According to MLBTradeRumors.com, the Yankees were in “serious” discussions with Jerry Hairston Jr. a few days ago. Hairston performed admirably as a utility man for the Yankees the second half of 2009, but should the Yankees bring him back?
Hairston’s value is tied to his versatility. He can play pretty much any position outside of pitcher (he was even the Yankees’ emergency catcher in the playoffs). Hairston is a slightly below average hitter – career OPS+ of 85 – and clearly if the Yankees were just looking for a hitter, they could do better. Hairston comes with a tremendous amount of bench flexibility though: defensively, he’s an above average corner outfielder, average centerfielder, below-average third baseman and short stop, and a slightly above average second baseman. He’s serviceable at every position.
Yet I don’t think the Yankees should spend the money to bring him back for one simple reason: Ramiro Pena.
Pena is not a wizard with the bat, but his 86 OPS+ last season (albeit in only a partial season) is pretty comparable to what Hairston projects to do. Defensively, Pena is a far superior infielder, and is even a plus defender at shortstop, the most challenging position. Pena played a little outfield (including centerfield) in the minors late last season (and on my old blog, I suggested Cashman was trying to turn Pena into a “super-sub”). Clearly, Hairston is the safer bet for the outfield, but given the Yankees’ current roster, isn’t infield defense more important? The Yankees already have Curtis Granderson and Brett Gardner, both above average defensive centerfielders. If the Yankees need another outfielder, they need one who can hit lefties. Even Rule 5 pick Jamie Hoffmann is above average defensively (and if he could turn into the lefty-masher, that would be ideal).
Alex Rodriguez had a poor season defensively recovering from hip surgery and while Derek Jeter‘s defense was much improved in 2009, having a very good defensive backup is still a huge plus. Bottom line: you’d rather have a utility man who’s great in the infield and serviceable in the outfield than vice versa.
When it comes to backups and middle relievers, it’s never a great idea to invest money before the season anyways. You let the season play out, give your young guys a chance and assess what you have, then you address your needs.
UPDATE: Just as I was posting this, news came in that Hairston has signed with the Padres. So apparently the Yankees at least partially agree with my assessment.