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Cashing in Depth to Fill a Need

New outfielder Chris Dickerson provides the Yankees with some depth as well as flexibility. (AP)

With less than a week to go before opening day, we appear to have some resolution in the Great Yankee Rotation Derby of 2011. This morning, the Yanks traded Sergio Mitre to the Brewers for outfielder Chris Dickerson. The most obvious result is that the move paves the way for the remaining trio of Bartolo Colon, Freddy Garcia and Ivan Nova to make the team, regardless of which one is anointed the long reliever. That's a mixed bag, certainly, but for those hanging on the outcome of this palooka parade for so long, it appears that we've got some amount of closure.

More importantly, the deal also brings the Yankees a player who may prove more useful than their 12th-best pitcher, and one whom I've always thought deserved more of a shot. A cousin of former NFL great Eric Dickerson, Chris Dickerson is an athletic 28-year-old lefty (29 on April 10) who's listed at 6-foot-3, 230 pounds and who offers speed, legitimate on-base skills, and the ability to play center field. A 2003 16th-round pick out of Nevada-Reno, he languished in the Reds' system until 2008 due to contact woes which increased as he climbed the ladder; he whiffed 162 times in 539 PA in 2007, the year he reached Triple-A. Scouts liked his raw power, but he never hit more than 14 homers in a minor league season, though he was always good for 20-30 steals at an acceptable rate.

At the big league level, Dickerson has hit .267/.356/.403 in 527 PA over the past three seasons, never getting more than 299 in a year, in part due to injuries. He's homered just eight times, but has 20 steals in 26 attempts, and his walk and strikeout rates (11.5 percent and 25.7 percent) are certainly respectable. This is not Greg Golson or Justin Maxwell we're talking about; Dickerson's PECOTA forecast calls for a league-average .260 True Average, compared to .221 for Golson and .252 for Maxwell.

It's Dickerson's failure to stay healthy which has cost him opportunities. He broke his left ankle in late 2008, then suffered a high sprain in the same ankle which cost him more time in 2009; he also served a DL stint in 2009 due to a rotator cuff injury, and spent 101 days sidelined last year thanks to a broken hamate bone which required surgery. That last injury goes a long way towards explaining the .206/.250/.268 he hit while splitting his season between Cincy and Milwaukee, who acquired him in August in exchange for Jim Edmonds as soon as he came off the DL. Add it up and that's 153 days on the disabled list over the past two seasons, over 40 percent of the time.

Like fellow lefties Curtis Granderson and Brett Gardner*, Dickerson's a weak sister against southpaws, hitting just .227/.321/.303 in 79 PA against them in his career; meanwhile, he's hit .273/.363/.420 against righties. What this means is that the man for whom he's the ideal platoon partner isn't one of the Yankee regulars but is fourth outfielder Andruw Jones, whose major selling point at this stage of his career is his ability to pound lefties.

Reading between the lines, Dickerson's acquisition strongly suggests that Granderson may start the year on the disabled list due to his oblique strain. While the early indications are that the injury, which he sustained on Tuesday, is minor, the Yankees are far less concerned with opening day availability than with preventing the injury from getting worse, as oblique strains are prone to do. The earliest Granderson could be activated with a backdated stint is April 6, and at the very least it seems prudent for the team to buy some time.

Beyond that, an additional virtue is that Dickerson still has a minor league option remaining (hat tip to the Star-Ledger's Mark Carig for checking this), and so can be sent down without having to pass through waivers. Which isn't to say that he should be stuck in Scranton, but that he provides roster flexibility, where Mitre did not.

The particulars of the 25-man roster are still up in the air according to Brian Cashman, with the bench now the likely focus of concern, so it's going to be a few days before Dickerson's role becomes clear. At the very least, Yankee GM has managed to pick up a player with somewhat more upside than the guy they gave up, while tapping the team's depth in one area to improve in another — a nice bit of work by Cashman.

*Gardner owns a career .248/.352/.339 line in 262 career PA against lefties, compared to .274/.360/.376 against righties, though to be fair, much of that inferiority is owed to his 3-for-24 performance in 2008, which still constitutes nearly 10 percent of his opportunities against southpaws. Last year he hit .252/.373/.353 in 171 PA against them, compared to .286/.386/.389 against righties — still a deficit, but not in the same realm of unplayability as Granderson.