Monday, July 31, 2006

Week in Review and Abreu, Too

Record on the Week: 5-1 (34 RA, 37 RS)

Overall: (61-41, 1/2 game behind the Red Sox)

Player of the Week: Anytime someone hits .481/.481/.815, they're Player of the Week. That was the Captain this week, also leading the team with 7 RBI and 6 runs scored. The Yanks had lots of good performances on the week, including Johny Damon (only 4 games played, but .412/.444/.824) Aaron Guiel, (.308/.57/.46) and Bernie Williams (308/.471/.538). The latter two guys are going to lose latying time, as you'll read below.

On the pitching side, Chien Ming Wang shutout merits an honorable mention, as does Mariano Rivera (4 scoreless IP, 3 saves).

Dregs of the Week: Mike Myers got his first dregs week in, allowing three runs without having recorded a single out, and TJ Beam bettered his performance, but not by much (4 runs in 2 IP). Randy Johnson's horrible, horrible start against the Devil Rays on Saturday (9 runs allowed in 3.3 IP) more than washes out the quality start earlier in the week. However, the week's true Dregs performance came from Shawn Chacon, proving himself utterly useless in a garbagetime relief appearance against the Rays that punched his ticket out of the Bronx.

Other folks setting standards for underachievement last week? Let's start with the two components of the now-defunct C/P ratio, Miguel Cairo (.190/.190/.238, 21 AB) and Andy Phillips (.222/.333/.222, 18 AB). Among the regulars, Jason Giambi batted .095 for the week, but at least mitigated it with his secondary skills (6 walks, both of his hits for the week were homers).

Story of the Week: Alex Rodriguez...Just kidding. The Yanks have shaken up the roster, at remarkably low expense in terms of talent surrendered.

Taking the last trade first, after hearing all about how difficult it was for the Yankees to deal with the Pirates, the Bucs wind up sending OF/1B Craig Wilson to the Bronx, in exchange for...Chacon!?! That's a long way down from Phil Hughes, for a player the Yankees coveted even before Hideki Matsui broke his arm. Wilson's a bad defender in the outfield and first base, but he can mash a little from the right side (.988 OPS against lefties over the last three years), and what some people call "having no defensive position" we call versatility. I'd love it if Wilson brought the tools of ignorance with him to the Bronx, to steal some backup AB's from new backstop Sal Fasano. Wilson played catcher as recently as two years ago, well enough to get 20 starts in the show behind the plate.

In exchange for Wilson, you had Shawn Chacon, who turned out to have just been lucky last season. We'd hoped it wouldn't be so, but it was. If the Pirates hadn't taken him, the Yankees might have looked at a DFA for Sloppy Shawn.

In other, bigger, news from the State of Pennsylvania, the Yankees traded with the Phillies on Sunday, bringing former all-star Bobby Abreu, and current league-average innings muncher Cory Lidle to the team. In exchange for the two, Brian Cashman gave up a very modest quartet of minor leaguers. The names most fans will recognize are CJ Henry--the Yanks' controversial first-round pick last year--and Matt Smith, who had 12 scoreless innings pitched with the big club this season. Henry's a five-tool talent, but his tools haven't translated to baseball skills yet, and he was struggling in Low A ball. Given the rawness of his talent, and the fact that Henry's a shortstop by trade, and the Yankees already have Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez, CJ was a project of the long-term variety. Smith may have been impressive now that he's converted to relief, but it wasn't so impressive that the Yanks kept him on the roster, regardless of how many scoreless innings he had. Smith earned his B+ just by making a good enough showing to be worth something in trade. The other two prospects, catcher Jesus Sanchez and RHP Carlos Monasterios, were in rookie ball. Both are promising, but they were four or five years away from helping the Yankees, at best. Sent to the Phillies, they help the Bombers now.

In return, the Yankees get Lidle. It's easy not to get excited about Lidle, because he looks mediocre. He is mediocre. His career ERA+ coming into this season was 99, which makes him almost perfectly average. I've often wondered what's the appeal that so many teams find in this guy. But when judging this trade, you can't compare Lidle to a good pitcher, you have to compare him to what the Yanks were getting from Sidney Ponson and Chacon. Which is to say, not a friggin' lot. Even if Lidle sucks, he'll go one up on those guys if he's able to give the Yankees innings, and help save the bullpen.

The fact is, Lidle's a throw in. The main attraction is Abreu, the former All-Star. For those of you not familiar with him, Bobby's main quality is that he's an on-base machine. Secondarily, he's fast, with 20 SB this year, and no less than that number for each of the past seven years. He's also been a 20+ homer guy each year during that span. Overall, Abreu has long been considered one of the most underrated players in the game.

The caveats about Abreu have always been matters of...not attitude, exactly. The thought has been that he's a guy that needs to be pushed a bit; that without someone prodding him on, he'll let his conditioning slip, or get sloppy on defense. Yanks thirdbase coach Larry Bowa, who managed Abreu through his peak years in Philly, seems convinced that a reunion--and a pennant race--is just what Bobby needs to get himself on track.

Abreu's acquisition means that the Yanks are not counting on comebacks by Gary Sheffield and Hideki Matsui, and may indicate well-concealed setbacks for either or both players in their rehabs. It definitely means that Sheffield won't be back after this season, since Abreu plays right field and is signed through next year. Ideally, Abreu also takes Sheffield's spot in the lineup, getting on base at a 40%+ clip for the big dogs like Giambi and A-Rod. Another option is Abreu in the #5 hole, protecting Rodriguez and setting up Posada and Wilson in the bottom half of the lineup. After all his hard work, Robinson Cano could find himself back in the #9 spot when he returns from his rehab.

Aaron Guiel has been the sacrificial lamb so far--he was sent down to Columbus soon after the Wilson acquisition was announced. Bubba Crosby, despite being the Joe-Certified(tm) backup centerfielder for the occassionally banged-up Damon, should probably have been sent down, instead (yeah, I know he probably doesn't have any options left--but does anyone think that Bubba wouldn't make it through the waiver wire?). Aside from Guiel, the big losers on these moves are Bernie Williams and Andy Phillips, who each gorged on playing time over the last month, with divergent results (more on this in tomorrow's Month in Review). Now, they're being squeezed from both ends--Wilson a firstbaseman, primarily, and Abreu's a rightfielder. Both are expected to remain with the team, for the time being--they like Phillips' glove at first, and Bernie's...well, his position is ensured by nostalgia. Aside from the fond memories of championships past, Bernie's .327/.397/.505 line against lefties suggests that the guitarrista has some utility left in him, in a limited role.

I suspect I'll have more to say on roster construction tomorrow, when the Yanks make room on the roster for Abreu and Lidle.

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