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Putting the Futility in Utility
2006-01-06 05:33
by Alex Belth
Note: The Bronx Banter blog has moved to bronxbanterblog.com.

Miguel Cairo is officially back in the Bronx. But our pal Steve Goldman warns that while Cairo had a nice season for the Bombers in 2004, he isn't necessarily the best available cherce out there:

Cairo's .292 average in 2004 was worth just two wins over replacement. That's not much. Nor is it evidence that playing for the Yankees makes him better, or that he can "hack it in the Bronx." Since he crashed with the Mets, is that proof that he can make it in the Bronx but Queens is too much for him? In fact, Queens represented nothing but a return to form. Batting average fluctuates — sometimes more hits fall in than others. Since hitting for average (or a semblance thereof) is all Cairo can do, he's going to have swings to the negative extreme of his abilities (.245, Cardinals, 2003), the positive extreme (.292, Yankees, 2004), and back again (.251, Mets, 2005). I don't know where Cairo's average will land this year, but looking at his career as a whole, he's far more likely to resemble the Mets version of himself.

Ah, fer the good old days of Chicken Stanley.

Comments
2006-01-06 06:38:48
1.   bp1
I don't know Steve Goldman other than through reading his blog and bible entries, but man can that guy be negative. It's gotten to the point where I don't read it anymore, because it is always a downer. His next job should be for the NYTimes.

I liked Cairo on the Yankees and was sorry to see him go. He worked hard, hustled, and battled at the plate. Is he a superstar? No. How many superstars are going to be bench players?

I think the move to bring back Cairo is excellent.

BP

2006-01-06 06:47:45
2.   sabernar
We missed out on Nomar as our super-utility guy, so who else is out there? I'm not enamored by the Cairo signing, but we need a utility guy. Is there anyone else out there that would have been that much better of a signing?
2006-01-06 06:50:32
3.   Alex Belth
Oh, sorry about that, but I forgot to link to Steve's blog--which I've done now--which has more on Cairo, comparing him with other potential utility infielders...

I think Steve's logic makes sense here, but personality-wise, I enjoyed watching Cairo play.

2006-01-06 07:06:58
4.   Sliced Bread
Cairo sort of reminds me of Stanley. He tends to have good at-bats, deliver clutch hits, advance runners, play steady defense, and not make a lot of costly mistakes.
What's not to like about Miguel Cairo as a backup infielder? I'm happy to see him back on the Yanks.
2006-01-06 07:16:28
5.   Dimelo
I have to agree with the 1st post. When will people realize that not all players get on-base, not all players have a value over replacement north of zero? Cairo is a player that can spell relief for ARod (Cairo at 3rd, ARod DH'ing) and Cano on any given day or any other infield position. He's not a superstar and the Yankees didn't bring him here to be a superstar. Can someone please tell me who is the best utility player in the game today? Please don't say Nomar because we all know he's not going to be a utility player. A utility player that will get no more than 300 ABs. I know one thing, when a ball hit to Cairo or he cuts a ball off, he knows exactly what to do with it. That's more than I can say for a lot of players the Yankees had on their bench last year. I won't be scared if a ball is hit to him because he's not a butcher on the field. He'll do the right things and that's all I can ask of a utility player.
2006-01-06 07:24:21
6.   wsporter
Cairo will be used as the primary infield utility guy (PIUGY?). Offensive production is not the sole criteria that these guys should be judged on. Cairo is a decent and adaptable defensive player, capable of handling 3rd, 2nd, Short and even 1st. He has real utility value in that regard. If Torre likes him in the clubhouse he's even more valuable. If his hitting approaches 2004 we should all drop to our knees and praise heaven. If he's a 2005 Mets version hitter I think we can live and succeed with him.

The best part of that link is Steve's response to letter #6. Ouch, pretentious dude got crushed. The lesson I think is if you're going to insult the guy who's holding the microphone you better be right and you better make it good or your dead. Alex, I think you're safe.

2006-01-06 07:29:18
7.   Felix Heredia
What won't show up in the stats is that Cairo is dependable and tough. Like Giambi, he's happy to get hit by a pitch and take his base. And who could forget him sweeping Varitek's legs in that 13 inning game against Boston (the Jeter dive) - it was a force at home and the leg sweep prevented Varitek from completing a double play. Varitek didn't like it, and it didn't amount to anything, but it was clean and hard. Yanks need that attitude.
2006-01-06 07:29:41
8.   bp1
Anyone remember Cairo's performance in the "Jeter dives into the stands" game? The guy has heart. I'll take a Cairo over a Lofton anyday, no matter what it might say on the back of their baseball cards. Some guys fit. Some guys don't. Cairo fit. I like the move.

Welcome back, Miguel.

BP

2006-01-06 07:32:20
9.   bp1
Yo Felix Heredia,

That game left a mark, eh? We were both thinking the same. And that wasn't the only game where Cairo showed his stones, only the one that is most remembered.

BP

2006-01-06 07:36:01
10.   bp1
Which makes me wonder for how long people will be talking about that game and referring to it as the "Jeter dives into the stands" game. I was dead at work the day after that one. One we tell our grandkids about? Maybe. A heck of a game.

(Sorry for the tangent)

BP

2006-01-06 08:01:09
11.   Cliff Corcoran
Dimelo, I hope you meant to say average and not replacement. The definition of replacement level is that it is the absolute baseline of acceptibility as one can obtain replacement level performance off the waiver wire or from a random triple-A player (thus the term "replacement" level).

To that end, while I agree that Cairo was a valuable player for the Yankees in 2004 and was a player I enjoyed rooting for (especially as the alternative was Enrique Wilson--BTW, in '04 Wilson was sub-replacement level while Cairo was around league average), I'm not convinced that Cairo will significantly outperform what the Yankees could have gotten from Felix Escalona. The issue there isn't getting a better player, but not having to pay $1 million for something you already have at the league minimum.

2006-01-06 08:29:47
12.   Ben
You've got to figure that Cairo is offering something beyond numbers. Cashman is sure to be aware of his history, good years, bad years alike. Whether that beyond numbers thing is, can play with Yanks, or is one of Torre's guys, it's irrelevant. Clearly the yanks wanted him over other options and they got him. He's fun to watch and seems to bring intangibles to his game, so I'm a happy fan.

He reminds me of Brosius, offensively. 1 good year, but was never a guy I was upset to see at the plate in a big moment.

Anyway, how many other players hold onto their batting glovies while running the bases?

2006-01-06 09:23:46
13.   Nick from Washington Heights
"Anyway, how many other players hold onto their batting glovies while running the bases?"

good question. baserunners are taught to have something in their hands while they run so as to prevent injury during a slide. Supposedly, you'll keep your hands from scarping the ground as an automatic response.

I think a lot of players use dirt instead of gloves. But you're right. Cairo holding the gloves is his iconic image. Good recall. Also the gapped-tooth grin.

2006-01-06 09:35:53
14.   Cliff Corcoran
When the Yanks first picked up Cairo, Alex pointed out the resemblence to Jeter. I had never noticed it, as Jeter is generally considered handsome and Cairo is generally considered ugly or at the very least funny-lookin', but he was right. In talking about Cairo to a friend upon his rejoining the team I described him as the Bizzaro Jeter, or the Danny DeVito half of the Jeter/Cairo Twins pairing. I think the latter is especially apt.

No one will ever be able to beat Michael Strahan's tooth-gap, however. Here's hoping Strahan finds a gap of equal girth in the Carolina O-line on Sunday.

2006-01-06 10:39:20
15.   Sliced Bread
Cliff and Alex,

I hadn't noticed Cairo's bizzaro resemblence to Jeter either, but now that you bring it to our attention... hillarious.
But none of us will be laughing if Miggy has to replace Jeets for any length of time. Woof. As serviceable as he is, Cairo would really look like Derek's less-appealing doppleganger as our everyday shortstop.

2006-01-06 11:00:32
16.   joejoejoe
Is it worth $500,000 extra to have a veteran like Miguel Cairo sit next to league minimum Robinson Cano all year on the bench and teach him how to be pro? There is value in that beyond what Escalona can bring. You still have a super bargain 2B combination w/Cairo & Cano. Also, I think Cairo's postseason numbers may have influenced Cashman's thinking. Here's Cairo compared to Luis Sojo, the last clutch PIUGY.

Postseason totals:
Miguel Cairo .328/.414/.459 - 61AB
Luis Sojo .257/.284/.317 - 101AB

It's a small sample but I like it :).

2006-01-06 12:10:25
17.   BklynBomber
Speaking of bench depth, the Sox just picked up J.T. Snow...

http://tinyurl.com/8ya8o

Not a bad move at all. I dunno about $2M, but he still has a sweet glove and enough poke left for Pesky's Pole.

2006-01-06 12:19:54
18.   unpopster
Yanks also signed Al Leiter to a minor league contract and invited him to Spring Training.

Rotoworld speculates that as a looooong shot to make the team out of the Spring, the Senator would probably end up in the YES booth.

2006-01-06 12:26:30
19.   BobbyBaseBall
I just noticed something interesting in Steve Goldman's blog. He throws out the idea of trading Pavano to the Phillies for Bobby Abreu. I really like the way the outfield looks already, but thats hard not to like. And if theres any truth to Carl wanting out of the Bronx, then it's worth exploring. I'm just wondering if Gillick would trade Abreu straight up or ask for a prospect or two...
2006-01-06 12:30:43
20.   yankz
I first thought that Gillick would have to be a moron to trade Abreu for Pavano, straight up. Then I remembered that he just signed Ryan Franklin...
2006-01-06 12:41:50
21.   markp
On the other hand...

If nobody on the bench got ABs, having a hitter as bad as Cairo (etc.) wouldn't be a problem. But they do. And sometimes in key situations.
Getting a solid bench guy isn't as important as having a capable MLB player in CF, but it does make a difference. Having guys like Cairo getting 100+ ABs hurts the team. But the Sojo/Wilson/etc parade marches on.

2006-01-06 13:10:43
22.   Cliff Corcoran
Unpopster, Leiter '06 makes me think of Girardi '04. Spring Training to the booth. I could deal with that.
2006-01-06 13:20:06
23.   Ben
Abreu for Pavano would make Gillick a laughing stock.
2006-01-06 14:23:33
24.   joejoejoe
I'm not sure how you would figure it but I wonder if you can calculate the value of a player over 162 games vs. the value in a 7 games series?

I just read some of Jeff Angus' 'Management by Baseball' blog and the Angels try and maximize baserunning (1st to 3rd, SBs) and sacrifice bunts because they have low OB%. They use a Moneyball approach to find value in the market for those players (who may be undervalued) as opposed to high OB% players who are increasingly hard to find.

http://cmdr-scott.blogspot.com/2005/10/part-i-sabermetrically-challenged-la.html

Miguel Cairo may be replacement level over 162 games. But in a short series where the value of a sacrifice bunt or a productive out is increased (pythagorean W-L doesn't count in the playoffs) can a player like Cairo have outsized value?

2006-01-06 14:27:13
25.   The Mick 536
I like Miggie a lot. Sorry that Willie didn't make the most of him. No doubt he had other infielders on his mind.

I also like Phil Linz. And he could play the harmonica. Bobby Browns don't come down the pike often. Utility player in 1947-8. Went to medical school, became a doctor and the president of the AL when there was such a thing. Larry Milbourne? Otherwise a lot of drek for utility men.

Chicken, who stayed around for 8 years, 1973-80 batted .261 in 1977 in 48 games, his only respectable year.

2006-01-06 17:40:48
26.   wsporter
Who is currently the best MLB Utility Infielder? How about in the last ten years? I don't think we've had a PIUGY (sorry its stuck in my head) as good as the 2004 version of Miggy Cairo in the last 10 - 20 years. Am I forgetting anyone? I'm glad he's back. I have a soft spot for homecomings, especially when good guys are making them.
2006-01-06 20:07:37
27.   no2ss
I've heard, by the way, that Cairo is supposed to be one of the best around at figuring out the "tell" of a pitcher tipping his pitches. That can certainly be valuable in other ways, both in letting teammates know how to hit pitchers and also in helping stop our own hurlers from tipping pitches so much (something people thought RJ was doing last year).

That was actually the main reason I was sorry to see him go last year.

2006-01-06 20:49:44
28.   markp
Sacrifice bunts have the same (usually negative) value in postseason games that they have in regular season games. It's still exactly the same game with exactly the same rules in the same ballparks, whether it's the regular season, the play-offs, or the world series.
I really don't care how much "heart" a player is perceived to have or if he's a "scrapper". I prefer good baseball players over bad ones. The more good players you have-on the bench or starting-the more games you win. That goes for 7 game series or 162 game seasons.
2006-01-06 20:54:36
29.   wsporter
markp

Are you saying or suggesting that Cairo is a "bad" ballplayer?

2006-01-07 03:53:47
30.   debris
Bklynbomber,

The Sox' signing of Snow is significant for another reason. It signals the Sox readiness to commit to Kevin Youkilis at first base, with Snow to face some righties and play late defense. Despite all the beating of breasts and hair pulling, the Sox appear, even with their holes, to be a stronger team in every way next year, starting, relieving, defense, offense. Even with Adam Stern and Alex Cora/Dustin Pedroia in the starting lineup.

The pitching we know about. The defense is upgraded at every infield position.

The offense is upgraded or equivalent to last year in every spot but the 9 hole. Remember, they did lead the league in runs scored last year with a lot of holes in the lineup.

As currently constructed: The Sox leadoff hitter the last four years, I've forgotten his name, had an aggregate OBP of .362. Youkilis, despite spending most of his time gathering dust on the bench the last two years, has compiled a career OBP of .376 in 430 plate appearances. He's a good baserunner with above average speed and similar power to what's his name. He won't steal bases, but with Manny and Papi, we don't need no stinkin' swipes. The Sox lose nothing at the top.

Loretta is a nice upgrade from Edgar Renteria, who, while doing a dismal job turning double plays as a shortstop, managed to hit into them like a lead-footed power hitter.

Manny-Papi-Varitek are the same guys.

Nixon was on the DL or playing hurt half of last season.

Will Lowell bounce back as most prognosticators think or did elimination of steroids cause his early demise. In either case, he can't be worse than Kevin Millar was last year. This could be a huge upgrade.

The eight hole. Alex Cora is certainly no replacement for Bill Mueller. We have a significant downgrade here. The only one.

Even if Adam Stern winds up as the everyday centerfielder, can he possbily give the Sox less in the 9 hole than the got from Mark Bellhorn, who was the regular for 2/3 of the season. In all liklihood, Stern will be the backup to an acquisition.

2006-01-07 05:07:52
31.   markp
Cairo, despite the one big year in NY, has a career OPS of 77. He's not a good fielder anymore (RF below league average over the past several seasons) and has no speed. The last point is the only thing that seperates him from Womack.
The answer is yes, we could have done better at #1 reserve IF, but Cairo is one of Joe's guys. With Joe's guys ability is secondary.
2006-01-07 06:34:28
32.   wsporter
I'm not sure where your getting your numbers on Cairo but take a look at these. I don't think he's as awful as you make him out to be. Pay attention to his second base numbers. The numbers suggest and watching him confirms that the guy can play and as you say he's one of Joe's boys which IMHO is a big factor given the role he's expected to fill.

http://www.baseball-reference.com/c/cairomi01.shtml

http://www.hardballtimes.com/winshares/index.php?search=&linesToDisplay=100&sort=total&sort2=WSAB&limit1=NYN&limit2=Position&leagueLimit=League

http://www.baseballprospectus.com/dt/cairomi01.shtml

2006-01-07 09:15:29
33.   Start Spreading the News
As for Cairo tipping off people to the incoming pitches, I read a story about that in `3 nights in August´. I believe it was Cairo who was on 2nd and tipping off the battter. Clemens was the pitcher who gets pissed about this. He walks off the mound to 2nd and says "Someone is going to get killed if this keeps up."

Cairo stopped.

2006-01-07 09:19:58
34.   Jay Jaffe
#26:

speaking as something of an aficionado of the subject, I can tell you that some of the best futilitymen of the past decade are guys who went on to claim full-time jobs: Melvin Mora, Chone Figgins, Mark Loretta, Ronnie Belliard, Placido Polanco Sometimes, like Figgins, those jobs aren't just at one position; they're everyday utilitymen like Mark McLemore, or, to go back a few years, Jose Oquendo, Tony Phillips or late-career Davey Lopes. To a lesser extent, Desi Relaford was pretty good there for a couple years, as was our man Luis Sojo.

In general, the best these guys bring you is an acceptable OBP and maybe a bit of speed. Miggy was damn useful when he put up a .346 OBP two years ago, and there may be something to his working with Don Mattingly -- he certainly was happy about his progress. But with a career OBP of .318, the odds of a repeat are against him. Still, he's light years better than a return engagement for Enrique Wilson, truly one of the most useless wastes of protoplasm ever to wear pinstripes -- unless Pedro Martinez was pitching, of course.

2006-01-07 10:08:39
35.   joejoejoe
markp - I understand your point about offensive efficiency but there is little utility in finishing with 105 wins over 100 wins if you make the playoffs in either case.

In a short series there may be certain talents like base stealing and sacrifice bunting that increase your ability to score the decisive game winning run as the circumstance present themselves, not on a statistical average over a 162 game series.

And you completely discount the value of Cairo in things like pitch tipping mentioned above. He can also mentor Cano in a way that adds value. I'm just not understanding the anti-Cairo sentiments here.

If it was all about OPS we should just get Miguel Tejada to be the PIUGY, right? Beyond that everything is a compromise and I like the compromise of having Cairo on the bench.

2006-01-07 10:28:12
36.   markp
once again: the same rules apply in a short, post-season series that apply to the regular season: attempts at base-stealing (what does Cairo have to do with base stealing?) and sacrifice bunts have the same value in either place. Post season games don't increase their (questionable) value over a game in April.

Cairo's defensive limitations were noted by quite a few observers when he was here and the numbers bear the observations out, and now he's two years older.

2006-01-07 10:30:37
37.   wsporter
Jay:

Thanks for looking at that. I think your answer illustrates the point I want to make, that is, with this lineup there aren't going to be the opportunities that existed for Melvin Mora, Chone Figgins, Mark Loretta, Ronnie Belliard, Placido Polanco and others for Cairo. Mora, Figgins and Belliard were major factors in their teams offense. What I think Cairo is going to be expected to do is provide a Luis Sojo like presence. Show up knowing he may not play but be ready to if he's called upon. At this stage he can't expect to leverage his position into full time work. I don't see why he won't be able to do that. He'll know his role, he'll accept it and he won't embarrass his bosses while performing it on the field, in the clubhouse or on the back pages. I like him. I'm glad he's back.

2006-01-07 11:42:19
38.   Cliff Corcoran
Forgive me for butting in as I've not had time to read the most recent comments, but in scanning the above I caught #33. Cairo and Clemens have never been teammates. Clemens left the Yankees after the '03 series. Cairo joined the Yankees in '04. Cairo played nine games at second for the '96 Blue Jays, but Clemens didn't join the Blue Jays until '97. Otherwise the two have never even played for the same franchise.
2006-01-07 11:43:09
39.   Cliff Corcoran
Also, please do not post long links as they stretch out the page. Instead shrink them down with Make A Shorter Link.

Thanks,

The Management

2006-01-08 06:41:39
40.   jdrennan
I think the real issue with signing Cairo is the question
a) what is the impact on the Yankees budget
b) what else could they have used the money for
c) would he really perform better than a 4-A type guy who could be added for the major league minimum.

While I enjoy watching Cairo play, I don't enjoy watching the Yankees subsudize the rest of the league with their luxury tax payments, and I certainly don't appreciate the affect it has on the ticket prices year-to-year. This deal doesn't add allot to the payroll relative to the other contracts, but you string together enough of these and they start to add up.

2006-01-08 12:38:26
41.   debris
Cliff,

Read number 33 again. The way I read it, Cairo was the runner on 2nd, Clemens the pitcher. Hence, not teammates.

2006-01-09 09:54:33
42.   sam2175
30

Regarding Red Sox line-up. A very significant assumption is continued production from Jason Varitek. Given his age, position, and second half struggles last year, I have to say that there is a very significant chance of a rapid decline for Varitek.

I believe that you present only the best case scenario for the Red Sox (which as a fan, you are entitled to do) and not the most realistic scenario.

2006-01-09 18:06:47
43.   Start Spreading the News
regarding #33 and #41, Not to belabor the issue but I may not have been very clear. Cairo was the runner on 2nd. The pitcher, Clemens, was getting signs from the catcher. They were being read by cairo who the line of sight as well by being on second. He was passing the signals to the batters. Clemens who was pitching then got mad at Cairo and issued his threats.

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