Andy Martino of The New York Daily News has a nice piece on Joba, running through some familiar background on the young star while asking some forthright questions about what his off-season DUI arrest might mean as he recovers from a shoulder injury. Having Joba not just healthy but focused is clearly key for the Yankees and, more importantly, Joba’s long-term well-being.
Anthony McCarron of The Daily News has a good run-down on the 2009 Yankees position-by-position compared to the 2008 team. While McCarron wisely questions what the Yankees will experience at various positions, including catcher with Jorge’s return from shoulder surgery, second base from Cano’s down year, and third base with A-Rod apparently distracted from his divorce, I found one comment from McCarron odd. He does a good job assessing the outfield, and I agree with his belief that moving Nady to right to replace Bobby Abreu will likely result in a downgrade overall for the position, he says about Brett Gardner playing center, “If Gardner is it [the center fielder], it’s unclear what he’ll bring to the lineup.” I think a better way to put it would be that it’s unclear how well he’ll hit. But it’s not at all unclear what Gardner brings–speed, speed, and more speed. Gardner stole 13 bases in 14 tries in just 42 games and, from September 15 to the end of the season, he hit 15-42 (.357), scored 7 runs, drove in 6, raised his average 63 points and his OBP 49 points.
Like McCarron and others, I still have concerns about the offense. Will Matsui be healthy enough to produce as he usually does, heck, to stay in the lineup? Will Nady hit better than the .268/.320 after being traded to the Yanks, and can he come close to Abreu’s RBI and run-scoring proficiency? Can Nady cut down on the 48 strikeouts in 59 games with the Yanks? Will Damon stay healthy to give the top of the lineup the added punch he usually brings? Will Posada return healthy and productive? Can Cano rebound from a wretched 2008? Will an aging lineup avoid the injury bugs that have plagued the team in recent years?
Gardner’s attributes, however, are less a question in and of themselves than a matter of a.) whether or not he wins the center-field job, b.) how much he will continue to improve should he win the job, and c.) whether the rest of the lineup’s productivity ameliorates or exacerbates what limitations Gardner’s game thus far has–lack of power, and consistency at the plate. The latter may come from consistent playing time, since he was quite good at SWB last year–.296/.414, 3 HR, 32 RBI, 37/46 in stolen bases, 68 runs, 70 walks. The real question with point c.) is whether or not Gardner can develop some gap power by using his full body in swings. My belief is that he’ll transfer his good batting eye to the majors as long as he gets consistent at-bats. He only drew 8 walks last year, and only 3 in the last six weeks when he replaced Melky. But as a newcomer, this is forgivable as long as he shows improvement. Long story short, while Gardner has some questions, his speed is an obvious attribute that McCarron rightly acknowledges for defense in center, but strangely overlooks for the offense. Especially from the nine-hole, Gardner can team with JD to give the Yankees in essence two lead-off hitters.
Even a piker like me can see that.