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July 30, 2006

Yanks get Lidle!
by SG

The Yankees beat Tampa Bay today 4-2 behind two homers by Johnny Damon, seven good innings by Mike Mussina, and good relief by Kyle Farnsworth and Mariano Rivera.

While the game was going on, the news came down that the Yankees have tentatively reached an agreement with the Philies on Bobby Abreu. Obviously, this improves the major league team, but by how much? A lot of that depends on how the Yankees deploy the personnel on the roster.

The Yankees now have some choices to make regarding 1B, DH, LF and RF. Assuming the healthy return of Hideki Matsui some time in the next few weeks, here are the the players vying for playing time. The Yankees have 60 games remaining after today, and below are the projected run values of each player on offense and defense if they play at their current level over the rest of the season. There are two columns, On Pace includes offense and defense, DH is if the player is strictly DHing. To make things even murkier, I'm going to add Carlos Pena's name to the mix. Thanks to Sean Smith at his blog, we have an MLE for Carlos Pena. If you're not familiar with MLE, it stands for major league equivalency and is a way to translate a player's minor league performance to what it would be in the majors. Dan Szymborksi goes over the steps to calculate these if you're curious. Pena's MLE is .227/.328/.390 which is not great, but it is better than Andy Phillips. I don't have Pena's minor league defensive numbers, so I'll use his major league average over the last 5 seasons, which makes him about a -7 over 150 games. Scouts like his defense more than zone rating, so keep that in mind.

First of all, here's the combination the Yankees are running out there right now.

This combination of players would be worth a total of about 16 runs on offense and defense over the remaining 60 games of the season. That is as compared to average, as are all the numbers listed here.

So now, we add Abreu to the mix. There are few different options to juggle the lineup, and here they are. I'm going to assume Abreu in RF as a constant.

This combination would seem to be the best option in combining offense and defense. It's a twenty run upgrade over the current configuration, or roughly two wins. Again, this is based on current performance pro-rated over the remaining 60 games of the season.

This is a more realistic option given Joe Torre's love of veterans and this being Bernie's time of the year and all. Swapping Bernie for Phillips is actually an offensive upgrade, but it does lead to the issue of Giambi at first base. He'll cost the team runs on defense, and he'll be subbed out for in late innings due to his defense which could end up costing the team Giambi's bat in high leverage situations.

The option none of us want, Bernie taking playing time away from Melky.

To complicate matters in a good way, the Yankees are also looking at the potential return of Hideki Matsui. Assuming Matsui comes back, here are some more options.

This assumes that Matsui starts off at DH to ease back into playing.

If Bernie takes Melky's playing time, the Yankees would lose about 7 runs over the rest of the season.

Swapping Matsui and Bernie in the field and DH doesn't change the bottom line of this group. Matsui's defense was pretty bad in LF before he got hurt, but it was a very small sample size and likely overstates his defensive deficiencies somewhat.

So what about adding Pena?

If current performance holds, this is the best lineup the Yankees can run out there. This would be a 29 run upgrade over what the Yankees are using right now.

Getting Abreu upgrades the team by two to three wins. This is a huge upgrade for a midseason trade. Abreu's only 32 years old, and only signed through 2007. The numbers above account for his lower than typical power numbers. If he rediscovers his power stroke, he's an even bigger improvement than they show. Abreu is a career .303/.411/.512 hitter and gives the Yankees another good OBP guy in the middle of the order. He's got a good throwing arm, and looks to be about an average defensive OF by zone rating this season. He's also a good percentage base stealer (20 in 24 attempts this season).

One concern is going to be Torre's desire to get Bernie Williams more playing time than he deserves. Bernie can probably DH against lefties with Giambi getting the playing time at first base. That should be the extent of his role going forward. I'm not sure who will be dumped on the offensive side, although I certainly hope it's the runaway DFA poll winner, Bubba Crosby.

I also think it's time to cut bait on Andy Phillips. I thought Phillips deserved a chance and he's gotten one, but he's just not hitting right now and the Yankees seem to have a better option on hand in Carlos Pena. If they swap Phillips for Pena it would be about a one win upgrade over the rest of the season if they both continue to play as they have. I don't think the Yankees can risk not taking that win. Phillips could have use on the bench as a backup 1B, 2B, and 3B and righty pinch-hitter, but I don't think he's a starting caliber first baseman.

Getting Abreu was not free, and when you trade minor leaguers, it's a risk. However, when you trade low A prospects, the odds are much better that they won't come back to haunt you. It's way too soon to write off C.J. Henry as a bust, but it's fair to say that to this point he's been a big disappointment. We've seen Matt Smith, and he could be a useful reliever, but he's hardly a huge loss. I don't know enough about the other two prospects to really say much about them, but from what I've read they are both talented but too far away to really evaluate right now.

Frankly, I don't know or care what Lidle gives the Yankees. He's probably a decent bet to outpitch Sidney Ponson over the rest of the season, and he's averaging around six innings a start, but he will be moving to the DH league and is a ground ball pitcher who'll now be playing in front of a shaky infield defense, especially if Giambi is out there. He'll probably take Ponson's roster spot, although maybe not.

Given what the numbers say, if Robinson Cano and Matsui get back, I'd love to see this lineup.

Damon CF
Jeter SS
Giambi 1B
Rodriguez 3B
Abreu RF
Matsui DH
Posada C
Cano 2B
Melky LF

There's no easy way to break up all the lefties that makes sense, but that lineup would kick some serious ass. Unless they played Minnesota in the playoffs.

You can vote on whether or not you like the Abreu/Lidle acquisition in the new poll on the left.

Also, under the poll I've linked the Lineup Toy that I was using in the offseason, but have updated to included 2006 YTD performance. You can use this to try out the various combinations of Yankee players on offense. The list of players in my lineup above would score an average of 6.9 runs a game. Swapping Melky for Sheffield means 7.1 runs a game.