After the Joba/Hughes debate the topic that we have focused on the most this offseason has probably been the state of the Yankees bench. It seems like it one spot on the Yankees that is always in flux and that was no different this offseason after they lost Eric Hinske, Jerry Hairston Jr., and Jose Molina.
Luckily for the Yankees they had a couple of young players ready to step in and fill these positions from within. Francisco Cervelli is poised to take over the backup catcher position and Ramiro Pena is expected to be the utility infielder. One position they needed to address externally was the backup outfielder position.
After trading for Curtis Granderson, whose struggles against lefties have been well documented, they were in a situation where they had a particular need for a backup outfielder who hits lefties.
They signed Randy Winn, who had a .384 OPS against lefties last season. Umm, what? To make matters worse, Reed Johnson, who had a .903 OPS against lefties was readily available and ended up signing for less than $1 million with the Dodgers after the Yankees signed Winn.
So what was the deal with that? Here is the Yankees general manager Brian Cashman himself to explain that one:
We looked at Reed Johnson quite a bit. He’s a tremendous player. He smashes left-handed pitching. But he has had health issues.
This is how I looked at it. I just traded Melky Cabrera, I just traded Austin Jackson, I don’t have much outfield depth in the farm system…so my 4th outfielder has to have a history of playing full seasons. I need an everyday guy. My outfield depth is an area of weakness. I need someone my manager can turn to.
Randy Winn didn’t hit left-handed pitching this past season, but he has in previous seasons. He can play all the all the outfield positions, he can pinch hit, pinch run, steal a base for you….he gives you better coverage for our lack of outfield depth.
Reed Johnson plays like Brett Gardner. He plays hard. He plays really hard. He has make up. He has tenacity. Everything I want. He gets after it extremely hard, but I can’t afford any health issues with our lack of depth.
I really wrestled with some of these decisions, more so on the smaller ones than the bigger ones. But I have to give my manager more coverage. If someone gets hurt, I’ll be happy we have Randy Winn there.
To me, that makes perfect sense. The Yankees don’t have a lot of outfield depth, or any at all. Their options in triple-A are mediocre at best so if there is an injury that 4th outfielder is going to become essential. Choosing someone who has had trouble with consistently staying on the field like Johnson may not be the best decision. Especially considering that the Yankees already have another injury prone Johnson – Nick Johnson and if he gets hurt the 4th outfielder could become the regular DH as well.
So health concerns were probably a bigger issue than most fans realized. It’s probably why they went with Marcus Thames over Rocco Baldelli as well. It wouldn’t be that far fetched to believe that Gardner could struggle and Winn starts getting more playing time than expected. If Johnson or another outfielder got hurt, all of a sudden Thames and Winn are in the starting lineup. If those names were Baldelli and Reed Johnson, things could potentially go from bad to disastrous. It seems like Cashman was smart to avoid that situation.
As far as the idea that they should have retained Eric Hinske goes, Cashman said it was just a matter of the fact that he’s a left handed batter. As far as Cash is concerned, if they were going to keep him they might as well use Juan Miranda in that role. Miranda hasn’t gotten a chance with the Yankees, but they do seem to like him and that chance could be closer than we think.
What’s your take? After hearing Cashman explain himself, do you feel better about the Yankees bench situation?