Looking Ahead: The Bench

One of the Yankees’ biggest strengths this year was their bench. Jose Molina is one of the finest defensive catchers in the game. Ramiro Pena

Ramiro Pena is a great glove man and can hit right handers well. Eric Hinske can provide power from the left side and play the corner positions passably. Jerry Hairston, Jr. is a Swiss Army Knife typeplayer who can play literally all over the field. Brett Gardner is a whiz on the bases and in centerfield, and the energetic Francisco Cervelli is a Jose Molina in the making. All in all, the Yankees have gotten a lot of help from a deep and versatile bench. What could it look like next year?

Hinske, Molina, and Hairston are all free agents at the end of the year, and I’m not sure how likely it is that any of them will be back. While Hinske wowed us all with his power in his first few weeks with the Yankees, he’s faltered since. From August until now, Hinske has put up a very feeble line of .190/.284/.333. While the IsoD is nice, the .143 IsoP isn’t all that inspiring. Plus, when one’s raw numbers are that low, it’s hard to get encouraged by peripherals.

Hinske could probably come pretty cheap and he may have to settle for being a bench player on a contender rather than a starter on a bad team, like he was in his time with the Pirates. On the other hand, the Yankees may not have liked what they’ve seen out of Hinske and may just let him walk.

Jose Molina’s time with the Yankees is all but over. Though he’s only making $2MM this year, his production, a .560 OPS, can easily be replicated by Francisco Cervelli, who I think will be come exactly what Jose Molina is: a career back up catcher with great defensive skill. Frankie C can do what Jose does for a much lower price.

Jerry Hairston is another name I’d expect to not see in Pinstripes in 2010. Though his versatility is great, it’s matched by the younger and cheaper Ramiro Pena. Hairston’s got a bit of a leg up on Pena because of experience and being able to play the outfield, but I’d expect Pena to play a little OF in the winter and in spring training. Minor Leaguer Kevin Russo could also be in the Utility Player mix. He mostly plays second and third, as Pena would, but offers a little more in terms of the bat; his minor league line is .300/.360/.403.

What’s also worth noting is that Hairston now qualifies as a type B free agent. That is, if the Yankees offer him arbitration, which they’re sure to do this year, and he refuses and signs with another team, the Yankees get a supplemental draft pick. Even if Hairston accepts arbitration, the raise wouldn’t be too bad, as Hairston is only making $2MM this season.

As for the outfield, I expect the bench to remain pretty much the same. That is, Melky Cabrera and Brett Gardner will keep alternating playing time. Manager Joe Girardi should just continue to play the hot hand. Both players offer some value in the starting lineup–Melky being a switch hitter, Gardner’s defense and speed–and those same skills make them good bench options. The other factor that many of us are forgetting is the potential return of Xavier Nady. His bat could be a good right handed power option off the bench if he recovers from his Tommy John Surgery.

My tentative prediction for next year’s bench is as follows. I am not counting on Xavier Nady to be ready to play a full season, but I’m including him. This bench list also ignores possible FA signings and trades in the offseason. Basically, I think the first three spots I list are locks and after that is up in the air:
C: Francisco Cervelli
IF: Ramiro Pena
OF: Brett Gardner/Melky Cabrera
OF: Xavier Nady (If healthy enough)

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