19 Jan 2012
By my count, the Yankees have two spots available on the bench. Assuming they carry 12 pitchers (I am willing to bet on that) they have two spots to fill. We know Nunez, Jones and Cervelli will be on the team, so that brings them to 11 hitters. Two more brings them to 13 and fills the bench. I would suggest the Yankees go and get two guys who have played for them before.
The obvious need is for someone to take a big slice of the DH AB’s. While Andruw Jones kills lefties, he hit .172 vs. righties last year. Brett Gardner struggles vs. lefties, so that is a nice platoon to have. Since righties make up about 70% of the pitchers in baseball, you would prefer to have a lefty DH, but ideally you would want a guy who can still hang in against lefties. That brings me to my choice- Johnny Damon.
Damon can still hit, putting up an OPS+ of 110 last year. He has hit .282/.347/.405 vs lefties in his career. And his legs still work, he stole 19 bases in 2011. He averaged 4.03 pitches per plate appearance in 2011 which ranked him 23rd in MLB. (Four Yankees were ahead of him Curtis Granderson 1st, Gardner 10th, Teixeira 15th and Swisher 17th) We know he is comfortable in the big spot and he would probably be agreeable to a return to the Bronx for a moderate sum. Once the Yankees have made the Montero trade and Kuroda signing official, they can work on trading AJ Burnett which should free up the cash needed to sign Damon.
My second bench candidate will not be a popular choice. He didn’t do much in his first tour with the Yankees, but he subsequently went out and hit well in 2010 and 2011. Ladies and Gentlemen, I’m talking about Wilson Betemit!
Now before you start the hateful comments, consider a few facts. Whoever gets the final bench spot, you want them to be able to play third base and maybe some other positions. Next, you want them to be able to hit righty pitching as you are more likely to rest A-Rod against a righty than a lefty and Nunez hasn’t shown much against righties. Lastly, you want them to be inexpensive, a million or two at most.
Betemit meets all these criteria. He is now primarily a third baseman, he actually hasn’t played short since the last time he was a Yankee. But in the last two years he has appeared at first, second and left, giving him some positional flexibility. He has always been able to hit righty pitching, putting up a line of .277/.348/.469 against them in his career. He made one million dollars last year and earned $1.3 in 2010. Sure, Eric Chavez is the better defender, but Chavez can’t hit and if you want defense, A-Rod is the guy to go to. The Yankees could use Betemit to spell A-Rod against righties and Nunez to spell him against lefties. Sometimes he would get a full day off, sometimes he would be the DH. That’s my optimal bench, we will see what the Yankees end up doing.