The New York Yankees have a problem that they brought upon themselves. If you've been watching them play this year, you already know what it is, but let the numbers further emphasize the point.
|MLB Team Outfield Stats, sorted by wRC+|
|Courtesy of FanGraphs|
Did you hear that? That was the sound of Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, and Mickey Mantle all rolling over in their graves. That's not a very nice way to treat the best outfielders in the history of this franchise. Hell, even Bernie Williams would be driven to play the blues if he was keeping track of the offense. If Reggie Jackson heard about the outfielders' struggles, he would be driven to consistently refresh his Baseball-Reference page over and over again and stare at it. (Okay, Reggie probably does that anyway.)
Last year, Yankees outfielders ranked sixth in baseball in wRC+ at 114, and now they're on the opposite end of the spectrum. Sure, Curtis Granderson's injuries sustained on fluky hit by pitches suck, but there's a reason the best teams build for depth in the off-season. The '98 Yankees signed Chili Davis in the offseason only to lose him almost immediately and Bernie (the AL batting champion that year) missed a month, too; they stayed successful by utilizing their fine bench players like Darryl Strawberry, Tim Raines, Chad Curtis, and Ricky Ledee. The Yankees have coped with Granderson's injury with the likes of Ben Francisco, Vernon Wells, and Ichiro Suzuki. Sure, Strawberry and Raines were veterans, but they were not over the hill, unlike the aforementioned unimpressive trio.
Offense from the outfield has almost always been a cornerstone of Yankee offense, and it's usually easier to find production there than at non-first base infield positions. The market is barren for much hitting help at catcher, shortstop, and third base, so the Yankees don't have much recourse other than waiting for their regulars to return and hopefully be rejuvenated. No one really knows what to expect from Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter, both veterans in their late-30s coming off major injuries. The Francisco Cervelli in April might have just been the result of a hot streak like Wells had that month; he could very easily go back to the "meh" he was at the plate in his previous years.
For now, its seems like the Yankees can only pursue other options at first base and in the outfield. Lyle Overbay has been replacement-level, but decent enough in Mark Teixeira's absence for the position to not be too much of a problem. Since the Yankees reported that Tex's return to the disabled list was prompted by just inflammation and not a worse wrist injury, it would be prudent to wait and see how Tex plays when he comes back to the team. With the possibility still there that he could contribute, they do not need to pursue other first base options like Justin Morneau quite yet. (Emphasis on "yet.")
The outfield is another story. The only starter the Yankees can reasonably count on is Brett Gardner, who warrants a spot in the starting lineup for his superb defense alone and has also added a 114 wRC+ this year as well. It will be until after the All-Star break before Granderson's homer-happy bat can return to the starting outfield, and even if he regains his mashing form, there should still an open spot.
Remember Vern's hot start and supposed recovery from his Angels days? That was a long time ago. Now, he has fallen into complete disrepair, somehow worse than he was last year (88 wRC+ vs. 70 wRC+ now). His batting stats have fallen below even Ichiro levels, who despite a recent hot streak is only at a 78 wRC+ for the season with no power. Brennan Boesch is injured in Triple-A with recurring tightness in his shoulder. The best help the farm system can offer the Yankees right now comes in the form of Thomas Neal and Zoilo Almonte. Both of them are fine Triple-A players, but neither really offer much hope for consistent production at the major league level. Neal was off to a terrific start in Scranton powered by a .420 BABIP, but he only had 14 extra-base hits in almost 200 plate appearances. Although Zoilo made his major league debut last night and offers a little more encouragement for pop, it doesn't seem fair to expect a rookie who was a mediocre prospect to ignite your outfield offense. I certainly wouldn't fault the Yankees for giving either of them a try; however, there might be someone out there would help them more. Who?
Oh. Him. Let's immediately get one thing straight--yes, signing Manny Ramirez would absolutely be a desperation move. Look at the outfield offense right now though; they are desperate.
The last time Manny Ramirez was very good in the majors was 2010, when he hit .298/.409/.460 with a .383 wOBA and a 140 wRC+ in 90 games split between the Dodgers and White Sox. (Yes, Manny, like fellow AL All-Stars Ken Griffey Jr. and Kenny Lofton before him, has a random half-season on the south side of Chitown on his record.) He was 38 years old then. He turned 41 on May 30 of this year. Much has been made of his 1-for-17 demise with the Rays in 2011, but that was a grand total of five games before his abrupt retirement/suspension (already served). Ramirez then spent 17 games on the Athletics' Triple-A team last year hitting .302/.348/.349. He signed with a Taiwanese team to start this year, the EDA Rhinos, with whom he hit .352/.422/.555 with eight homers in 49 games. Now, he has left the Rhinos to pursue another gig, possibly Stateside if not in Japan.
Those are all the numbers the Yankees have to go by with their aged former nemesis for the past couple years. He is a complete question mark. However, as Hardball Talk writer Craig Calcaterra notes, the Yankees don't really have much of a baseball reason not to sign ManRam to a minor league deal. It would be folly and a little unfair to sign him and immediately put him on the major league squad ahead of guys who have already demonstrated that they can handle the best of minor league pitching in Almonte and Neal. Why can't the Yankees give him a shot in Scranton though? The Triple-A outfield is desperate enough for help given all the call-ups that the Yankees traded for DFA'd Astros outfielder Fernando Martinez just so he could play there.
Try ManRam. Even though that Taiwanese league was far below MLB level in terms of talent, he hit so well there that he did not look completely dead (unlike a certain Mr. Wells). The worst thing that could happen is that he hits like shit in Scranton and the Yankees end his minor league deal, then release him back into the wild to become a hobo in the Green Monster haunting Jonny Gomes. For a couple years after Barry Bonds's exile from the game, fans and writers wondered if Bonds could still come back and be even half as productive as he was in 2007. We could very well be in that same situation again, wondering if ManRam could approach his 2010 numbers given a legitimate second shot, brief 2011 and 2012 cameos be damned. If he hits well in the minors, then maybe there's something there.
It is extremely unlikely that a 41-year-old hitter could help the Yankees in any way. However, keep in mind that Ibanez was only a year younger last year and had a 20-dinger season anyway. Julio Franco made a habit of 100+ wRC+ seasons with the Braves in the mid-2000s while in his mid-forties. Although he could be just as washed up as Wells and Ichiro, stranger things have happened in the game, and the Yankees will never know if this wild card could work if they don't give him a shot in the minors. Given the state of the outfield right now, it would be better than standing pat with a Selig-like shrug.
UPDATE: Unsurprising, but it was fun writing this article anyway.
Source: Yankees have no interest in Manny http://t.co/spGKzPrBSi— Andrew Marchand (@AndrewMarchand) June 21, 2013
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