Today, during the Nick Johnson conference call, Brian Cashman was asked about how he and the front office will address the Yankees’ current void in left field. He answered, “It won’t be a big-name situation, I can promise you that.” Thus, unless the Yankees are willing to utilize Brett Gardner on an everyday basis — personally, I have trouble believing that they are willing to do that — it appears as though Cashman could look for another trade or, as Tyler Kepner noted, instead, he could sift through “several lower-tier free agents.” Perhaps one of the “lower-tier free agents” the Yankees might turn to for outfield help is former Nat/Met/Brave, Ryan Church.
Church, 31, is an intriguing left-handed hitter. He hit .271/.348/.463 while with the Nationals from 2004 through 2007. Church collected only 35 home runs as a National, however, he seemed on the brink of at least a modest power outburst as he hit 43 doubles and 15 homers in 2007 (in cavernous RFK Stadium). During that time, his defense was good as a corner outfielder — in ’07, for instance, his UZR over 91 games in left field was 4.6 (UZR/150 of 7.3) — although he also played center field, as well (the defensive results weren’t as strong). Church, while not a superstar with Washington, was basically a solid ballplayer, with the potential to be better.
That, of course, changed once Church was traded to the Mets, as significant injuries — not the Mets themselves — doomed Church in 2008-2009. In 2008, Church suffered from a Grade 2 concussion in a spring training game against the Dodgers, yet rebounded from the injury as he went on to hit .316/.385/.469 in March/April, and then hit .299/.364/.612 throughout May. During that time, Church had hit 9 home runs and drove in 32 Mets. However, on May 20, Church suffered from another concussion, albeit a milder one, while sliding hard into second against Yunel Escobar and the Braves. After that, the season might as well have been over for the outfielder, as he visited the disabled list twice with post-concussion symptoms and played sporadically for the rest of the year, appearing in only 44 games after May. During those games, he failed to hit much of anything (for instance, he hit .219/.305/.307 in the second half).
Church could have rebounded in 2009, and he did in terms of games played (111), but his offense wasn’t where it once was, as he hit .280/.332/.375 with just 2 home runs over 67 games. However, Church seemed plagued by his new home, Citi Field, where he hit just .216/.297/.278 while with the Mets. On the road, the sun shined on Church, as the left-hander hit .326/.359/.444. The Mets ultimately traded the California native to division rival Atlanta, where, over 44 games, he hit a meager .260/.347/.402 with 2 home runs. More injuries seemed to derail his chances with his new team, though, as Church was bothered by back issues and elbow inflammation. The Braves, in an effort to save up for Troy Glaus this winter, non-tendered Church this month.
Church is now a free agent after earning $2.8 million in 2009. One wonders whether or not the Yankees could pursue him as there aren’t many inexpensive yet all-around productive outfielders available via free agency. There is obviously no guarantee that Church would be a productive offensive player, however, if the injuries are behind him, his left-handed bat could gain some pop in Yankee Stadium (he seems to pull most of his home runs). One detriment to that bat, though, is that it does struggle against southpaws. His career line against lefties is .248/.321/.380. Still, despite the splits, Church could probably provide league average offense in left while playing good defense, assuming that injuries haven’t taken away those abilities (which doesn’t appear to be the case as his UZR this season in right field was 8.4 and his UZR/150 was 19.4).
In the end, Church may not be pursued by the Yankees as there have been no reports linking the two parties, however, in my view, he could be a good addition in that he would fit their budget and has some unseen potential. The injuries are a concern, but when you look at the other options that are currently available to Brian Cashman and co., you could do worse than Ryan Church.
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