There’s one glaring omission in the Yankees bench this year: we are missing having that one, big bat looming in the late innings capable of changing a game with one mighty swing. In years past, hitters such as Daryl Strawberry, Jesse Barfield, Chili Davis and Jorge Posada have lay in wait; chomping at the bit for either Joe Torre or Joe Girardi to call their name. Opposing managers would know that there was that powerful, usually lefty bat – especially dangerous with the short porch at Yankee Stadium – that they have to remember and consider.
But with the veteran Yankee team, Girardi utilizes his bench with more than late inning heroics in mind. Unlike many teams (and even Yankee teams of the past) there really aren’t any guys riding the pine, awaiting a pinch-hitting appearance. That said, the Bronx Bombers bench is a mostly veteran and versatile bunch and Girardi gets them all enough playing time to keep them fresh. GM Brian Cashman really deserves some credit for putting together a bench that is designed for the post-season and he has done so rather cost-effectively.
The one major new addition in 2012, Raul Ibanez, was brought in this year over the other usual suspects who lined up at Cashman’s door. With a free-agent DH pool that included popular ex-Yankees Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui as well as free-swinging Vladimir Guerrero, Cashman signed Ibanez for a relatively inexpensive $1.1M which was a pay cut of over ten million dollars from his previous season; the reasoning being that Ibanez could play the outfield unlike the aforementioned other players.
Watching Ibanez getting some playing time in the corner outfield slots brought up the fact that Cashman never said he could play it well, but I’d still rather see him making simple plays adventurous, over the cringe-worthy Damon. Ibanez had a poor start to his spring which lead to many Yankee fans calling for his head and then his release in that order, but getting plenty of playing time once the season started he’s put a rather respectable .271BA/.794OPS.
The other part-time DH and outfielder, Andruw Jones, is the highest paid of the Yankee bench players at $2M. Jones, once one of the finest and smoothest centerfielders in the game is far from that player any more. Saying he’s only lost a step or two in the outfield means you’re either too kind or blind. And while he put up some impressive power numbers in 2011 with 13HR/33RBI in only a 190Abs, he’s still on the Inter-State this season, hitting a woeful .154 through the first three weeks of the season. Jones is my most likely to be designated for assignment.
It came as a surprise to most fans when the Yankees traded for light-hitting, back-up catcher, Chris Stewart in the final days of spring training, taking the job Francisco Cervelli expected to have. Stewart is a fine catch and throw guy, he’s making only $483K and while nobody thinks he’ll keep hitting at a .300 clip, he is now. No complaints here unless you’re the Cisco kid.
Eric Chavez was the last player Brian Cashman signed and for $900K he has to be considered a great bargain as long as he can avoid the injuries that have plagued his otherwise really good career. A gold-glove wining thirdbaseman, the Yanks don’t suffer much when Chavez subs for A-Rod and Chavez has picked up the firstbase mitt more than adequately. It’s early and I don’t want to jinx him, but the fact that he’s batting over .300 and is hitting homeruns at a one per every eight at-bat pace makes him a very valuable part of the bench.
Speaking of value, super-utility man Eduardo Nunez has some amazing potential. Scouts have noted how the ball jumps off his bat; he’s making those scouts look smart by hitting .385 with an OPS of .856 in the early season. But there is one great caveat: Nunez, who plays short in Jeter’s stead and second on those rare days that Cano sits, is something of a defensive liability in the middle infield. His two errors in limited play not only lead the team, they were both costly and have put Girardi in a quandary when Nunez grabs his glove. Yes, he’s playing some outfield too, but with sure-handed Ramiro Pena in AAA, the bench lacks defense here. Even with the lapses in the field, his bat and $524K salary makes him highly valuable.
I started this piece saying that this 2012 Yankee bench has been strategically designed for the post-season and I stand by this. The veteran presence of Jones, Ibanez and Chavez (the latter two really just earning only about double the league minimum) cannot be discounted when games matter in the post-season and both Ibanez and Chavez have the potential to be that scary, lefty bat coming off the bench in late innings for Girardi. There’s quite a lot of flexibility to not only rest some of the more veteran everyday players, but to also fill in when injuries, such as Brett Gardner at present, rear their ugly heads. I would put this 2012 New York Yankee bench up against the best in the game, but it sure would be nice to have Straw looming with a bat in his hands.