Abreu to replace Matsui?
posted: Friday, May 12, 2006 | Feedback
Hideki Matsui may not play until September and perhaps not again until 2007, and so within the Yankees' front office, there will be discussion and consideration today about possible replacements. This is not a small matter for New York: With Randy Johnson showing such a distinct lack of faith in his fastball and the middle relief in a muddle, the offense has to create the margin of error for these other flaws, and Matsui was a key component of the offense.
Bernie Williams will play some games as a replacement, but the Yankees never wanted him to be more than a role player this summer, a guy who might get a couple of starts a week. There was some discomfort with him even getting regular at-bats as a designated hitter, which is why the team initially signed Carlos Pena, in the hope that Pena would become the regular first baseman, Jason Giambi would become the regular designated hitter and Williams would play less. Williams will not be the permanent solution.
Melky Cabrera and Bubba Crosby will get some time to prove themselves as possible fill-ins, but there is an American Idol ruthlessness in the way the Yankees evaluate young players at the big-league level. Think of the club as Simon Cowell, and the young players as the hapless wannabes on stage for the first time: They've got to show extraordinary skill from the outset. On the Baseball Tonight set Thursday, I asked Tino Martinez -- who witnessed first-hand the impatience with young players in New York -- how long Cabrera had to prove himself. "About a day," Tino said, before chuckling only a little. Somewhere, Shane Spencer and Ricky Ledee and others aren't laughing at all; those guys always felt incredible pressure to produce.
So unless Cabrera dominates the next week of games, the Yankees will probably start looking at players who may be available for trade. There is an X-factor in their decision-making: Gary Sheffield is on the disabled list with a bad wrist, and club officials need to determine how much help he will be this year, with the looming distraction of his unsettled contract status. If they think Sheffield is devoted to coming back and helping the team, then that will decrease the sense of urgency to identify a big-time replacement for Matsui. On the other hand, if they believe Sheffield will become Shut-Down Sheff and has decided he isn't going to be invested in the 2006 Yankees because he doesn't have a contract for 2007, then they definitely need a proven bat.
The possible options:
1. Bobby Abreu, Phillies. General managers from other teams say Phillies GM Pat Gillick was extremely motivated in his effort to trade Abreu all winter -- mostly because of the $30 million still owed to Abreu for this year and for next year. There is a dramatic split among evaluators on how good of a player Abreu is: The New School Number Crunchers love Abreu for his incredible on-base percentage, prolonged at-bats, and his offensive production, while a lot of the Old School Scouts say he's worth much less than his numbers suggest, believing he doesn't play hard all the time and that his physical condition is regressing. An Old School scout asked of him recently, "Can't he just dive for a ball one time?"
Gillick acquired David Dellucci on the eve of the season, so he has options if he really wants to move Abreu, who is batting .264 with four homers and a .438 on-base percentage so far. If the Phillies are ready to deal the All-Star, the Yankees probably wouldn't have to give up much talent -- maybe a couple of Grade B prospects -- in order to get him, because of the size of his contract. The real value of the deal to Gillick may be the financial flexibility gained, as he considers ways of helping the team before the trade deadline.
Interestingly, a deciding vote on Abreu may come from someone who knows Abreu well, someone who is regarded with great respect within the Yankees' organization: Third base coach and former Philly manager Larry Bowa.
2 and 3. Shannon Stewart or Torii Hunter. Each would be a good fit for the Yankees -- Stewart because of his offensive prowess and Hunter because of his power and remarkable defense. The question is when or if the Twins will decide to blow up their season. They haven't looked good, but it's still very early in the season, and Minnesota GM Terry Ryan may not be ready to deal until sometime in July. The Yankees will want to move before then.
4. Aubrey Huff, Devil Rays. He can play multiple positions, he looked good in spring training, and he knows AL East pitching. But he's also hitting .156, he's not a good outfielder, and Tampa Bay has been aggressive in asking for good young pitching, something the Yankees won't part with for Huff, as they rebuild their farm system.
5. Alfonso Soriano, Nationals. They know him, they know he can play in and enjoy New York, and he's getting better in the outfield. The key questions would be: When would the Nationals be ready to trade, and do the Yankees have what Washington GM Jim Bowden would want in a deal?
6. Mike Cameron, Padres. Right now, The Padres would have no reason to want to make a trade, because they're contending in the NL West.
7. Austin Kearns, Reds. Sure, the Yankees could use him, but it's hard to see a fit for trade partners here. Cincinnati wants pitching, and the Yankees really don't have much pitching to offer.
Abreu makes a whole lot of sense if the Phillies are still motivated to move him.