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Pinch hitting: Barry Millman

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Lucky timing on this one. One day after Rafael Soriano agreed to a two-year deal with the Nationals, Barry Millman presents his list of the five best non-moves made by Brian Cashman this winter.

Barry is a native New Yorker who seldom misses a Yankees game. He’s also former newspaper reporter and community relations professional who in June celebrated 20 years of what he calls a “mixed marriage” to a Red Sox fan. Barry currently works as a political research consultant, and he’s counting the days until his annual “pinstripe pilgrimage” to spring training.

[2]It’s been a quiet winter for the Yankees, and a discontented one for fans of a blank-check improvement program who feel the team is forsaking desirable free agents and its traditional win-now philosophy in the name of austerity. However, history has shown the best moves are often the ones not made, and chalking off every lost free agent Brian Cashman didn’t chase to the boogie man of Hal Steinbrenner’s 2014 payroll target is overly simplistic and short-sighted. There’s a case to be made for every one of his non-moves that goes beyond the money.

1) Josh Hamilton

Case for the move: Buy Hamilton’s bat, put it in the Bronx bandbox in place of Granderson’s and watch the scoreboard explode from the power surge and increased offensive production.

Case for the non-move: Aside from the steamer trunk-sized personal baggage Josh carries with him, proponents of this move generally overlook the inconvenient truths that Rangers Ballpark is an even bigger launching pad for home runs and extra base hits than the Stadium — and even with that home field slugging advantage, Josh’s actual production has markedly lagged behind Curtis’s, as evidenced by a side-by-side comparison of their last six seasons:

Granderson: 183 HR, 503 RBI, 639 R, (1142 total runs), 27.0 WAR
Postseason: 131 AB .229 BA, .791 OPS

Hamilton: 161 HR, 553 RBI, 471 R, (1024 total runs) 23.2 WAR
Postseason: 132 AB, .227 BA, .720 OPS

Of course, Curtis managed to show up for at least 135 games every one of those six seasons while Josh only managed that feat once, so Curtis’s superior production is due in no small part to Josh’s habitual inability to stay on the field. However, that’s a reality that can’t be ignored. Josh wasn’t simply too expensive for the Yankees — though he was — and Curtis’s contract didn’t simply make more sense simply because it expires at the end of 2013 — though it does — Josh simply would’ve provided less bang for way more bucks.

2) Russell Martin

Case for the move: A proven bird in the hand beats three unproven ones battling for the chance to fly.

Case for the non-move: Few fans were back-slapping Brian when he plucked Russell off the non-tender discard pile two years ago and, somewhat ironically, fewer still are patting Brian on the back now that he let him walk. Russell turned out to be a more than adequate fit in the team’s long-term plan to begin integrating the next crop of homegrown backstops into the roster, however, his insistence on a two-year deal to return in that role didn’t fit nearly as well. Austin Romine may start the season in Scranton, but the team has made it clear Romine likely won’t end it there and will be the front-runner for the starting role in 2014. In the interim, with nearly a month of shopping days remaining before spring training, it’s hard to imagine Brian won’t once again fill Joe Girardi”s standing order for a seasoned hand with some pop behind the plate and pluck yet another unheralded, undervalued veteran catcher from the discard pile who, like Russell, will be more than adequate. (Cough cough Shoppach cough.)

3) A.J. Pierzynski

Case for the move: After a two-year hangover in the aftermath of the Posada Party, it would be great to have a catcher who can bat over .211 and belt 27 home runs in 2013.

Case for the non-move: Of course it would. But hitting so many dingers after a then-career high of just 18 seven years ago — followed by declining seasons of 16, 14, 13, 13, 9 and then 8 — is probably a pretty good indicator Pierzynski won’t match last season’s output. It may also be an indicator of something fishy that could explain why only one team made him an offer (and only a one-year deal at that) despite his durability and newfound power. As for improving on Russell’s 2012 batting average, it would be hard to find a catcher who won’t.

[3]4) Rafael Soriano

Case for the move: Soriano had a Mo-sized year in the saves column and post-injury Mo is a question mark, so out with Mariano and in with Soriano.

Case for the non-move: While Soriano’s 42 saves were impressive, many of them bore an uncomfortable similarity to D-Rob’s sometimes frightening Houdini act: losing the plate, putting tying and winning runners on, giving the other team hope; seldom 1-2-3. Nobody in Yankee Universe ever felt like the game was over when Soriano was handed the ball; a stark contrast to Mo’s appearances where you can actually see despair in the eyes of batters shuffling uncomfortably to the box — and the difference isn’t just in the eye test but in the numbers. Over the last five years, Soriano had just one sub-2.00 ERA season while Mo has only had one over 2.00. Mo also out-WHIPped Soriano, who had four 1.00-plus seasons in that same span compared to exactly none for Mo. The verdict: In the people’s case of Mariano vs. Soriano, if the former’s repaired knee is able to carry him to a mound and throw from it, it’s the latter who doesn’t have a leg to stand on.

5) Nick Swisher

Case for the move: Sure he disappears every year in the playoffs and his defense is sketchy, but it’s going to be hard to replace his on-base percentage, power and knack for hitting with RISP.

Case for the non-move: OBP is a neat stat, but its value is somewhat diminished when the stat’s owner can barely outrun the ump to the next bag and his team is committed to transitioning toward a more aggressive run-manufacturing offense (five stolen bases in four years by an outfielder? Russell swiped more than that in 2012 alone!); and defense looms larger to a team looking to improve on a 22-25 record in one-run games last year. Nick’s power and talent for hitting with runners on base will be missed to be sure, and the team is actively hunting for another outfield/DH bat with pop to help make up some of the loss. It’s worth noting, however, that Nick hit 11 HR in 265 AB at the Stadium this year, and his replacement Ichiro Suzuki had 5 HR in 130 AB; so at home at least, Ichy could conceivably approach if not match Nick’s power numbers himself.

Perhaps the best and most overlooked reason of all for not re-signing him, though, was the second half of the four-year deal he wanted. With a strong crop of outfield prospects expected to land in the show in two years — and Brett Gardner and Ichy both slated to become free agents at the end of 2014 — Nick would have posed an uncomfortable and likely declining roadblock. After all, it’s not just about saving money next year, and it’s not just about winning now. It’s about investing in a future that’s as committed to winning now as it ever was — though winning now too would be awesome.

Did I mention he disappears in the playoffs?

Associated Press photos