As the roster stands right now the most likely candidates for the Yankees bench would be Francisco Cervelli, Ramiro Pena, Jamie Hoffmann, and Juan Miranda.
Defensively that might be a pretty good bench and considering the Yankees nearly have an All-Star at every position offense off the bench is not going to be as dire a need as it is with other teams. Still, there are times when the regulars need time off and having someone who’s bat is not totally useless to fill in can be big. That’s where guys like Eric Hinske and Jerry Hairston came in so handy in 2009.
Keep in mind that aside from Pena they have three infielders on the 40-man roster to play the utility role including Kevin Russo who hit .326/.397/..431/.828 in 90 games for Scranton last season. Also, their current 4th outfielder, Hoffmann, is a Rule 5 selection and would need to stay on the major league roster all season long or the Yankees would risk him going back to the Dodgers. So an outfielder is the bigger need.
So let’s take a look at some free agents who could be useful to the Yankees coming off their bench (This list is in no particular order):
- Jerry Hairson Jr – Hairston might be the best fit for the Yankees despite his problems with the Bombers in the 90’s. He plays every position, has no problem coming off the bench, and can hit a little.
- Reed Johnson – Johnson’s name has been out there a lot amongst Yankee fans. His career numbers of .282/.344/.411/.755 are pretty good. Combine that with the fact that his OPS against lefties during his career is .841 means he could fill in for Curtis Granderson against tough southpaws makes him a pretty good fit for the Yankees. He provides good, not great defense as well.
- Jonny Gomes – Gomes is another guy who has a decent bat and hits well against lefties, Granderson’s numbers against them make this a necessary requirement off the bench, but he’s a poor defender. That makes him a less than ideal candidate, but still a strong one.
- Rocco Baldelli – Baldelli has had a problem staying on the field in recent years and that is a red flag right there. Once you get past that he is a attractive piece. He’s a plus defender and he has pretty good offensive numbers (.279/.324/..444/.767 career). And he’s good against lefties. Really, if it weren’t for health problems he would be the optimal fit.
- Jim Thome – Thome’s bat is still pretty dangerous despite his poor numbers with the Dodgers last season, but he can’t play anywhere. He’d be a strict bat off the bench and DH. The Yankees could use a bat, but they don’t need a another DH. This could be a fit if Thome is willing to take nearly the league minimum to play for a winner. A big longshot here.
- Jack Cust – We’ve brought up Cust’s name before as a possible left field replacement. If Cust would take a bench role with the Yankees then they should sign him, but he’s going to be looking for a starting spot somewhere. Will he find it? That’s hard to say right now.
- Marcus Thames – Some people have brought him up as a possible left field replacement. He does not fit in that spot, but he could be Hinske-lite. A guy who pop in his bat who can come off the bench and play in the outfield if they needed him to. He might fit, but he’s more like Plan C right now.
- Randy Winn – He might not be the strong defensive center fielder that he was in the past, but he can still play the corner outfield spots very well. He’s a switch hitter who has traditionally done well against lefties, but got destroyed by them in 2009.He’ll be 36 in June so the biggest question here is would the Yankees be getting the Winn who OPS’ed .384 against lefties last year or .934 against them in 2007? He’s been in decline for years now so like Thames I’d say he falls into that Plan C category.
- Fernando Tatis – Once you ignore the Met stink he has all over him, Tatis has potential to be a strong bench piece. He hits lefties, .822 OPS against them last season, and he can play the corner outfield spots as well as fill in for the infielders. Turns out when you are not counting on him being your starting left fielder he’s not a terrible player.
- Robb Quinlan – Here is an interesting guy. He plays poor defense, not terribly poor though and he can play left and right field as well as first and third base. He doesn’t hit particularly well, but his OPS against lefties for his career is .795. I wouldn’t advocate the Yankees making a big push for him, but I’d love to see them bring him to spring training as a non-roster invitee.
These are certainly not the only options the Yankees have, but I felt like these were among the 10 best the Yankees could sign.
Which one of these players would fit the Yankees best? Or is there someone I’ve left out who could be an even better fit? No more Rick Ankiel though please. It’s not going to happen and he would probably freak out during spring training and never actually make it to Yankee Stadium.
Update: Apparently while I was writing this article the A’s agreed to resign Cust to a one-year $2.65 million deal.