Jerry Crasnick of ESPN chimes in with an article about the top position battles around baseball, and the Yankees have two spots on his list:
Johnny Damon, whose 118 OPS+ a year ago tied the best single-season mark of his career, will get the bulk of the left field at-bats, which leaves Xavier Nady and Nick Swisher in the mix in right and Melky Cabrera and Brett Gardner competing for time in center.
With the arrival of Mark Teixeira and expectations for a stronger season fromRobinson Cano, the Yankees should have enough offense that they can emphasize defense and speed in center field. GM Brian Cashman explored the trade market for Swisher and Nady with no success, so manager Joe Girardi will have to find a way to keep them both sharp and productive.
Hideki Matsui is in line for most of the DH at-bats, but Nady will see some time there against tough left-handers. And Teixeira will get periodic breaks at DH while Swisher fills in at first base.
BP’s Jay Jaffe gives a statistical reason for choosing Swisher and Gardner to win those battles:
As they attempt to rebound from their first non-playoff season since 1993, the Yankees’ biggest question mark looms in center field. After solid performances in ’06 and ’07, Melky Cabrera’s horrid 2008 (.249/.301/.341) threw the job up for grabs, and while Triple-A farmhand Brett Gardner didn’t clinch it, his .294/.333/.412 showing in 73 plate appearances after a mid-August recall may have given him a leg up. PECOTA doesn’t see either as a slam dunk, but favors Gardner’s blend of speed and OBP, forecasting a .253/.339/.351 showing with 32 steals (2.4 WARP), compared to Cabrera’s forecast of .267/.326/.376/ and 10 steals (1.8 WARP). Meanwhile, in right field, the system is more sanguine about offseason acquisition Nick Swisher’s ability to shake off a down year than it is about Xavier Nady living up to the career bests he set in all three triple-slash categories. It forecasts a .244/.353/.460 performance for Swisher, compared to .270/.323/.444 for Nady. A platoon arrangement limiting the latter to lefty-mashing would maximize the duo’s production.
Personally, I would prefer that the Yankees rotate their four corner outfielders and the winner of the center field job through the four available positions (CF, RF, LF, DH). That would give everybody about 130 games, assuming that nobody gets injured. This would allow the Yankees to keep all of these players healthy and productive. If Swisher does not bounce back, Nady or Damon regress, or Matsui gets hurt, they can always ditch the rotation scheme and go to a typical outfield alignment. Regardless, this seems like a good problem to have, as the Yankees are likely to always have one starting-caliber bat available on the bench.