Good morning Fackers. As I mentioned yesterday morning, even though we continue to bask in the glow of the Yankees' World Series victory, the Hot Stove League is underway in earnest. The Elias Rankings for free agents were released yesterday. Brian Cashman arrived at the General Managers' Meetings in Chicago yesterday and explained that the Yankees will be taking the cautious approach with their off-season moves.
Be that as it may, other teams are already acting. One of the first deals this off-season occurred Friday, when the Brewers flipped shortstop JJ Hardy to the Twins for center fielder Carlos Gomez. On the surface this deal has minimal impact on the Yankees, but I think there could be a ripple effect to this.
It was a virtual lock that the Brewers were going to move Hardy, given that top prospect Alcides Escobar is primed to take over at short. The prevailing theory was that Milwaukee would use Hardy to bring in some much needed pitching help, and they still will, but in a roundabout way. Gomez will be an approximate $4.5M cost savings over Hardy next year, and Gomez' presence has allowed the Brew Crew to let incumbent center fielder Mike Cameron and his $10M salary walk as a Type B free agent.
This is where I think things can get interesting. The Yankees kicked the tires on Cameron when he was a free agent following the 2007 season and last off-season were involved in ongoing discussions with the Brewers about a potential Melky Cabrera for Cameron swap.
In Cabrera (.274/.336/.414, 99 OPS+, .331 wOBA, 2.3 UZR/150) and Brett Gardner (.270/.345/.379, 93 OPS+, .337 wOBA, 15.4 UZR/150) the Yankees have two good, young players at a premium defensive position, both of whom outperformed the average AL center fielder in 2009 (.265/.329/.403). As we detailed yesterday, in Austin Jackson the Yankees have a highly rated center field prospect who is probably half a year to a year away from being ready to take over. He is almost universally projected to be a better player than both Cabrera and Gardner, perhaps as soon as this coming season. All of which is a long-winded way of saying that the Yankees have a glut of young talent at a premium defensive position.
This is a good position in which to find themselves, as the Yankees have some trade chips to carry into a post-season with a relatively weak free agent market. Knowing that Jackson is likely a year away at most and knowing that Cameron, in whom they've expressed interest in both of the last two off-seasons, is available without having surrender a draft pick, might the Yankees consider trading one of their two current center field options now, and sign Cameron as a one year place holder for AJax?
I wouldn't rule it out. I don't envision the Yankees committing the years or dollars to Jason Bay or Matt Holliday. I don't think any of the other corner outfield free agent options are particularly palatable. If Damon and/or Matsui departs, the Yankees will be in the market for a corner outfielder/DH type. I don't particularly relish the idea of either Cabrera or Gardner playing a corner since they lose much of their value there, and I would imagine the Yankees feel the same way. If the Yankees are relatively certain that Austin Jackson will be prepared to be the center fielder in 2011, thereby relegating both Cabrera and Gardner to fourth/fifth outfielder status, then the time is now to cash in on either Gardner or Melky.
If it were up to me, Cabrera would be the one getting shopped. It's no secret here that we've been big advocates of Brett Gardner being the regular center fielder on the strength of his on base percentage, his speed on the bases, and his extraordinary range in the field. Cabrera had a very nice bounce back season in 2009, posting his best numbers since his rookie campaign in 2006. He's still just 25, has a good arm, is a decent enough defender, and is a switch hitter who has shown the ability to hit Major League pitching at a young age. But I'm still not sold on him, and I'm admittedly enthralled with Garnder's plate discipline, speed, and range. If someone else is going to take over in center, I'd rather have Gardner available off the bench than Melky.
As for Cameron, he's not without his warts. He'll be 37 come Opening Day, which is absolutely ancient by center field standards. He doesn't hit for a high average and strikes out a ton. But, he's still a valuable player. He walks at a good clip, posts a decent OBP, is a 20+ HR guy, and outside of a one year blip playing in the spacious confines of Petco Park's outfield, he's been an outstanding defender over the course of his career. He'd probably come cheaper than the $10M he made last year - perhaps $8M, and is unlikely to get a multiyear offer elsewhere. Dave Cameron at Fangraphs even makes the argument that Cameron is more valuable than Jason Bay. Far less importantly, he's considered yet another "good character" guy and is reportedly close with former teammates Alex Rodriguez and CC Sabathia.
Cameron could be a very nice one year place holder for AJax while allowing the Yankees to capitalize on the current value of Cabrera or Gardner to fill other needs. What do you think Fackers?
(Gardner/Cabrera Photo, Cameron Photo)