The Yankees declined to tender Aaron Guiel a contract yesterday, making the outfielder-cum-first baseman a free agent. Guiel was the only player the Yankees had to make a decision on at yesterday’s non-tender deadline.
Assuming Jason Giambi will get most of his at-bats as a DH, dropping Guiel from the roster leaves the Yankees without a lefty first baseman to platoon with the winner of the Phelps-Phillips battle set to take place in spring training. Not that Phelps and Phillips are exceptionally disadvantaged against their fellow righties. Phillips has actually done most of his damage in the majors against righties. Twenty-three of Andy’s 27 extra base hits and more than two-thirds of his walks have come against rightes despite his having less than twice as many plate appearances against righties as against lefties. Phelps, meanwhile, has a career .257/.325/.460 line against righties, which, by trading some OBP for slugging, is almost exactly league average. That’s not great, but it’s permissible, especially when he hits .293/.357/.500 against lefties and earns the league minimum.
As for what else is out there, here are the career splits vs. righties of Phelps and the remaining free agent lefty-hitting first basemen:
The only players there that would represent a meaningful improvement over Phelps are Peña, to a very small degree, and Klesko. We’ve already seen that Phelps and Peña are alarmingly similar hitters. So if Phelps is good enough from the right side, it would make a certain amount of sense to give Peña a second chance to make the team in the spring.
Klesko, meanwhile, is a curious case. Despite the way he dominates the chart above, he missed nearly all of 2006 following shoulder surgery after suffering an alarming power outage in 2005. One line of thought attributes the power outage to the shoulder problems that have theoretically been fixed by the surgery, which could suggest a surprising up-tick in production for 2007. Another is that after that weak showing in ’05 and what amounts to a year off at age 35, the Ryan Kelsko who put up that .310 career GPA against righties may be gone forever.
Another interesting angle on Klesko is that he has actually spent the majority of his career playing left field. That’s a good thing in terms of the position flexibilty the Yankees might require in order to carry what amounts to a third first baseman, but is also a concern as Klesko was actually the Padres starting left fielder in 2004 and 2005, meaning he hasn’t been a regular first baseman since 2003. In addition to that, he’s never been considered a good fielder at either position, where as the reports on Peña have at the very least been conflicted, meaning someone out there thinks he’s a strong gloveman.
Still, as the two combined for 37 major league at-bats in 2006 (33 of which were Peña’s), both players should come cheap enough that it would be worth a gamble to bring them to camp. As it stands now, their roster spot would likely otherwise go to Bernie Williams. Consider:
12 pitchers (5 starters, 7 relievers)
9 starters (including, for our purposes here, the righty half of the 1B platoon)
3 bench spots used on Melky, utility infielder and back-up catcher
That’s 24 men. There’s one spot left for another bench bat, and a left first baseman, preferably with some outfield experience, seems like the best way to use it. I can’t see Bernie learning first base and he’s essentially a righty bat at this point. There haven’t even been whispers about moving Hideki Matsui to first base (which actually would open up a job for Bernie as he could be a righty bench bat/outfielder behind lefties Damon and Abreu and switch-hitter Cabrera). Best I can tell, Juan Miranda won’t see the big leagues this year prior to expanded rosters, if at all. It would seem that, baring a trade, Klesko and Peña are the only remaining options. Though to be completely honest, I wouldn’t complain if the Yankees brought Guiel back. Having a lefty bench bat with some pop, some patience and the ability to play first and all three outfield positions isn’t a bad consolation prize, even if the pop and patience isn’t quite up to the standards of the other two.