Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Who's On First?

Doug Mientkiewicz. Shea Hillenbrand (see: Angels). Andy Phillips. Juan Miranda. Josh Phelps.

So many options so little proven. Andy Phillips is a great team guy. Respectful, personable, unselfish and means a solid glove at first base. The bat is unproven after what was probably a semi-fluke season. Batting averages of .220 are alien to starting first-basemen and though this was probably due to a lack of continuity as far as atbats, Phillips has never been able to put together the outlandish numbers he tallied in multiple minor league campaigns. He is not as bad with the bat as the guy you saw last year, and he is also not as good with the glove as most people seem to think he is. Very good glove, average range and not always prone to great in-game decision making, but Andy is a blue collar fan favorite who plays hard and may certainly have the ability to give the Yankees what they need in terms of defense and offense. New York obviously doesn't need much in the way of power or run production, but Bob Sheppard announcing Phillips as the starting first basemen on opening day? That remains to be seen.

I find it hard to believe that the Yanks will not pull another Johnny Damon out of their hat. By this I mean the constant reiterations by Cashman that the solution to the Yankees' first base quandary may very well be an internal candidate: think Miranda, Phelps, Phillips (which when read quickly sounds more like a female serial killer on trial than three professional athletes). This would mirror the tact Cashman embarked on when he declared Bubba Crosby an apt everyday centerfielder going into spring training and subsequently pulled Damon out of the Boston Winter and into $52 million pinstripes. To clarify my previous statement of "pulling a Johnny Damon," I do not believe that New York will somehow land talents in the Mark Teixeira or Adrian Gonzalez stratosphere, but one would certainly assume that Cashman will sign a one year deal to a FA and not plug in an "aging" unproven commodity like Phillips, an unknown Rule V youngster in Phelps, or an unknown-unproven Miranda - who is said to be 23 is probably 26 and is currently rumored to be at the competitive level of AA or AAA.

Since Hillenbrand has signed with the Los Angeles Angels in Anaheim of Orange County, California 92801 he is easily stripped from the list. This is music to my ears since he has developed a talent for that thing you do that turns you into a clubhouse-cancer. (Yes I just referenced the best one-hit-wonder-band's rise-to-fame movie that stars Tom Hanks)

Doug Mientkiewicz is one of the best gloveman in MLB, has earned a reputation as a fiery individual, and as Damon would attest to, is a reputed "team guy." (I'll overlook the pure stupidity involved with the World Series Ball Tour) His bat is decent. And that may be a bit generous when the topic of conversation is a 32-year-old (33 in June) and shares the Unit's affliction for a chronically balky back. If he appears to be healthy - as the Yankees have asked permission to view Mientkiewicz's medical records - and is signed to a one year deal, it would not be the end of the world, but my first choice as first base would be another.

The suspense is over... He's 35 years young, enjoys long walks to first base, stadium-lit strolls for doubles and can hit in the clutch. Yes, I am talking about the um.. former enemy.... Mark Loretta.

No the name isn't sexy and it doesn't draw intrigue like a Cuban born Miranda or a powerful righty like Sexton, but Loretta is 1)proven under brightest lights, 2)team-oriented and unselfish, 3) able to draw walks, move runners over 4)can play any infield position including first adding flexibility 5)owns a career batting avg. of .299, 6)played in Boston providing insight into the Holy War that is Beantown vs. Bronx.

Loretta served as the perfect table setter for hungry RBI men like Ortiz and Manny last year and the numbers do not lie. Although he is nearly a career .300 hitter, his career RISP numbers further impress: a)with runners on - .314 b)RISP .308 c)RISP w/two outs .312 and d) with the bases loaded Loretta put up an impressive .327 average. With a man on third and less than 2 outs Loretta does what seems rare these days: he gets the baserunner home. He bats .378 career in this situation. The good old "close and late" stat has become a hot topic recently and Loretta does not disappoint here either. He actually raises his game during these situations by posting an .831 OPS in 24 close-and-late ab's.

Sure he does not slam home runs or gobble RBI, although his RBI numbers are past respectable especially for a lifetime second basemen. And if there are Yankee fans who desire another powerbat they should either limit their baseball fandom to allstar teams or admit you are George Steinbrenner and need to consult Brian Cashman aka the voice of reason. Loretta would provide length in the lineup as another patient batter to accompany pitch-eaters like Abreu, Giambi and Damon. He also enables small-ball tactics at the bottom of the order. Moving runners, sacrificing, taking the ball the other way is the type of play that frustrates managers and motivates your sluggers.

If I had my vote, I would sign Loretta for one year between $5million and $6million and leave the Teixeira deals or Miranda promotions for when they are warranted.

No comments: