.08 ERA in Columbus this year with solid peripherals (22 Ks, 8 BB, 27 H, 3 HR in 26 IP), but he is 27 years old and the Yankees consistently (and, it’s beginning to appear, foolishly) promoted righty T.J. Beam over him. I had a feeling Smith was going to be involved in any trade the Yankees might have pulled off and, since they weren’t going to use him out of the big-league pen (most of those 12 scoreless innings came in junk time), they’ve done well to use him this way.

C.J. Henry was the Yankees’ top pick in the 2005 amateur draft. A high school shortstop, Henry was a tools pick in a draft that focused heavily on the more reliable track records of college pitchers. After an unimpressive professional debut with the Rookie League Gulf Coast Yankees last summer, notable only for his 17 steals in 48 games, the 20-year-old Henry struggled mightily with the low-A Charleston RiverDogs this year, hitting just .237/.326/.350 with 86 strikeouts in 76 games. With Henry blocked at short by the Yankee Captain, the Yanks decided to cut bait before the shine came off his first-round status. If only they had done the same with 2000 first-round pick David Parrish, who was surreptitiously released by the Clippers earlier this year after compiling a career minor league line almost identical to Henry’s Charleston numbers (he’s since been picked up by the Pirates’ double-A club in Altoona where, at age 27, he’s hitting for the first time since college).

The other two players going to Philadelphia were signed by the Yankees as international free agents out of the Dominican Republic in 2004. Carlos Monasterios is a 20-year-old right-hander who pitched well for the Yankees’ Dominican League team in 2005 and for the GCL Yanks this year, but did so primarily in relief. Jesus Sanchez is an 18-year-old catcher who didn’t hit a lick for the Dominican Yankees in 2005 and was hitting just .264/.343/.319 with the Gulf Coast Yankees this year. If he ever had any real value to the organization, which I doubt, he was made expendable by the recent signing of 16-year-old catching uberprospect Jesus Montero.

The Yankees assume the remainder of Abreu’s salary for this season, which comes to $4.4 million, and will owe him $15 million for next season. Abreu has a $16 million option for 2008 with a $2 million buyout, but the Yankees were not required to pick it up as a part of the deal as the Phillies instead paid him $1.5 million to waive his no-trade clause. Lidle, meanwhile, is on the final year of a two-year deal. The Yankees will owe him $1.117 million for the remainder of the season, less than they’re paying Octavio Dotel or Tanyon Sturtze, never mind that Pavano guy.

By the way, since we’re on the subject of recent deals between the Phillies and Yankees, I just realized that I never weighed in on the Sal Fasano acquisition. Basically Fasano and Kelly Stinnett are the same player except that Fasano has a smidge more pop in his bat and is a year and a half younger. He also has an inferior track record–though once a catcher hits 35, as Fasano will in a couple of weeks, just one week before Posada does, what they’ve done lately is far more significant than what they did in their 20s. What worries me most about the move, however, is the fact that the reason Fasano was available in the first place is that he was Pipped by Chris Coste while on the DL with inflamation in his left knee. Knee trouble in a 35-year-old catcher with a weight problem is baaaad news. I’m pretty sure it’s not worth that risk for whatever negligible improvement Fasano offers. As for the player sent to the Phillies for big Sal, Hector Made is a 21-year-old A-ball middle infielder with no discernable hitting ability.

What They are Sayin’

Another fine job by Cliff. Here are what the morning papers have on the Abreu deal:

Philadelphia Daily News, Newsday (on Sheff), The New York Times, The Boston Globe, Joel Sherman, Larry Brooks, Vic Ziegel, and Bob Klapisch.


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