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Observations From Cooperstown: The Old Guard, Chavez, and Stone Gloves

Posted By Bruce Markusen On May 6, 2011 @ 10:37 am In 1: Featured,2010s,21st Century,Baseball,Bronx Banter,Bruce Markusen,Minor Leagues,News of the Day,Observations From Cooperstown,Staff,Yankees | Comments Disabled

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So just how long should the Yankees wait before making some kind of move with Derek Jeter and/or Jorge Posada? While it’s become fashionable to proclaim both players as fully cooked and ready to begin their five-year waits for Hall of Fame consideration, those calls convey ignorance and a lack of knowledge about the Yankee organization. First off, it’s foolish to make full judgments based on the first month of the season. The same people that always cry out “sample size” conveniently forget about the principle when it involves players they don’t like. Jeter has been so reviled by some in the Sabermetric community that they’re ready to drop the guillotine at a moment’s notice.

His critics will quickly add that Jeter’s poor performance is a continuation of his 2010 finish, but his overall 2010 numbers were hardly as bad as what he’s done early in 2011. On the whole, Jeter was a passable player in 2010. So let’s give it more than a month before we proclaim a death knell. I would suggest the Yankees give Jeter at least until the end of May, if not until the middle of June, before they drop him to a lower spot in the batting order. And if his lack of hitting continues beyond that, let’s say into July, then it would certainly be fair for the Yankees to consider removing him entirely from the starting lineup.

There is another reason to have patience. Who exactly is ready to step in to become the starting shortstop? Bucky Dent and Tony Kubek are not available. Eduardo Nunez’ throwing problems make it clear that he’s not ready NOW; he might be later this season, he might be in 2012, but he’s clearly not ready at the present time. Ramiro Pena, starting at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes Barre, is an excellent defensive shortstop but isn’t likely to represent any improvement over Jeter’s current hitting. Are Yankee fans really ready to wade through a bottom-third of the lineup that has both Pena and Brett Gardner? I know I’m not.

Then there’s the case of Posada, who’s coming off a respectable season in 2010. Would it be smart to give up on Posada so quickly, especially when he’s at least shown significant power over the first 30 games? I don’t think so. I would suggest a similar timetable with Posada. If he’s still struggling badly at the end of May, it would be fair to consider a platoon with another player, perhaps Andruw Jones. And if Posada is still struggling into July, and the Yankees are in danger of falling out of contention, then yes, it might be the right time for a total replacement.

In the case of Posada, the Yankees DO have tangible replacement options. Jones is one; the other is super prospect Jesus Montero, who is close to being ready to hit in the major leagues, if not handle regular catching duties. (Montero is finally drawing a few walks and has his batting average up to .372.) Montero could be just what an aging offense needs, particularly if Jeter’s punchless hitting continues. The problem with demoting Posada is what to do with him? Teams do not need backup DH’s who cannot play the field and cannot run the bases. Unless the Yankees change their mind about using Posada as a backup catcher, he could become a roster albatross by the middle of the summer.

It’s certainly possible that Posada and Jeter, who’s been nicknamed “Captain Groundout” by Rob Neyer, might be done as useful players. It’s just too early in a long season to draw that conclusion once and for all. So let’s give it a little more time before we make them walk the plank…

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Perhaps it was just a matter of time before Eric Chavez returned to the disabled list, ala the brittle Nick Johnson in 2010. But it is strange the way that he broke a bone in his foot while running the bases on Thursday afternoon. Chavez did not step awkwardly on the second base bag. He didn’t trip, or even stumble. He did not collide with another player. And yet, he still suffered a small fracture in his left foot, one that figures to put him on the shelf for at least two weeks, if not longer. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a player break his foot while simply running out an extra-base hit.

Thankfully, the Yankees can call on the kind of superior depth at Scranton that I’ve been harping about all spring long. Jorge Vazquez, off to a roaring start at Triple-A, deserves a promotion to the Bronx ahead of Pena, who just cannot hit, and prospect Brandon Laird, who needs to play every day. Vazquez doesn’t have Chavez’ defensive skills, but he can play the same two positions (third base and first base) and has legitimate power, good for nine home runs in 110 at-bats for Scranton. In the short term, I could see Vazquez having the same kind of impact that Shelley Duncan did as a mid-season call-up in 2007. (By the way, has anyone noticed that “Slam” Duncan is doing his part for the upstart Indians, slugging .500 in a part-time role?) The first time around, at least until opposing pitchers discover his weaknesses, Vazquez could give the Yankees the same kind of bench boost that Chavez had supplied over the first month.

And I’ll be rooting for him. A ten-year veteran of the Mexican League, Vazquez is 28 and has never appeared in a major league game. I hope that latter fact will change shortly, perhaps as soon as this weekend in Texas…

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Over at The Hardball Times, I’ve written a piece about the worst defensive players at each position dating back to the 1950s. A number of ex-Yankees made the list, including Cliff Johnson (at catcher), Jason Giambi (at first base), Curt Blefary (as a utility man), and Tommy John (at pitcher). Other players, like Jim Ray Hart and Dave Kingman, played only briefly for the Bombers after establishing their defensive ineptitude elsewhere.

So who’s the worst Yankee defensive player you’ve ever seen? Does anyone in the group go back to the days of Hector Lopez? How about Rich McKinney, who once made four errors in a game at third base? Or does one of the current Yankees deserve consideration?

Bruce Markusen, who lives in Cooperstown, loves the new look of Bronx Banter Blog.


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