Please check out the Hippeaux's weekly posts at SNY affiliate, It's About The Money.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Meet the Crumbs

There are still some nice players inexplicably buried in the bargain bin: Orlando Hudson, Johnny Damon, Erik Bedard, Jermaine Dye, Kiko Calero, etc.  No doubt a number of teams are seriously considering such additions.  The Hot Stove news this week, however, has been mainly about bit players (with the exception of Ben Sheets), as teams look to add inexpensive depth to their major-league roster.

With the addition of Randy Winn, the Johnny Damon era in the Bronx is officially over, which is bad news for both parties.  Damon won't find a more ideal situation.  The ballpark in New York was tailormade for his swing and the two-hole in the Yankees lineup ranks among the poshest accommodations MLB has to offer, as it sits amidst three players whose combined net worth is over a billion dollars.  He'll turn over that luxury suite to Nick Johnson, Curtis Granderson, or Robinson Cano, but while all three players are admirable in their own right, none offers exactly the combination of speed, power, and discipline that made Damon such a perfect fit.  He could act an auxiliary leadoff hitter, an intelligent baserunner, who, though he speed is certainly declining, still went 12 for 12 in stolen base attempts in '09.  He was a great situational hitter, who could pick up a 2-out RBI, advance a runner, or try for extra bases.  And, most importantly, he wore pitchers down, seeing well over four pitches per plate appearance in each of his years as a Yankee.  I'll point especially to Game 2 of the ALDS against Minnesota this past October, when Damon went 0-4 with a walk, but made Twins pitcher throw him more than two dozen pitches (27, to be exact).  Damon is a foul-ball machine, a kind of RBI man's fluffer, who assured that Tex and A-Rod found an opposing pitcher who was already tired, frustrated, and desperate.

Which brings me to Randy Winn.  Randy Winn is, to some extent, Johnny Damon lite.  Like Damon, Winn is deep into his thirties (he'll turn 36 during the 2010 season), so his skills have declined noticeably.  But, also like Damon, he is a superb, conditioned athlete, who gets the most out of his aging body.  He's still got some speed (16 SB in '09), is an excellent baserunner, and an outstanding defender.  He doesn't have Damon's power, but he will contribute good at-bats and isn't reluctant to take a walk.  Randy Winn is a reliable, likable player, who will undoubtedly be a welcome addition to the Yankee clubhouse.

And that's the crucial point about this addition.  Randy Winn will accept whatever role Girardi gives him, both because that's the kind of player he is and because he's been in the league for a dozen years and has yet to reach the postseason.  I expect he'll only start a game or two a week, primarily against left-handed pitchers, but Nick Swisher will very rarely be in right field late in games that the Yankees have the lead.  With Winn running alongside Granderson and Gardner, New York will boast a very good defensive outfield (which seems to be the prevailing theme of this offseason).

Almost simultaneous with the Winn signing, another former Yankee, Xavier Nady, was also contracted to be a fourth outfielder, for the Cubs.  It's an extremely low-risk signing, as even if Nady reaches all his incentives (cross your fingers, Cubs fans), he will only make about $5 Million.  Nady has a chance to be next year's version of Bobby Abreu.  Although he's hardly as proven as Abreu, he is also a player with a good track record and potentially All-Star skills, who's been forced to sign a contract for below his expected market value.  Nady missed all of 2009 following Tommy John surgery, but in 2008 he hit .305 with 25 HR and 97 RBI in a season split between Pittsburgh and New York.

Unfortunately, Nady can't play centerfield, he's right-handed, and a free-swinger, and in each of those characteristics he resembles commodities the Cubs already have a lot of.  But when a guy with a lot of upside comes this cheap, it's worth taking a shot.

I feel the same way about what was the quietest and may turn out to be one of the best signings of this offseason, the Cubs acquisition of Chad Tracy.  Tracy doesn't have a natural place to play in Chicago, as Aramis Ramirez and Derrek Lee hold down the corner infield spots and, as mentioned above, there have an abundance of corner outfield options.  That said, Tracy gives the Cubs a decent insurance plan and could be a potent left-handed pinch hitter.  It's been an extended rough stretch for Tracy, as he hasn't gotten 300 AB since 2006.  He's been slowed by injuries and fell behind guys like Mark Reynolds and Conor Jackson on Arizona's depth chart.  But Tracy is still in his twenties and has significant power (he hit 27 HR in '05).      

No comments: