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July 31, 2006

A Cloud For Every Silver Lining
by Larry Mahnken

Bobby Abreu has been one of the most underrated players in baseball for years. Despite consistently being one of the best hitters in the National League, he's only made two All-Star Games, though his appearance in the 2005 Home Run Derby brought him to national prominence.

The problem, of course, is that almost as soon as the Derby was over, Abreu stopped being a great player. He posted a .787 OPS the rest of 2005, and has a .270/.405/.424 line since the 2005 break. Not bad. Not good.

That's a long time to be so much less than you once were, and one has to wonder whether he'll ever be what he once was again. Perhaps his bat speed has slowed down, and he can no longer drive the ball as he once did. Abreu has a mere 14 home runs in the past 168 games, and just one in the last two months -- and that one was in mid-June.

Since May 31st, when he started the game with a .280/.455/.522 line, Abreu has posted a line of .275/.399/.354. In contrast, Melky Cabrera has a .266/.336/.387 line and Bernie Williams a .284/.327/.484 line. That insufficient duo has posted a higher OPS in that time, and though his OBP makes him far more valuable than them, is that really a $16 million improvement?

Of course the Yankees are hoping for the .977 OPS Abreu, not the .753 OPS one, and they'll settle for the average of the two. But while this was no doubt a good trade for New York, since they gave up nothing that looks like it will help them in the forseeable future, it hardly finished off the AL East race, or puts them in the playoffs.

Oh, how unfair it is for the Yankees to get this player! Give me a break. I'm sick of this refrain year in and year out every time the Yankees get a player without having to give up their best prospects. Fact is, you rarely have to give up great prospects for a player with a contract like Abreu's anymore, you merely need to be willing to take the money.

The Tigers and White Sox could both have afforded Abreu, as could several other contending teams, if they were willing to take a financial risk. The Yankees' advantage wasn't the ability to take this contract, it was the willingness to take it. Abreu limited Gillick to the Yankees, Red Sox, Mets and Angels. Both the Mets and Red Sox could have offered better prospects, but both teams would prefer to pursue pitching, and while "driving up the cost" for the Yankees could have tempted the Red Sox to come in on the bidding, they would have reached the point where Philly called them on it and accepted a deal -- at which point Boston probably would have backed away and the deal would have reverted to New York. Of course the Red Sox could have taken Abreu. But they didn't want to -- they feel it hurts their chances to improve elsewhere. The Yankees didn't think so, and so they pulled the trigger.

I'm happy. You're hearing a lot of sour grapes out there ("it can't be fun rooting for a team that buys players!), but we all know it's bullshit. It's fun to have a team that'll go out and get those guys when they're available to them. It's fun being in the playoffs every year. It's fun being a Yankees fan.

And all those whining fans of other teams would love it if their teams did the same thing, too.