Monday, November 14, 2005

Mistah Giles

Do I really need to make the case for Brian Giles at this point? Normally, I’d answer my own rhetorical question with a “no,” since everyone out there seems to be steadfast in their position on Giles. Either A) he’s old and he won’t provide the defense we need in center field or B) he’s the perfect fit, and the Yankees would be dumb not to pursue him in addition to Matsui. Choosing between these options is like voting along strict party lines. But, as in politics, I tend to agree more with one side than the other, though that doesn’t mean I’ll always agree with what that side thinks.

Let’s set the scene a bit. This is the fourth day in which free agents can discuss financial terms and/or sign a contract with any team. Though a lot of the signings won’t take place for quite some time – usually the winter meetings – the buzz is still reaching deafening levels, mainly because there are a coveted few players out there to be disbursed among the 30 teams – and no one says it has to be fair.

Usually at this point, the Yankees are flexing their financial muscles, hoping to outbid the other teams on the guys they want. Whether it’s Carl Pavano, Gary Sheffield, Hideki Matsui, Jose Contreras, or Jason Giambi, the Yankees always seem to get their No. 1 guy in free agency. This year would be no different, especially since the Yankees look like one of the stronger teams heading into next year (like that’s changed over the past decade) – except for that part where the market is bare at the top and drops off drastically in terms of talent/ability/what have you.

Once again, we’re operating under the assumption that Matsui will re-up for 2006 and beyond. So that gives the Yankees these returning players (number of full years in pinstripes in parenthesis):

Posada (9), Giambi (4), Cano (1), Jeter (10), A-Rod (2), Matsui (3), Sheffield (2)

I know some die-hard statheads out there deride the notion of team chemistry, writing it off as an age old myth. But anyone who witnessed the 2005 Yankees should know better. They were a team in shambles over the early months of the year, and when faced with the adversity of playoff elimination they came together and played as a team. Many will be quick to discount that notion, citing the stellar performances of Chacon, Small, and Wang (along with a few gems by Randy) down the stretch as the reason the Yanks eked out an eighth consecutive AL East crown.

In no way would I ever discount the contribution of the underdogs from 2005 (in fact, I wrote an entire column lauding their efforts this year). But if the team hadn’t come together, they were still just nine egos in the clubhouse, there was no way they would have made the playoffs. And if that doesn’t convince you (to tell the truth, it’s not a rather compelling argument, just an insight to intuition), then take a good, long look at the 2005 White Sox and tell me team chemistry counts for nothing.

But I digress. So we have the seven returning Yankees, who ostensibly have jelled and bonded and have that whole team chemistry thing down. But they need to field nine, and with no immediate answer down at the farm, free-agency seems the best way to fill the holes left by Tino and Bernie. So here’s Bernie’s line from 2005, (i.e. what needs to be replaced in center field):

.249/.321/.367. Rank among AL center fielders with 200 or more at bats: 13th/8th/12th. This is in addition to ranking 12th in raw EqA and 15th in VORP, while also unofficially ranking 13th out of 14 in arm strength, bolstered only by Johnny Damon.

So the first option is simple, and one that Brian Cashman spoke about last week: Bubba Crosby. Given the circa 500 at bats Bernie got last year, I firmly believe that Crosby can match those numbers while providing significantly better defensive coverage of his position. I also believe (though not as firmly) that Crosby can surpass Bernie’s numbers, but anything above what Bernie contributed last year is icing on the cake.

I don’t know about all of you, but I loooooove icing. And while it’s never a good idea to be a glutton, isn’t always a treat when you get an extra thick layer of icing on your birthday cake? Or, if cake isn’t your bag, think of it as more stuffing in the bird. Well, for all you stuffing/icing lovers there’s Brian Giles. An examination of his numbers is a bit deceiving, though, as he has played his last two years in the uber-pitcher friendly Petco Park. But his lines from 2004 and 2005 don’t exactly reflect that hindrance:

2004: .284/.374/.475
2005: .301/.423/.483

Of course, 2005 is a contract year and I’d write it off as such if those numbers didn’t so accurately reflect his lifetime marks of .299/.413/.542. Actually, it only seems like his power numbers have been affected by the constraints of Petco. In fact, I’m more apt to chalk up 2004 to an aberration, in that it was Giles’s first year in the new park. And since it is so hitter friendly, I’m sure it took him some getting used to.

Just a quick rhetorical question: if Giles lost some power numbers upon moving to Petco, would he regain them in Yankee Stadium, which is lefty power hitter friendly?

Since he began to consistently get over 450 at bats per season, 2004 is his worst performance (if you want to count the 350 AB performance in 1998, he was .269/.368/.459). Even if he puts up those numbers for the 2006 Yankees, he’ll still be a vast improvement over Bernie in the offensive categories. I don’t know how safe it is to make such a statement, but I think that his 2006 numbers will be more reflective of his 2005 marks than his 2004 performance, given the move to a more hitter friendly park.

This brings us to the matter of defense, possibly the most hotly contested issue among Yankees fans. Some believe that Giles wouldn’t be a good option because he wouldn’t provide much of an upgrade in center, a position he hasn’t regularly played since he was in Pittsburgh. Just remember, though, that however he performs defensively, it will be better than Bernie last year. But it doesn’t end there.

An outfield tandem of Matsui/Giles/Sheffield just couldn’t play out there every day, considering their age and yes, lack of range. It’s not that they’re bad, it’s just that the three of them just don’t cover the ground that, say, the White Sox or the Mets cover in the outfield. This is where our boy Bubba comes in. Thanks to Mike C., one of my personal favorite commenters over at Replacement Level Yankees Weblog for the base for this idea, at which Bubba is the center.

In addition to that outfield tandem not being able to play every day, Giambi also can’t play every day at first base. True, his career numbers when playing first are so far above his numbers while DHing that it’s confounding as to why he doesn’t play the field every day. And then the whole issue with the back and knees come up, and it becomes apparent that this guy can’t handle 154 games patrolling first base. DHing him twice a week from the get go should provide him ample rest so that he doesn’t break down half way through the year. That leaves four games during the week in which he will play first, games in which the Yankees will need a DH. Three of them can be snagged from the outfield, with Matsui, Giles, and Sheffield each DHing once a week, with Bubba playing center on those days. The final game (or two, depending if they have an off-day or not) can be a toss up with the DH. Torre can opt to play Bubba in center and DH Sheff an additional day per week, or he can get the bench crew a few ABs.

Additionally, the games in which the Matsui/Giles/Sheff tandem patrols the grass could be coordinated so that they’re behind a groundball pitcher like Wang or Pavano or a strikeout guy like Randy. That way they won’t have to go chasing fly balls all day, as they probably would with Chacon on the mound.

So it now may appear like I’m drawing party lines and standing adamantly with the “Giles is the perfect fit” bunch. And yes, I do think that Brian Giles is a perfect fit right now, given all the circumstances. However, I don’t think that the Yanks should go and sign him to the 4 year, $50 million deal they’ll most likely work out with Hideki. Maybe 3 years, $35 million or thereabouts. His age next year, 35, shouldn’t stop the team from signing him, but should stop them from immersing themselves in a deal that would be paying him $12 million plus when he’s 39.

And if Giles is making these ridiculous contract demands at an age where skills normally decline, there’s always that guy Bubba that can more than adequately replace Bernie in center.