"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Observations From Cooperstown–Swisher, Cano, McLain, and Tresh

By swiping Nick Swisher from the White Sox for Wilson Betemit and two dubious pitching prospects, Brian Cashman has given the Yankees a rousing start to what could be a dramatically entertaining off season. Swisher’s power, patience, and versatility are all major assets, giving the Yankees plenty of flexibility along the outfield and at first base. He’s a legitimate defender at first and in the outfield corners, and has enough athletic ability to play a backup role in center field. Given his earlier track record in Oakland, he also figures to raise his batting average significantly from the .219 mark he posted with the White Sox. And he’s only 28 years old, which makes him a virtual toddler in the Yankees’ thirty something lineup. Make no mistake about it, this is a good first move for Cashman and the Yankees.

So what’s next on the winter agenda? Aside from the imminent bidding on CC Sabathia, I’m curious what will happen with Robinson Cano, who might by New York’s most enigmatic player. If the early signs of winter mean anything at all, the Yankees appear to be preparing for life with Cano in 2009. They’ve already given him permission to play winter league ball for at least a month, so that he can continue using the newfound batting stance he discovered late in the regular season. They’ve also made arrangements to have batting coach Kevin Long work with Cano during his winter league stint. And the Yankees have finally hired minor league defensive instructor Mick Kelleher as their first base and infield coach, at least in part because they believe that Kelleher will have a positive influence on Cano the way that Larry Bowa once did. (Let’s just hope that Kelleher has no influence on Cano’s power stroke. In 11 major league seasons with the Cardinals, Astros, Cubs, Angels, and Tigers, Kelleher hit exactly zero home runs.)

But not so fast. The Yankees, despite the warning signs listed above, should listen to several offers for Cano, their starting second baseman who played in a cloud-filled funk for most of the season. Of all the players the Yankees are likely to deal this winter, Cano still has the most trade value, more than Phil Hughes or Ian Kennedy or Hideki Matsui. Cano was supposedly offered to the Padres as part of a package for Jake Peavy, but San Diego turned down that possibility. He might still become the centerpiece to a deal for another starting pitcher (like the Giants’ Matt Cain) or a center fielder (like Carlos Beltran, to borrow from an earlier rumor). With Cano out of the picture, the Yankees could then step up efforts to sign free agent Orlando Hudson, a player with which the Yankee front office is infatuated. Hudson, while five years older than Cano, would represent a significant defensive upsurge over Cano, who may lack the desire and work ethic to achieve his Gold Glove potential. Hudson would also bring some much needed positive energy to a Yankee clubhouse that has become too staid, too corporate, and too damn passive in recent years.

If I were Cashman, I would first dangle Cano to the Dodgers, whose manager (Joe Torre) and third base coach (Bowa) simply adore the player they came to know during their days in New York. The Yankees should find out if the Dodgers would trade Matt Kemp for Cano straight-up. If not, how about Cano and Melky Cabrera for the 24-year-old Kemp? Or perhaps the Yankees could throw in one of their serviceable arms at Triple-A, someone like Big Foot Britton or Chase Wright. Kemp is exactly what the Yankees need: a young, athletic outfielder with power who happens to bat from the right side. The Yankees could then use Kemp in center field for a season, flanked by Johnny Damon in left and Xavier Nady in right, before shifting Kemp to left field in 2010, when top prospect Austin “Ajax” Jackson is projected to be ready for major league service. At the very least, I’ll guarantee that Matt Kemp will turn out much better than the last Kemp they hired in 1983—free agent outfielder Steve Kemp.

Another possibility could involve the Royals, who have become dissatisfied with the progress made by David DeJesus. Although he hasn’t become the star that the Royals once projected him to be, DeJesus did improve his on-base and slugging percentage in 2008 and is better than any of the Yankees’ current center field options. If the Royals are willing to throw in a prospect and/or a backup catcher, the Yankees might receive enough to surrender Cano. As with Kemp, the 29-year-old DeJesus could play center field for a season or two, before Jackson makes the move up from Scranton-Wilkes Barre. And I promise that DeJesus will have more of an impact than Ivan DeJesus did in the mid-1980s.

All things considered, trading Cano might be the Yankees’ best option in trying to upgrade their problematic center field situation this winter. There are no premier center fielders available in this year’s free agent market, although Rocco Baldelli is an intriguing second-tier player. Furthermore, second basemen are a lot easier to find these days than are quality center fielders. Given these realities of the marketplace, the Yankees’ preferred solution might be to trade Cano after all—despite all the hype about him winning a batting title one of these years—and start moving toward a different solution at second base.

At the very least, the Yankees need to consider the possibility of trading Cano. If the offers in return are not promising, then Cano can always stay, forcing Cashman to look in a few other directions for his next deal…



Every once in awhile, I’ll receive an interesting e-mail from a baseball personality. That happened last month, when former Tiger and Senator Denny McLain (Denny McLain!) sent me a note tinged with a bit of anger. Disclaimers prevent me from quoting directly from the e-mail, but suffice to say that Denny felt I had overstated the one-sided nature of the trade that sent him to the Senators for three players, including Eddie Brinkman, who recently passed away. More specifically, McLain felt I had exaggerated Brinkman’s worth as a player, apparently as a way of embarrassing McLain.

That certainly wasn’t my intent, not at all. I simply thought Brinkman was an underrated player, a dandy shortstop who became an important part of the Tigers in the early 1970s. I felt that Brinkman deserved the praise on his own merits, not as a way of exaggerating the one-sided trade between the Tigers and Senators. I wrote Denny back, explaining my position, but I received no response. Nonetheless, I hope to hear from him again, since it’s always nice to receive notes from former big league stars…


Speaking of Brinkman, he was part of a long tradition of light-hitting shortstops that played for the Yankees in the 1970s and eighties. When I first started following the team, Gene “The Stick” Michael was the starting shortstop, and that nickname had nothing to do with his hitting. Then came a nonentity like Jim Mason, who eventually gave way to Bucky Dent, who wouldn’t be remembered nearly as favorably without that home run in 1978. The Yankees really didn’t have a good hitting shortstop until they acquired Roy Smalley in 1983. Unfortunately, he couldn’t play a very good shortstop anymore and got caught in the Yankees’ third base-first base sausage grinder of that time. I guess that’s one reason why I appreciate Derek Jeter more than many of his Sabermetric detractors do. Jeter has given the Yankees an offensive presence at the position for the first time since the early 1960s.

Long before Jeter there was Tom Tresh, an underrated former Yankee who died last month at the age of 71. In 1962, Tresh hit 20 home runs, slugged .441, and drew 67 walks while playing mostly at shortstop, where he replaced an injured Tony Kubek. Tresh wasn’t a particularly good defender at the position—he lacked range and made too many errors—but he was passable considering his offensive production. When Kubek returned from back surgery in ‘63, the Yankees returned Tresh to the outfield, where he continued to put up similar offensive numbers for four additional seasons. Oddly, Tresh didn’t play another game at shortstop until 1968. By then, he was on the downhill slide of an injury-shortened career and just one year removed from retirement.

I wonder what would have happened to Tresh if he had stayed healthy and the Yankees had kept him at shortstop all those years. Would he have been the Derek Jeter of the 1960s? Tresh didn’t have the speed of Jeter, but had more power and drew a similar number of walks. He also would have received some scrutiny for his defensive shortcomings, though not the way that Jeter has in this Sabermetric age. Considering the lack of power hitting shortstops in that era, Tresh might have been selected to several All-Star teams. Given his switch-hitting power and his fine performances in three World Series, Tresh might have built up a reasonable case for Hall of Fame induction.

Tresh’s story should serve as a lesson to all of us as to just how difficult it is for players to put themselves on a path to Cooperstown. You have to be fortunate to stay away from injury and you have to be fortunate to receive the opportunity with the right organization. If those circumstances don’t break favorably, the variation in results becomes the difference between a Derek Jeter and a Tom Tresh.



1 SteveAmerica   ~  Nov 14, 2008 2:12 pm

the idea of replacing Cano with the O-dog, makes me happy. I doubt it will happen but it sure is fun to ponder.

2 rbj   ~  Nov 14, 2008 5:04 pm

Apparently there is a Yankee offer to CC. Just heard the news, IIRC the opening bid is 6 years $140 million.

3 OldYanksFan   ~  Nov 14, 2008 6:35 pm

This is a smart move, as the Yanks need to know FAST if they are getting CC or not. If they don't get CC, I believe they go after Tex.
But what does it mean if CC turns this offer down? I don't think anyone offers more. Is he counting on the Yanks bidding against themselves? Would he take this risk to try and squeeze another $5-$10m out of NY?

The only thing that might have been better, would be to offer $144, as a final offer, with a 48 hour window to accept. That's an AAV of $24m/yr. It's worth a few extra million to get this done THIS week. Once CC is in the bag, it makes the rest of the off-season strategy much easier.

And in reality, if the Yanks don't get CC, it gives AJ, Lowe, et al more leverage in their dealings with the Yankees, and the Yanks willultimately pay more for them they if they had CC already signed.

Also, I read somewhere that Lowe wants 5 years. Is that insane? Would any AL team offer more then 3? And even 3 seems risky. Most pundits seem to think AJ is definitely a Yankee.

4 Mattpat11   ~  Nov 14, 2008 7:13 pm

I think AJ is definitely a Yankee. And when the Yankee front office is SHOCKED when AJ Burnett only pitches in 19 games next year, I'll flip my shit.

5 Bruce Markusen   ~  Nov 14, 2008 7:24 pm

Another second base option I should have mentioned is Felipe Lopez, who had a very strong finish for the Cardinals. Originally a shortstop, he's a better fit defensively at second base and is a switch-hitter with some power. He'll be be 29 in May, so still a relatively young player.

I hope that Sabathia and these other big name free agents don't start treating these Yankee offers as if they consisted of confederate money, the way that they did in the early 1990s, when Gene Michael was desperately trying to sign people like Greg Maddux. If the Yankees do indeed offer $144 million, they should be able to expect a reply within a reasonable amount of time. If not, take the offer off the table, move on to the next free agent, and tell Sabathia's agent we'll be in touch.

6 OldYanksFan   ~  Nov 14, 2008 7:32 pm

A little off topic, but I'm really glad to see Tony Pena promoted to Bench Coach. While I have never given that much value to coaches, I think it's obvious that losing Larry Bowa was a bummer. Pena is a savy guy and a great catching coach.

And while it's not mentioned, Pena could be Joe Jr's replacement if he isn't up for the job. However, with Pena as Bench Coach, I see him as being as valuable, as Zim was to Torre. I think we will see better on field managing in 2009, as I believe Girardi will consider Pena's opinion, and sometimes defer to it.

7 OldYanksFan   ~  Nov 14, 2008 7:43 pm

As I type this, Nate Silver is being interviewed on MSNBC's 'Hardball with Chris Mathews'. 'Hardball' is the best political talk show around.

8 RollingWave   ~  Nov 14, 2008 8:09 pm

O-dog's career outside of Chase field has been pretty mediocare at best. one can look at his blue Jay's day's stats or his road stats in his D-back times and see the problem . for those wanting him, I'm fairly sure your hoping for the 3 strait season of .800-.810 ish OPS version over the last 3 year... but with if his true talent level is closer to the .710-.770 version of his Blue Jay's days? given that he's also comming off a pretty serious injury and is entering his age 31 season and most likely seeking 3 year+ deals, i'm perplaxed on why so much backing for him. he's a good upgrade if say... your stuck with Luis Castillo, a guy that could neither field nor hit nor stay healthy and is old and costing money. but clearly, that's not the case with Cano. who has shown that he could field and hit and is young on a affordable contract, albeit often showing different length of frustrating non-chalant.

In another word, unless what we're getting is extremely good, (which i doubt) then I'll pass. no one is truely untradable, but my true value of Cano is clearly not his present value, and we're not dieing to get him off the team.

Jake Peavy suffer from a similar problem as O-dog. the combination of park / league / division makes him a bit scary . SG and Hardball times both ran the number and conclud that there's a very good chance that Peavy's really not as worthwhile as he first appear . he's still good, but even a reasonable regression would leave him only just about worth his money, and your throwing in a ton of player on top of that.

If anything, the Yanks should still sign Teix and CC, if they really need to save money, save it on the back end rotation, lock up the best players, for the lesser players there are always ways to figure something out.

9 Mr. OK Jazz TOKYO   ~  Nov 14, 2008 8:18 pm

isn't it still wayyy too early to give up on Cano??

I'm with Mattpat11..if they sign AJ it will be Pavano-lite...

10 Evil Empire   ~  Nov 14, 2008 8:34 pm

Why sell Cano low though? If the Yanks had traded Cano after 2007 maybe they could have gotten Matt Kemp AND Billingsley. I'd prefer to stay the course with him and have the new coach give him the red-ass everyday. Unless Cano was juiced to the gills from 2005-2007 and got off the juice in 2008 then I'd gamble on a rebound season for 2009.

We also might want to consider that Cano is a second baseman with a lifetime 109 OPS+ and Kemp is an outfielder with a lifetime 109 OPS+ Granted, Kemp plays in Dodger Stadium (more of a pitcher's park) and Cano was a lefty in Yankee Stadium, but considering the leagues they're in this maybe the stats are a wash. Outfielders with those numbers are in larger supply than second basemen with those numbers.

Still I have to admit that I really like Kemp, who is also a couple of years younger than Cano.

11 monkeypants   ~  Nov 14, 2008 9:54 pm

OPS+ takes into account home ballpark, so Kemp's 109+ in Dodger Stadium *should* be comparable to Cano's in Yankee Stadium. Plus, Cano's career numbers have been much better on the road (.817 OPS) than at the Stadium (.788 OPS). So, he has not really benefitted from playing at YS.

All this is to say, you're right--Cano is probably a more valuable commodity than Kemp.

12 monkeypants   ~  Nov 14, 2008 9:58 pm


Is it too early to give up Cano? Probably. Is it *wayyy* too early? I'm not sure I agree with that assessment. His offensive numbers have declined three consecutive years and he's entering into his age 26 season. Yeah, maybe he gets better, but we may very well have seen the best of Cano already. And whatever he does, within a couple of years he will already begin to enter the years typically associated with decline phase.

13 JL25and3   ~  Nov 14, 2008 9:59 pm

Hudson's 2008 season ended with wrist surgery. That's a big warning flag to me.

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