"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

How Much More Can You Give Us Big Cash?

Sunday’s acquisition of Bobby Abreu and Cory Lidle for Matt Smith and three non-prospects filled the Yankees’ two primary needs in one move for minimal cost. In fact, the move was such masterstroke that yesterday’s follow-up trade of Shawn Chacon for the Pirates’ Craig Wilson almost seemed like showing off.

To begin with, not only had Chacon been removed from the rotation after a disaster start in Cleveland on July 4, but with the acquisition of Lidle on Sunday, he had become a burden, a player occupying a spot on the 25-man roster who had no role to play and was unable to contribute to a winning effort when given an opportunity.

In exchange for this player, the Yankees obtained Wilson, a right handed first-baseman and outfielder with both patience and power at the plate who also has experience behind it. A career .268/.360/.486 hitter, Wilson is exactly the hitter I had hoped Andy Phillips would be at the plate given a proper opportunity. Unfortunately, Phillips hasn’t quite lived up to expectations, hitting just .239/.272/.401 in 235 plate appearances. Enter Wilson, who is just four months Phillips’ senior and has put up those numbers over 2,133 career major league plate appearances.

Yup, the Yankees have a new starting first baseman, or at least a player who can start every day and bounce between first, DH and the corner outfielders per the needs of the regulars in those other positions. If there’s any down side to Wilson it’s that he’s a subpar defensive first baseman, but according to Baseball Prospectus’s Rate stats, Andy Phillips has been just as bad this year despite what has looked to the naked eye like some excellent play around the first base bag. Of course, both are significantly better than Giambi (the exact numbers are a 93 Rate for Wilson and Phillips and an 83 Rate for Giambi). My theory on Phillips’ figure is that he just might be the defensive equivalent of Derek Jeter at first base, a solid player who makes some spectacular-looking plays within a deceptively small range.

So, Wilson holds the line on defense and greatly increases the Yankees production on offense. Not a bad trick. The result is a line-up that could look like this upon the return of Robinson Cano:

L – Johnny Damon (CF)
R – Derek Jeter (SS)
L – Bobby Abreu (RF)
R – Alex Rodriguez (3B)
L – Jason Giambi (DH)
S – Jorge Posada (C)
R – Craig Wilson (1B)
L – Robinson Cano (2B)
S – Melky Cabrera (LF)

And that’s without getting Matsui or Sheffield back.

All that’s left do to now is to figure out who has to go to make room for the new guys. Brian Cashman can help out somewhat with that. Lidle replaces Ponson in the rotation, but according to Cashman, “Ponson wanted to stay and be a part of this, so he’ll swing over to the bullpen,” so ultimately Lidle replaces Chacon.

Meanwhile Aaron Guiel has already been optioned to Columbus to make room for Abreu and, again according to Cashman, “as we move forward, Andy Phillips is definitely a part of this team.” Indeed, thanks to Andy’s reverse split, he and Bernie Williams combine to give the Yankees complimentary pair of bats of the bench for deployment against lefties (Bernie: .327/.397/.505) and righties (Andy: .262/.292/.483) as well as back-ups at first base and the outfield, with Wilson also able to move into the corner outfield positions should Phillips replace him at first base.

That leaves Bubba Crosby and Nick Green as the candidates to be cut to make room for Wilson. Without Crosby, the Yankees wouldn’t have a viable pinch-runner (Green is 5 for 11 career on the bases) or a reliable back-up centerfielder (Melky could move over to center, but he’s not played there all year and his doing so would require an inferior defender to shift into left). Without Green, the Yankees would have to rely on Phillips as a back-up second baseman until Robinson Cano returns to complicate the issue, and would have to deploy Phillips at either second or third in order to use Miguel Cairo or Alex Rodriguez as the back-up shortstop. Meanwhile, here are the career and 2006 hitting numbers of the two players in question:

Crosby: .207/.258/.299 (96 PA)
Green: .183/.300/.300 (70 PA)

Crosby: .216/.255/.300 (269 PA)
Green: .248/.319/.358 (735 PA)

Green holds a small advantage on offense and, frankly, after seeing Melky play left so well this year (110 Rate), I’m less troubled by the idea of Melky backing up center than I am Andy backing up second, where he’s played all of two innings in the majors. What’s more, with Green hitting .381/.480/.714 as a Yankee, he’s both the hot hand and the younger player (by two years). Then there’s this:

Green: .183/.300/.300 (70 PA)
Cairo: .236/.271/.299 (204 PA)

Green: .248/.319/.358 (735 PA)
Cairo: .268/.315/.360 (3204 PA)

It’s a pipe dream to think that the 27-year-old Green would ever keep his job over the 32-year-old Cairo when Cano returns, and Cairo breaks that tie at the plate with superior defense and vastly superior base running (base running that would make him a more than viable pinch-runner after Cano’s return, making Crosby even more expendable), but I’m far more interested in seeing what more Green has to offer whereas I’m already under whelmed by what I know Bubba has.

And, yes, the Yankees could easily keep both Crosby and Green by demoting T.J. Beam, but that would only delay the choice a week or so until Cano’s return. That said, there’s one other pipe dream I’ve been having that would start with the Yankees keeping Green and Crosby and demoting Beam. You see, Craig Wilson caught 40 games as a member of the Pirates. The most recent was in 2004 and only half of those 40 games were starts. Still, I’d like to see the Yankees try Wilson out behind the plate a couple of times in the next two weeks with the hope of having Cano replace, not Green or Crosby, but Sal Fasano. Imagine the possibilities of a roster with this kind of flexibility behind the monstrous line-up posted above:

R – Wilson (1B/C/RF/LF)

R – Phillips (1B/3B/2B/PH v.L)
S – Williams (RF/LF/CF/PH v.R)
R – Cairo (2B/SS/3B/1B/OF/PR)
R – Green (2B/SS/3B/OF)
L – Crosby (CF/LF/RF/PR)

If Brian Cashman had a number I’d buy his jersey.

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--Earl Weaver