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Observations From Cooperstown–Trade Rumors, The Bench, Duncan, and HOF Elections

Posted By Bruce Markusen On January 10, 2009 @ 5:46 pm In Bronx Banter,Bruce Markusen,Hall of Fame,Trade Rumors | Comments Disabled

In the wake of the Mark Teixeira signing (and press conference), the Yankees have made both Xavier Nady and Nick Swisher available in trade talks. They may end up dealing one of the two, depending on which one can bring the better package in return. I’m still not convinced that’s the right thing to do, unless the return equates to a competent center fielder or a high-grade backup catcher. But there’s no harm in at least exploring the market, which includes teams like the Mariners, Reds, and Giants, and possibly the Dodgers if they don’t re-sign Manny Ramirez. The Reds appear to be one of the most interested parties, but they may not have the right parts to offer. They have no spare center fielders of any real value, and only a moderately tempting backup catcher in Ryan Hanigan. Perhaps the Yankees would have interest in Homer Bailey, who was once rumored to be heading to the White Sox for Jermaine Dye. At one time hailed as the game’s best pitching prospect, Bailey has fallen on hard times in the major leagues and may not have the stuff to succeed as a high-end starter. All in all, he’s a risky proposition who looks too much like the next Charles Hudson to me.

The Giants might be a better match. They can offer either Aaron Rowand or Randy Winn in a deal for Swisher or Nady. At one time, Rowand was a Gold Glove caliber center fielder, but followers of the Giants say his defensive play fell off considerably in 2008. And Winn isn’t really an everyday center fielder, but rather a corner outfielder who can play the middle for short stretches. Unless the Giants can pad their offer to include a pitcher or a catcher, I might have to take a pass on a potential trade with Frisco.

Then there are the Mariners, who need offense in the worst way. They’d prefer Hideki Matsui to either Swisher or Nady, largely because of the Japanese marketing possibilities. But who would the Mariners offer in return for “Godzilla?” They have an unwanted catcher in Kenji Johjima, who was simply dreadful in 2008. They have a shopworn pitcher in Erik Bedard, but his health, attitude, and general contempt of the media would be a bad fit in New York. Once again, the potential return in a trade looks so questionable that Brian Cashman should be very careful before he commits himself to dealing one of his extra outfielder/DH types…

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When it comes to filling out a lineup with star players, Cashman has generally done well as the Yankees’ general manager over the past decade. As for the bench, well, that’s another story. Either Cashman doesn’t know how to assemble a bench, or just doesn’t think it’s that important, take your pick. Or perhaps it’s a combination of the two. Whatever the case, the Yankees’ lack of bench strength finally caught up with them in 2008. Without suitable support for an injured Matsui and Jorge Posada, and no one to replace a slumping Melky Cabrera, the Yankees’ offensive production fell off badly, contributing to a third-place finish in the American League East.

The Yankees’ bench has become topical this week because of two minor league signings orchestrated by Cashman. One could help the Yankees; the other will not, at least based on recent history. Let’s begin with the bad, which refers to the signing of former Royals and Dodgers shortstop Angel Berroa. The Yankees say that Berroa will come to spring training as a non-roster invite and will have a chance to compete with Cody Ransom for the utility infield spot. Unfortunately, Berroa can’t play. The onetime Rookie of the Year hasn’t had a good year since he was actually a rookie in 2003, when he set career highs in just about every category. He has flat-lined since—his power has disappeared, he doesn’t walk, and he no longer steals bases. He’s OK defensively, though generally overrated. And he has little experience as an actual utilityman, having played only six games at second base and one game at third base. Such qualifications do not add up to a quality utility infielder, only the second coming of Enrique Wilson. And we don’t need that.

On the plus side, Cashman did make a wise signing in bringing back former Yankee farmhand John Rodriguez on a minor league contract. Rodriguez was a productive outfielder for the Cardinals in 2005 and 2006, before strangely getting buried in the minor leagues the last two seasons. Rodriguez is a left-handed hitting outfielder who features a disciplined eye (a .378 career on-base percentage), a modicum of power, and the ability to play the corners. If the Yankees do end up trading one of their excess outfielders, Rodriguez stands a decent shot at cracking the 25-man roster…

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Shelley “Slam” Duncan almost certainly won’t be part of the Yankees’ bench this year, having been designated for assignment to make room on the 40-man roster for Teixeira. Assuming he ends up being traded or released, I’ll miss Duncan’s enthusiasm, which gave the Yankees a second-half boost in 2007. Duncan can help someone as a bench player, a part-time first baseman/outfielder who can take his hacks against mediocre left-handed pitching. He’s a poor man’s Dave Kingman, and with 30 teams looking to fill out rosters, there should be room somewhere for a player like that. He could help the Mets, Phillies, Giants, and Mariners, just to name a few teams that come to mind.

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With the Hall of Fame election coming up on Monday, we know that another former Yankee—Rickey Henderson—will be joining Joe Gordon as part of the Class of 2009. The only suspense regarding Henderson will be his final percentage. Will he gain upward of 95 per cent of the vote, or will a few additional voters hold against him his occasionally lazy play and the troubles he caused some managers along the way? A far more interesting question involves the candidacy of Jim Rice. Ever since Rice picked up 72 per cent of the vote last January, the general consensus has placed him in Cooperstown this year. Well, maybe not. One Hall of Fame official told me this week that Rice won’t be receiving the 75 per cent needed for election. I’m not convinced of that, but I think the vote will be perilously close, with Rice barely sneaking in at about 76 or 77 per cent of the vote. And then there is Andre Dawson, who seems to be gaining steam among the electorate. A different Hall of Fame official thinks that “The Hawk,” who was named on 65 per cent of last year’s ballot, will come close to the 75 per cent barrier. I still think Dawson has only an outside shot at election on Monday, but a severe jump in voting support could bode very well for him in 2010.

Bruce Markusen is scheduled to be in Cooperstown for Monday’s Hall of Fame election. Never mind that the results will actually be announced in New York City.


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