Good morning Fackers. Yet another left field/bench option came off the board yesterday, as Jerry Hairston joined his brother Scott in San Diego by signing a one year $2.125M deal with the Padres. According to Buster Olney, the Yankees never even made Hairston an offer, despite reports last week that the club was in "serious talks" with him.
Acquired at the trade deadline last year, Hairston was a useful player for the Yankees, capable of playing each infield and outfield position. Losing Hairston certainly isn't going to ruin the 2010 season. The Yankees have four young utility infielder options on their 40 man roster in Ramiro Pena, Kevin Russo, Reegie Corona, and Eduardo Nunez. And even if the slim chance of Johnny Damon returning doesn't pan out, there are several viable left field platoon options on the free agent market in Reed Johnson, Xavier Nady, and Rocco Baldelli.
What doesn't exist on the free agent market is a supersub utility player with the defensive versatility of Hairston. Such a player isn't a must have for the Yankees, but given their roster construction, it is a nice luxury to have.
The Yankees figure to have a four man bench next season. One spot will be earmarked for Francisco Cervelli as the back up catcher. For better or worse, a second spot has to be reserved for Rule 5 pick Jamie Hoffmann, who currently profiles as the fourth outfielder. A third spot will go to a utility infielder, likely one of the four above with Pena and Russo appearing to be the leading candidates at present. That leaves just one spot, which will likely be filled by another outfielder, most likely a right handed platoon partner for Brett Gardner and/or Curtis Granderson.
However, assuming the Yankees elect to keep Hoffmann and sign another outfielder for that fourth bench spot, they are left with a single utility infielder on the roster. Given the quality of the Yankees' starting infield, this isn't a major concern. But, Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter are two of the three most valuable position players on the team - if not the two most valuable. They will be 34 and 35, respectively, on Opening Day. While both should be in the line up daily, having a second infielder on the bench gives the Yankees the option of resting both, rather than choosing to rest just one, in blowout games, on turf, day games after night games, etc. It's not a situation that should arise often, but it does arise on occasion, as evidenced by Jose Molina's cameo at third base last year.
Both Russo and Pena have minimal outfield experience, but I can't imagine the Yankees carrying one of them as a second infielder in that fourth bench spot because they feel either could also serve as realistic outfield option.
As we saw last season, the bench changes over the course of the year. Hairston and Eric Hinske were the two main contributors off the bench last season and both were mid-season pick ups. Whatever team leaves Tampa in early April assuredly won't be the same that finishes up in October. But for the time being the Yankees have lost a solid, versatile bench option in Jerry Hairston. Best of luck to him in San Diego.