Options in left field

The Yankees traded Melky Cabrera for Javier Vazquez, and in so doing addressed their one glaring weakness: a 4th starting pitcher. The move meant the team was parting ways with a home-grown, fan-favorite, but the trade has been described as a slam dunk. Vazquez doesn’t need to be a rotation leader for the Yankees, only a back of the rotation guy who can give them the league average in performance and eat some innings. He’s better than that.

The only problem is that the team traded away its main option in left field. I’ve hypothesized that this trade was a gift to Johnny Damon, but its being reported he still wants more than the team (or any team) is willing to pay. Has the Brett Gardner era begun?

Many Yankee fans just screamed “god no!” at the computer screen. Are they right? Gardner was a blank slate, even last year. He appeared in 108 games, but only had 284 plate appearances. He lost his starting job to Melky early in the season.

Most Yankee fans are familiar with Gardner’s positives. He’ll provide excellent left field defense, at a position where his weaker-than-Melky’s throwing arm won’t be a factor. He is described as one of the fastest players in baseball and was 26/31 in steals last season. Most importantly, he had an OBP of .345, a better mark than Melky’s. Factoring his steals into his total bases bumps his slugging up to .484.

The negatives? Gardner has zero power and relies on steals to get extra bases. If he reverts back to his 2008 sub .300 OBP then the Yankees will trot out a gaping hole in their lineup.

Cashman is reportedly not looking to make any splashy moves, and I’m shocked, shocked to find gambling going on in this establishment. Cashman has made that song and dance before, as recently as this offseason. The Yankee brass have become pros at playing it close to the chest. Right now, I find it hard to believe that Gardner is going to be our starter in left.

The team may be considering the following players, in no particular order:

Mark DeRosa: The rumor mill says the Yanks are giving him a serious look, but also that the Giants just offered him $12 million. Frankly, at these prices I prefer Gardner. DeRosa’s has a similar BA and OBP to Gardner and only a .424 slugging.

Xavier Nady: Nady is a better career hitter than Gardner or DeRosa. Coming off a season lost to injury he may also be available on the cheap. His 1/2 season in New York wasn’t spectacular, but for a 9-hole batter is was pretty good. If the team feels his arm is up to the task and Nady wants to sign for a small amount it may be worth rolling the dice.

Things begin to get choppy after those two. River Avenue Blues is reporting Marlon Byrd may be an option. Byrd’s durability is a genuine concern, but he may be a solid option to platoon with Brett if the Yankees are willing to spend a few million.

We know the other marquis free agents: Jason Bay, Matt Holliday and Johnny Damon. The Yankees claim they have no interest in Bay and Holiday, and we know that Damon has lost his mind, but we can’t count them out of last minute splurges.

Holliday would be the mind-blowing option. Brian Cashman wouldn’t be so much signing a left fielder as the 2010 and 2011 Championships. Isn’t that worth it? I say yes, but team executives may not agree.

The team is reported to be shopping Sergio Mitre and Chad Gaudin. Could either land a more palatable left field option than Gardner? Regardless, the Yankees are in the enviable position of having kept nearly the entire 2009 team, having upgraded in the offseason, and having until spring training to fill one roster spot. Merry Christmas Bomber faithful.

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