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Observations From Cooperstown--Abreu, Brinkman, and Bull Durham
2008-10-03 05:08
by Bruce Markusen
Note: The Bronx Banter blog has moved to bronxbanterblog.com.

The current-day Yankees, a former pinstriped shortstop, and a baseball movie at the Hall of Fame have all created interest for your Cooperstown correspondent. Here are the latest musings from upstate New York:

Now that the disappointment of a lost 2008 season has given way to reluctant acceptance, I’m fully ready to embrace an off-season that I hope is filled with activity for the Yankees. The winter plan should begin right now, with the Yankees giving strong consideration to the futures of free agents Jason Giambi, Bobby Abreu, Mike Mussina, and Andy Pettitte.

Of the four, Abreu is the most interesting case, and perhaps the most debatable. At the age of 34, he’s nowhere near the player he was during his peak years in Philadelphia, but he’s still a viable batter who can contribute mightily to a pennant-winning team. He’s a .300 hitter who still reaches base 37 per cent of the time, retains enough speed to make him a factor on the base paths, and still has the kind of 20-home run power that makes him a legitimate middle-of-the-order threat. Given those offensive strengths, I think the Yankees should attempt to re-sign Abreu—but only after two major conditions have been met. First off, Abreu has to accept a maximum of a two-year contract. Absolutely no three-year deals, not for a player who will turn 35 in March, and not even two years with one of those ridiculous player-slanted options, where the team has to buy out his contract for some ungodly amount. If Abreu insists on anything beyond two years, it’s time to cut him loose and count the draft picks. The Yankees simply have to stop over-committing to aging players with long-term deals.

Second, the Yankees have to make it clear to Abreu that, if he is to return to the Bronx in 2009, he will have to do so as a DH, or perhaps even as a first baseman. Simply put, his days as an everyday right fielder have come to an end; the Yankees cannot afford his Luis Polonia/Danny Tartabull butcher-boy routine in the outfield anymore. In recent years, the Yankees have been far too reluctant to move players off their original defensive positions once they have surpassed their expiration dates. They dawdled far too long with Bernie Williams, resisting a switch to first base or left field a full three years after he had become a major liability in center field. They’ve been similarly reluctant with Giambi, who should have been made a fulltime DH years ago. Instead, they simply “wished” that Giambi would improve at first base, as if he could somehow magically counteract the effects of age and a lack of natural athleticism. It’s time for the Yankees to change that approach, starting with Abreu. The man can still help offensively. He just shouldn’t be allowed to touch an outfielder’s glove until there’s a ten-run differential on the scoreboard…

 

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Former Yankee shortstop Eddie Brinkman passed away this week at the age of 66, the cause of death unannounced. If you don’t remember Brinkman as a Yankee, that’s certainly understandable. He played only part of one season in New York, as a 1975 mid-season pickup purchased for a small fee from the Texas Rangers. Though well past his prime, the Yankees were hoping that Brinkman could help them at the time that preceded the arrival of Bucky Dent. (The Yankees’ shortstop situation was so bad in the mid-1970s that Jim Mason ranked No. 1 on the depth chart. Ugh.) Brinkman had enjoyed some of his best seasons in Detroit, where he emerged as a key contributor to the Tigers’ 1972 American League East title. Playing in 156 games that summer, he committed only seven errors, setting a major league record for fewest miscues by a fulltime shortstop. He also put together a streak of 72 straight games without an error, particularly impressive given the lack of artificial turf in the American League at the time. Brinkman played so well defensively that he actually finished ninth in the league’s MVP balloting, despite hitting .203 with a .279 slugging percentage.

There are two things I’ll most remember about Brinkman. First, he was part of the monstrous package that the Washington Senators sent to the Tigers for a fading Denny McLain. That ill-fated deal crippled the Senators, but supplied the Tigers with a newly minted left side of the infield, comprised of Brinkman at shortstop and Aurelio Rodriguez (another onetime Yankee) at third base, along with a competent starting pitcher in Joe Coleman. On a far more esoteric level, I’ll always remember Brinkman for having an incredibly long neck. (Acclaimed sportswriter Tom Stanton once wrote that an older Brinkman, with his lengthy neck and bald head, reminded him of a turtle.) He was the antithesis of Walt “No Neck” Williams, yet another former Yankee. It’s amazing that no one ever stuck Brinkman with the nickname of “Giraffe.”

Frankly, some giraffes might have hit better than Brinkman. And I say that as someone who admired Brinkman as a player. He just couldn’t hit. Outside of Ted Williams’ first two seasons as the Senators’ manager, Brinkman usually struggled to hit better than .220, and did so with little power. He was the kind of player who would have found it tough being an everyday shortstop in today's game, but he was a good fit for the sixties and seventies, when teams willingly gave up offense for defense on the middle infield. A beanpole of a shortstop, Brinkman had excellent range, reliable hands, and a howitzer-like throwing arm that allowed him to make plays deep in the hole. Man, he was fun to watch. Really, he was only a shade inferior to Mark “The Blade” Belanger, the man who epitomized slick-fielding, light-hitting shortstops of that era. Sadly, both Belanger and Brinkman are gone now. Rest in peace, Steady Eddie…

Last month the Hall of Fame staged its latest “Voices of the Game” event, a program celebrating the 20th anniversary of the film, Bull Durham. To the disappointment of some, there was no discussion of politics—absolutely none—during the special program featuring actors Tim Robbins, Susan Sarandon and Robert Wuhl, and Bull Durham director Ron Shelton. After film critic Jeffrey Lyons interviewed the four film notables, the Hall solicited questions from fans, who were asked to write them down. Several fans submitted written questions about the Hall's 2003 boycott of Robbins over his anti-Iraq War stance, but those queries were not used during the program. There was also no opportunity for fans to converse with the actors one-on-one, since no photo session was held afterwards, as has often been the custom at such Hall of Fame events. Instead, Robbins, Sarandon, and company were whisked away to their cars immediately after the program.

I think the decision to avoid political discussion during the program was a smart one. This program was about the film, first and foremost. But the Hall should have at least broached the subject of the 2003 controversy at the beginning of the Durham event. A Hall of Fame spokesman could have briefly explained the reasoning behind the 2003 boycott and how that rationale changed in 2008—and then be done with the issue. I believe that such an announcement, which would have effectively served as a disclaimer, would have satisfied most reasonable fans in attendance.  Instead, event organizers chose to whitewash the issue, which only served to further remind everyone of the 1000-pound elephant that was sitting in the corner of the Hall of Fame’s Grandstand Theater

 Bruce Markusen writes "Cooperstown Confidential" for MLB.com. He can be reached via e-mail at bmarkusen@stny.rr.com.

Comments
2008-10-03 06:55:01
1.   Sonya Hennys Tutu
I have to disagree with your thinking about Giambi, or at least append it. The Yankees may have been wishing that Giambi would magically improve in the field, but their reasons for doing so, as have been shown amply time and again, is that Giambi is simply a much better hitter when he plays the field than when he DHs. Full stop.

Further, they already had (have) a logjam of good bat/bad glove players (see: Damon, Johnny; Abreu, Bobby per your post; and Matsui, Hideki) causing lineup issues around the sole DH slot and resulting defensive issues when the rest are forced onto the field (or offense issues when they're forced to the bench).

So I think their thinking wrt Giambi and 1B is more a product of those factors than to some general bad habit. There's a context here that that simply misses. Not that it isn't true, it's just not complete IMO.

Personally, and I understand this is a major risk, I don't think we should bring back Abreu, even for a single season.

My own GM plan:
-Melky in right
-Gardner in center
-Damon in left
-Matsui as DH (proven at the task in an admittedly small sample)
-Cano at 2nd (unless we trade him for pitching and sign Orlando Hudson which would be fine by me)
-Jeter at SS (yeah yeah I know)
-ARod at 3B
-Posada at C (come what may) with Molina as backup
-Texeira at 1B

Imperfect? Yes. Risky? Yes. But that's my plan.

2008-10-03 07:08:49
2.   Chyll Will
I think you'd be playing with fire with Abreu; as alluded, his proficiency in the outfield is taking a long walk off a short pier, even if his bat is healthy. But as far as full-time DH is concerned, the Yankees have always given into temptation with their DHs to put them back in the outfield; Torre because he figured (and sometimes rightly so) he didn't have a viable alternative due to injury or talent, but mainly due to the old "belly full o' guts" factor, and I don't see it being much different with Girardi perhaps being on the hot seat.

Giving up defense in two critical positions is a big reason that the Yanks have faltered this year, not to mention during the Short Series. With Abreu as DH, you're currently looking at Matsui in left, Damon in center, Nady in right, and leftovers at first (Betemit, Ransom, Miranda?), adding to that, musical chairs at left, center, first and DH.

It's a big mess. Abreu's bat alone will not likely help clear much of that, and add to the logjam at several positions. That's also reasonably why Manny would not be a good signing, though his bat makes a much better argument.

2008-10-03 07:10:33
3.   Chyll Will
1 Jinx! >;)
2008-10-03 07:24:41
4.   Shaun P
Another problem: Abreu cannot DH, because Matsui has to DH. He's awful in field, maybe worse than Abreu - and that's before taking his knees into account. Moving Abreu to DH, and Matsui to LF, negates the advantage the Yanks get by getting Abreu out of RF. It might make things worse. (SG at RLYW has all the gory numbers here: http://tinyurl.com/4d2zb9)

Abreu's offensive numbers look fine now, but they have been going down and are going to continue to do so. He's going to be 35; despite what Dusty Baker will tell you, hitters don't get better or stay the same at 35, they get worse.

I think its clear that Abreu has got to go. We love you Bobby, and thanks for the memories - now go get use some draft picks!

2008-10-03 08:06:44
5.   Bruce Markusen
I don't think Matsui HAS to DH. If he comes to spring training and shows that his knees are healthy, he may become viable trade bait. Or he could become a part-time player or a bench player. We keep talking about the Yankees need to get a better bench, but we don't seem willing to make guys compete for playing time.

As I said in the article, Abreu is also an option for first base, in the event that bids for Teixiera or Dunn don't go well.

2008-10-03 08:30:41
6.   ms october
5 I agree. I like Matsui and appreciate what he has done for the Yankees. But why do we have to hold the DH spot for him? For one thing, I don't think it is a guarantee he can be healthy even to DH. For another, why should that spot be his if other better bats are available. As Bruce points out, that is one way to have a better bench. Now, if the issue comes down to a financial one for the Yankees, then not much to say - he'll probably be the DH.
2008-10-03 08:45:26
7.   Chyll Will
6 But if you base it on the idea he may not be healthy, what could you possibly get in return via trade? Not even a ready-to-play prospect... Then if he is healthy, his trade value will never be higher, so what do you trade for then that would necessitate keeping Abreu, with diminishing outfield skills and a potential logjam at first base?

(What's wrong with me? I guess I have to change my name to Chillium William; what with all this making sense and stuff >;)

2008-10-03 09:04:45
8.   ms october
7 well sir chillium william :}, i don't think the yanks will get much for matsui - i think we are "stuck" with him. if no tex and he can play a reasonably competent 1b i suppose i could live with that. i guess i am just of the feeling that now that the yanks don't have plus, plus production from the up the middle positions, and don't really have a monster masher at the corner of slots, 1b and dh shouldn't be sacrifice slots where you just dump somebody becuase they have no ability to play the outfield or catch anymore. i guess what i am trying to get at is just because somebody turns into a rusty robot (copyright oyf), they shouldn't just be given the dh - the dh should be the best bat that either isn't or can't play the field. the odd man out of these situations, if they can't be traded, might have to ride some pine. now maybe matsui ends up being the best bat, but maybe not. i guess it is really just my wish that the yanks don't pass up on a better hitter in the fa market just because matsui is slotted in as the dh.
2008-10-03 09:06:51
9.   das411
As a Phillies fan, can I just say how glad I am that this thread, despite the title, actually has nothing to do with Abreu himself going to Cooperstown?

Do you guys finally agree that he was a classic case of "so underrated he's overrated"?

2008-10-03 09:32:35
10.   Chyll Will
8 Oh, I definitely agree with you on that, especially since odds are Matsui is the best potential bat in the lot. The Yanks really did this to themselves in the course of collecting aging stars from other teams, which makes me fear signing Manny all the more despite his being the overwhelming best bat on the market when all is said and done.

What I fear the most is that the projections come to fruition at the same time; next season you may have Damon, Matsui, Posada and a bevy of bench players all needing time at first. Throw Abreu in there and you have a soykus!

Plus, I'm not all that sure any of them at this point in their careers would be better than Damon at first, and Johnny's no first baseman to begin with...

2008-10-03 12:24:13
11.   yankster
1 , 3 You forgetting NADY?
2008-10-03 12:50:53
12.   Chyll Will
11 Nope 2 , in a better world, Nady is our 4th OF; as it stands today, he starts in right; left if Damon DHs or plays first. Melky? I dunno, he may not be here by then; if he is, he's behind Nady and quite possibly Gardner.
2008-10-03 12:53:07
13.   Sonya Hennys Tutu
11 No I'm not. I didn't specify but my assumption is he's gone for an arm. His second half tail spin was a regression to the mean I see no reason to regard as a fluke. It was his first half that was the fluke...and since I'm playing GM here that's what I'd do :)

As for the starters:
-Mussina if we can get him on a 1 year deal
-Hughes
-Joba
-Wang
-CC
-Pettitte on a 1 yr deal

And yes I know that's 6 starters.

And yes, I know I've landed both CC and Tex here. All the more imperative to let Abreu and Giambi go.

2008-10-03 12:58:00
14.   Sonya Hennys Tutu
BTW I do love the idea of Matsui as a possible bench guy. I know that's steep for a bench player, but thinking back to 96-00 we had an awful lot of guys that now seem quite a bit like him in retrospect.
2008-10-03 13:00:13
15.   Sonya Hennys Tutu
I'm also OK with keeping Nady if we do indeed ship Melky out which seems possible if not likely. Still, I don't think Cash will give up on him yet, and I think starting the season in right takes some pressure off him, and combined with Gardner in center makes for a VASTLY improved OF defense for next year. Even with Damon in left :)
2008-10-03 13:08:05
16.   Chyll Will
13 I don't think we can get Moose for less than two. If he's coming back, he definitely wants to reach 300, and one year isn't gonna do it. I like his influence on Hughes and the other youngsters (if they're listening), so I wouldn't really mind two more at best for Moose; especially as a change-of-pace pitcher.

Now Moose and Pettitte? Not really sanguine with that. This might end up being a trade situation.

14 Agreed, and that role, if performed to expectations, could actually raise his trade value if considered.

2008-10-03 13:12:24
17.   Chyll Will
15 Melky staying is a bigger gamble than trading him; flip side of trading the kids. I hope they keep close tabs on him during the winter. I'd hate to lose his glove, but when you carry a vampire bat in the lineup, the stakes are higher if you keep him (and yes, pun fully intended >;)
2008-10-03 13:14:28
18.   Chyll Will
17 ...flip side of trading the kid pitchers.
2008-10-03 14:09:47
19.   Sonya Hennys Tutu
Re: Melky I'm not sure how much of anything we'd get! I don't disagree that the risk of keeping him is HIGH, but his 2008 was extremely poor.

On Moose and Pettitte I figure 6 for insurance plus the innings limit thing for both Hughes and Joba.

On Moose and years - yeah I hear you and would be surprised if he takes less than two years guaranteed. If he wants that, give it to him but sacrifice Pettitte. Maybe :)

2008-10-03 17:35:47
20.   Chyll Will
Too bad George Sherrill isn't a free agent; if the Yankees signed him and Mussina at the same time, that's almost manna from heaven for the back pages... >;)

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