"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice
Tag: Randy Winn

The Kid From Left Field

Randy Winn has been DFA’d as Curtis Granderson rejoins the team. It was for the best. Seems like a nice guy, like he’s cousins with Bernie Williams or something, but he couldn’t catch up with a good fastball. It was time to go.

On a more somber note, Gary Coleman passed away today. He was 42.

I was a huge fan of Diff’rent Strokes when I was growing up. Coleman was a major comic influence, right up there with JJ from Good Times. Reggie was a guest star on Diff’rent Strokes and so was Ali, who helped Arnold deal with a bully named the Gooch. Along with Steve Martin’s “Wild and Crazy Guy” bit, “Whatchu talkin’ ’bout Willis?” was a seminal catch phrase, the can’t-miss-sure-to-make-you-laugh-schtick. The rasberry. The verbal banana peel. He delivered it well.

My sister and brother loved it, kids at school loved it. The beauty part was that we waited all week for him to say it and so did he. My favorite part was how Coleman sometimes looked like he was going to break character and crack up, because it was that funny. Just like they used to crack up on the Carol Burnett  Show.

I visited my grandparents in Belgium for the summer when I was twelve. Summer of ’83. I was starved for the English language. They had Happy Days and Starsky and Hutch on TV but they were dubbed into French. Fortunately, a Belgian TV station played what they called  Arnold in English with Flemish subtitles. It was life-saving.

Colman was like Spanky McFarland from the Our Gang comedies–irrepressibly great when he was young. Completely charming. Effortless.

As they got older, the freshness wore off and they weren’t as natural or cute. They became self-aware, polished. The downside of child acting–washed-up at fourteen. Still, Coleman hit the high notes plenty of times and set the bar for child stars in the Eighties. Few of them could touch Coleman at his best.


Spilt Lemonade

There are hot summer days when a ballgame is a familiar companion, an occasion for a cool drink, a light snack, and an excuse to get off your feet and out of the heat for a while and do a whole lot of nothing. There are other days when the game slowly turns into a blackhole, adding to the oppressiveness of the temperature, ticking by minutes like hours, and leaving you exhausted and bitter about having failed to pull yourself away and done something constructive or even enjoyable with your day.

Saturday’s afternoon tilt between the White Sox and Yankees was the latter. On one of the first genuinely hot days of the year, the Yanks and Sox milled about on the field for nearly four hours, working the opposition for a total of 374 pitches, drawing 11 walks, stranding 15 runners on base, and ultimately leaving the home crowd deeply unsatisfied by the entire experience.

Javy Vazquez was again ineffective. The damage was slight early on. In the second, the Sox loaded the bases with no outs on an infield single and a pair of walks, but Vazquez escaped with just one run scoring thanks in part to being able to face Juan Pierre (who popped out on the first pitch) and Omar Vizquel (who plated the one run via a sac fly) and in part to A.J. Pierzynski getting caught off second when Mark Teixeira cut Curtis Granderson’s throw home on Vizquel’s sac fly. The White Sox also scored a lone run in the first and third innings, both times on a solo homer by Andruw Jones, who owns Vazquez (.392/.446/.824 with five homers in 56 plate appearances entering the game). The Yanks scratched out a run against Jon Danks in the third following a leadoff single by Brett Gardner to close the gap to 3-1, but Vazquez failed to get an out in the fourth.

After an infield single by A.J. Pierzynski, Vazquez gave up a long home run to Mark Kotsay, of all people, then walked the scuffling and typically impatient Pierre on four pitches before giving up a single on an 0-2 count to Vizquel. That single, with none out in the fourth, came on Vazquez’s 83rd pitch. Just 55 percent of those pitches were strikes, the walk to Pierre was the fourth he had issued, and the homer by Kotsay was the third he had allowed. YES didn’t put up it’s radar gun readings until the third inning, and then recorded Vazquez striking out Gordon Beckham on a 91 mile-per-hour fastball, but most of Vazquez’s fastballs were in the high 80s, and there was no bite on his breaking stuff. In other words, he was no better and probably a bit worse than he had been in his first four starts.

If Vazquez’s struggles weren’t mental to begin with, they likely are now. Despite his poor performance, the entire infield came to the mound to reassure him when Joe Girardi came to take him out of the game with two runs in, two men on, and none out in the fourth. Girardi seemed like he was trying to say something positive to Vazquez as well when he got to the mound, but Javy just handed him the ball and pushed past him (though he didn’t display any obvious anger and did stay in the dugout to watch Sergio Mitre strand both inherited runners).

Attempting to make lemonade out of the lemons Vazquez handed them, the Yankees scratched out another run against Danks in the fifth, albeit barely as Alex Rodriguez beat out a would-be double play with one out and bases loaded by mere inches, thanks in part to a hard, clean slide by Mark Teixeira at second. Though they didn’t cash in a big inning there, the Yankees did work Danks over thoroughly, sending him to the showers after that inning having thrown 118 pitches. They then jumped all over righty reliever Scott Linebrink in the sixth with one-out singles by Marcus Thames, Granderson, and Gardner, and RBI groundout by Derek Jeter, and a two-run home run by Nick Swisher, who seemed elated to get a big hit in his home park.

Swisher’s hit gave the Yankees a 6-5 lead, erasing Vazquez’s poor start, but even amid that rally there were more lemons, as Curtis Granderson pulled up lame rounding second on Gardner’s single and left the game with a Grade 2 strain of his left groin that has since landed him on the 15-day disabled list. Damaso Marte then came in and knocked over the glass of lemonade, relieving David Robertson to face the lefty Pierzynski with two out and men on first and second. Pierzynski launched Marte’s 1-0 offering deep into the left field gap, scoring both runners and giving the Sox a 7-6 lead that Linebrink, lefty Randy Williams, J.J. Putz, and Bobby Jenks cashed in for the win.


Yankee Panky: Can’t Winn For Losing

Last week’s signing of Randy Winn was met with a thud the likes we haven’t heard since the Road Runner was leading Wile E. Coyote off of cliff after cliff. The reaction appeared to have little to do with the clusterf— that proved to be the back-and-forth hearsay between Brian Cashman and Scott Boras regarding Johnny Damon. No, it was more that the Yankees actually committed a seven-figure dollar amount to, well, Randy Winn, and didn’t loosen the waistband for the once Unfrozen Caveman Outfielder.

Some of us are still trying to wrap our brains around the pretzel logic that led to the release of a soon-to-be 36-year-old who, despite his defensive foibles, has a stroke tailor made for the New Yankee Stadium and is a perfect fit for the Yankee lineup, only to sign a soon-to-be 36-year-old who is, um, Randy Winn.

There was a great deal of rancor in the Yankeeland Blogosphere in the days following the Winn deal. Over at the Yankeeist, Larry Koestler, a friend to the Banter (well, this Banterer, anyway) likens the Winn acquisition to that of Tony Womack:

Randy Winn…may have at one time been a reasonable ballplayer, but that was back when Honus Wagner was suiting up for the Buccos. I know he’s coming aboard as the fourth outfielder/platoonmate, but sweet Jesus we’d have been better off flushing the money directly down the toilet. It would’ve taken what — an extra $3-$4 million to get Damon back into the fold? We couldn’t do that, but we could spend a third of the presumed cost of Damon on an absolute and utter complete waste of space like Winn? Better to have let Gardner at least try to hold the position down — I’m not even much of a Gardner fan but I’d still rather Grit in there every day than waste any at-bats on the second coming of Wilson Betemit.

Honestly, Brian Cashman knows better than this. Signing Randy Winn and his sub-.700 OPS in 2009 for any amount is craziness. It doesn’t make any sense nor fit with the Yankees’ work-the-pitcher, high-OBP MO.

Oh, but it gets better. The New Stadium Insider notes that Winn was the last straw in pushing a certain 2009 season ticket holder to the point of canceling his plans to upgrade in 2k10.

Backtracking a bit to Koestler’s item, it’s important to note that earlier in the piece, he shows startling similarities between Winn’s weighted on-base average over the past four seasons, and Womack’s during the last four years of his career. Combining Winn and Brett Gardner, you basically have the same skill set (.325 OBP, .700 OPS, etc.). In other words, two people providing replacement-level numbers. Not good if you’re banking on Curtis Granderson summoning his 2007 self and Nick Swisher repeating his regular-season production of last year.

Maybe left-field should be considered an afterthought. Consider that when the Yankees went on their dynastic tear in the late 1990s and early part of the oughts, left field featured the All-Star cast of Gerald Williams, Tim Raines, Darryl Strawberry, Chad Curtis, Ricky Ledee, Shane Spencer, Ryan Thompson, Chuck Knoblauch, Rondell White, and Juan Rivera. The Yankees made six World Series trips in eight years with that motley crew because the other eight members of the lineup were able to make up for whatever deficiencies existed by the 399 sign. This Yankee team is good, but is it good enough to overcome left field, the unknowns of Granderson and Swisher, and despite their productivity, the ever-increasing age of Jorge Posada, Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter?

Perhaps a more apt comparison to this year’s left field situation is the right field situation of 2002, when a noncommittal Joe Torre rolled out a combination of Spencer and the inimitable John Vander Wal on a platoon basis. Spencer, despite his desire to be an everyday player, never recaptured the bottled lightning of September 1998. At least, he never came close enough to putting up numbers worthy enough to merit his everyday presence in the lineup. Vander Wal eventually regressed into what he always was: a pinch hitter. The two of them gave way to Enrique Wilson playing right field against the Mets. Wilson misplayed a couple of balls so badly that within days, the Yankees traded for the ball player formerly known as Raul Mondesi.

If history repeats itself this year, Ramiro Peña will have to make an emergency start in left and bungle it so badly that in a fit of panic, Cash will trade for Milton Bradley by the Fourth of July.

This is all figuring, of course, that Granderson is playing center field and not left. Certain pundits on certain afternoon drive radio shows have already put Granderson in left, and have said that Winn was not a terrible signing, Nick Johnson was an upgrade and a solid No. 2 hitter, and Gardner is not a terrible player, either.

We’ll find out soon enough, right?

Just Don’t Call Them Winnie and Goose

One reason I’ve been rather silent of late is that there’s been jack all going on with the Yankees. The debate over left field never really moved me. To me it was obvious: put Granderson in left, Gardner in center, and enjoy the big defensive upgrade without losing anything on offense versus Damon and Melky. Still, with Johnny Damon still unsigned and Curtis Granderson well known for his struggles against left-handed pitching, there was grist for the mill. That ended yesterday, when the Yankees signed Randy Winn to a one-year deal for the $2 million that they had previously stated was all that remained of their budget for the 2010 season. Winn’s intended role on the 2010 Yankees will be a veteran bench bat, insurance against Gardner struggling, and a possible righty-swinging caddy for Granderson provided Winn can bounce back from what Jay Jaffe reported on twitter was the worst single season righty-vs-lefty split on record (.158/.184/.200 in 125 plate appearances).

Winn will be 36 in June, which doesn’t bode well for a big rebound, but on his career the switch-hitting Winn’s splits are very close to even, so some correction seems a given. Jaffe also posted Winn’s PECOTA projection from the upcoming Baseball Prospectus 2010, which is a mildly more encouraging .270/.333/.380 (.252 EqA). Does that line look familiar to you? Here’s a hint: the departed switch-hitting member of the 2009 Yankees’ starting outfield has a career .269/.331/.385 line.

That’s right, Randy Winn is Melky Cabrera, just a decade older and on the wrong side of his production curve. Melky is the better defensive center fielder and has a much stronger arm (Winn will evoke plenty of Johnny Damon references when he flings the ball back to the infield with that wet noodle hanging off his right shoulder), however Winn is better basestealer (over the last four years Melky had 44 steals at 76 percent, Winn had 66 at 81 percent), and is a much better defensive corner outfielder (save for the arm, of course). For what it’s worth, the Braves will pay Melky $3.1 million for the 2010 season having settled prior to arbitration.

So Winn is a veteran with range in the corners, speed on the bases, and something between average and replacement-level production at the plate? Sounds like a fourth outfielder to me. If not for his age, I’d say Winn has a bit more upside than that. He can play center passably, and on his career has been a near perfect league-average hitter (.286/.344/.418, 99 OPS+, .267 EqA). If he has a bit of a dead-cat bounce in the Bronx, he’ll go from being a typical bench player to something of an asset. Then again, if he doesn’t and Gardner struggles or an injury hits the outfield, the Yankees will have to start scrambling for Plan C, which might not be lefty-hitting Rule 5 pick Jamie Hoffmann if Winn takes his spot on the 25-man roster.

To recap: *shrug*, as long as he doesn’t start too often . . .

In other outfield news, the Yankees traded minor league infielder Mitchell Hilligoss to the Rangers for former Phillies center-field prospect Greg Golson, who had been designated for assignment. Hilligoss was an appropriate token player for a DFA trade, a college shortstop taken in the third-round in 2006 who quickly moved to third, failed to hit in High-A each of the last two years, will be 25 in June, and played more first base than short or third in 2009.

Golson is now on the 40-man roster, but has options remaining. Former Rangers scout Frank Piliere described Golson as a tremendous athlete with elite speed, a strong arm, good range afield, and solid character, but something of a mess at the plate. Golson’s minor league stats back that up. Drafted out of an Austin, Texas high school with the 21st overall pick in 2004, Golson has swiped 140 bases at 79 percent in 5 1/2 pro seasons and shown a bit of pop, topping out at 15 homers between High-A and Double-A at age 21, but his swing and plate discipline are a disaster. He has struck out 737 times in 634 minor league games against just 148 unintentional walks, a K/BB ratio of nearly 5:1.

Golson is still just 24 and has a small taste of the majors and a year of Triple-A under his belt, so there’s some hope that if the Yankees can fix his approach at the plate, his athleticism could yield immediate results. That’s a huge “if,” but it seems worth the 40-man spot at least for a few months to find out if he can be fixed, particularly given that he is a righty-hitting center fielder. He’s certainly an upgrade on Freddy Guzman, though that’s an absurdly low standard.

With Winn, Golson, and Hoffmann behind intended starters Granderson, Swisher, and Gardner, the Yankees now have six outfielders on their 40-man roster. They’re done save for an non-roster offer to a righty outfield bat (with ex-Rays Rocco Baldelli and Jonny Gomes and ex-Yank Marcus Thames among the names being tossed around). Barring injury, Gardner will start, Winn will start the season on the bench, and Golson will start in Austin Jackson’s place in Scranton. All that remains is for the team to make a decision on keeping Hoffmann, which if they do bring in an experienced righty NRI, they likely won’t.

Pitchers and catchers report three weeks from today.

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver