I must be a curse or something. In 2006, I was at Yankee Stadium for the games in which Gary Sheffield, Robinson Cano, and Hideki Matsui suffered significant injuries. This year, I was at Mariano Rivera’s final game of the season. (Well it better be his last game, at least). And today, I found out that I was in attendance when Brett Gardner suffered that inconspicuous wrist/elbow injury that would eventually likely keep him out for the remainder of the 2012 season. After only playing in nine games, imminent arthroscopic surgery on Gardner’s elbow to remove inflamed tissue means we’ll have to wait until Spring 2013 to see that hideous hairline.
Thankfully, the Yankees, up to this point in the season, clearly haven’t missed Brett Gardner all that much. The Bombers are clicking on all cylinders as of late and have a division lead that, by the end of the season, may rival the stranglehold the 1998 Yankees had on the rest of the A.L. East. The Raul Ibanez-Andruw Jones platoon in left field has been shockingly good, with Ibanez’ eight inning go-ahead grand slam last Monday highlighting a season filled with timely hits and Jones’ light tower power that has taken over entire series at times (See: Red Sox, Boston). But with a combined age of 75, it’s hard to imagine both players being able to produce at a serviceable level for the rest of the season and into October, the defensively challenged Ibanez especially. With Gardner’s season likely over, trading for another outfielder is an option that must be seriously considered. It’s basically impossible to replace his gold glove caliber defense and blazing speed, but there are a few candidates that are on the trading block that may come close. A few names have been floated around, like Arizona’s Justin Upton and San Diego’s Will Venable, but I don’t think either of them makes as much sense as Philadelphia’s long time centerfielder Shane Victorino.
I’ll always remember Victorino as the player who grounded out to Robinson Cano for the final out of the 2009 World Series, but for years, Victorino has been a solid rock in the Phillies lineup. He makes a great trade candidate for several reasons. In seven full seasons, he boasts a career slash line of .279/.344/.438 with 85 home runs and 176 stolen bases, including three seasons of 34 or more steals. He has experience at all three outfield positions and he won three straight gold glove awards in centerfield from 2008-2010. He led the National League in outfield assists in 2010 with eleven as well as all centerfielders this season with seven. He led the senior circuit in triples in 2009 and 2011 with 16 and 13 three baggers respectively. The switch hitter won a World Series ring with the Phillies in 2008, so he’s no stranger to playoff pressure. He started the 2009 All Star Game and won the Final Vote for last year’s Midsummer Classic. Despite going through the worst offensive campaign of his career this season (.254/.317/.392 with just eight home runs), he still remains an above average player without a doubt. He’s hitting just about 100 points higher against lefties (.322) than against righties (.231) this season, but his career split isn’t nearly as dramatic. (.299 as a righty, .270 as a lefty). Statistically, he would be a perfect stopgap for the Yankees to go after, as he has a very similar skill set to Gardner. But he makes sense financially and logistically as well.
In order to acquire the stud that is Justin Upton, the Yankees would most likely have to gut the farm system. The 24 year old Upton is a five tool player under cheap team control for the next few years and the Diamondbacks would be fools to unload him for less than a borderline insane haul. Will Venable of the Padres is an interesting candidate with some upside, but he is nowhere near as proven as Victorino. The Flyin’ Hawaiian is someone the Yankees can realistically trade for without giving up half of the farm system, and it might be smart on the Phillies part to deal him.
Victorino is making a sizeable $9.5 million this season, the final year of his contract, and is in the midst of a season long slump. He was reported to have asked for a five year extension from the Phillies during the offseason, and at 31 years old while mired in the worst season of his career at the plate; it’s hard to imagine the Phillies agreeing to a contract of that length. This makes it very possible that Victorino will leave Philly come free agency, if he’s even still playing in the City of Brotherly Love by the end of the season. If the Phillies feel that Victorino may be too expensive for their liking in the offseason, especially with the likes of star centerfield prospect Domonic Brown waiting in the wings, they are better off shipping him out of town and getting something in return.
Realistically, any team with a need in the outfield should be calling Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. about Victorino’s availability, not just the Yankees. The Phillies currently sit at 41-52, 14 games out of first place, and will quite possibly be sellers at the deadline as well. The rumors are that their asking price for Victorino is high, but the Yankees could probably pull off a deal by sending a few grade B prospects a hundred miles down I-95. Yes, it would be tough letting go of a few solid organizational arms, like Dellin Betances for example, in exchange for a three month rental, but more times than not, a part time player will play a big time role in a World Series run. If the Yankees are honestly worried about wear and tear on Ibanez and Jones as well as Wise being the only possible backup for Curtis Granderson, they would be inclined to give Victorino a look.
For as nice as the platoon has played, some fresh legs would be nice. Just as nice as hearing Bald Vinny bellow “Vic-tor-i-no!” from the bleachers. I’ve never been the biggest Victorino fan, but I certainly won’t be opposed to a trade bringing him to the Bronx.