After making his big league debut in 1995 with the Oakland Athletics, Jason Giambi was a potent slugger who had some really impressive years in the late-90s and early-2000s in California. He was somewhat lost in all the hoopla, though, surrounding Ken Griffey Jr., Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, and other top producers at the time.
When it was time to test free agency in the winter of 2001, the Yankees had been courting Giambi for a while. They knew they had to replace Tino Martínez, and George Steinbrenner was alive, active, and ready to spend. “I know I’m replacing a great Yankee,” Giambi said according to ESPN. “He’s a winner. He’s got World Series rings to prove it.”
Giambi had won the 2000 AL MVP award and finished as the runner-up in the 2001 race. He was in his prime (30), he was a beast on the field, and he grew up as a Yankees fan. It was almost meant to be.
He signed a seven-year, $120 million year with the Bombers. They were fresh off appearing in the last four World Series, winning the title from 1998-2000 and losing the 2001 Fall Classic in heartbreaking fashion to the Arizona Diamondbacks. Giambi had the look of a signature Yankee signing, one that would go down in the annals of franchise history as another one of the team’s ultimate power moves.
But perhaps because he was overshadowed by Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Roger Clemens, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte, and later Alex Rodríguez; or because his batting average fell from the .300+ figures he could run in Oakland to the .250-.270 range with the Bombers; or maybe because his strikeout rate increased a fair bit in the Bronx, it feels like Giambi doesn’t quite get the recognition he deserves from his contributions in those 2000s Yankees. With the benefit of hindsight, we can now say he was one of the more underrated Yankees of the 21st century.
The ‘Giambino’ played out his full contract and was marvelous with the Yanks, with a .260/.404/.521 batting line, a .925 OPS and a 143 OPS+. For reference, he had a 144 OPS+ in Oakland despite hitting .300 in his stint there, reflective of the less fertile offensive environment in the mid-to-late 2000’s compared to the turn of the century.
Jason Giambi (12)— NYY Home Runs (@NYY_HR) February 6, 2023
Opponent: Toronto Blue Jays
Pitcher: BJ Ryan
Date: 6/5/08 pic.twitter.com/WmgIeO0Izv
Giambi hit 209 home runs over seven seasons in New York. That works out to almost exactly 30 per season, which is not too shabby. With the Yankees, he went to three All-Star Games, won two Silver Slugger awards, and earned MVP votes four times, finishing once in the top-five.
He had some great postseason series in pinstripes, too. He had a 1.098 OPS in the 2002 ALDS against Anaheim; a .910 OPS and three homers in the 2003 ALCS against the Red Sox (the one that Aaron Boone ended with the famous walk-off home run in Game 7), a .880 OPS in the World Series that year; a 1.079 OPS in the 2005 ALDS against Anaheim, and a .917 OPS in the 2006 ALDS against Detroit.
Things happened along the way. He faced steroids allegations and later confessed using them and apologized. He aged, he got hurt, and he left the organization in 2009 as a 38-year-old slugger with his best days behind him.
He was, however, a true hitting machine and a staple in the 2000s Yankees, and those were mostly competitive units. The only year they missed the playoffs was in 2008, his last season in pinstripes, and he had a .373 OBP, a .502 slugging percentage, 32 home runs and a 131 wRC+ that year.
We can say with confidence that he was one of the most underrated Yankees of the new millennium. Perhaps the league valued batting average more than OBP around those days, but it’s time to appreciate what he did for the franchise and recognize him as one of the most productive sluggers they have had in the last 25 years.