Brian Cashman, despite being in command of the richest franchise in sports, likes going through other teams’ garbage. Don’t believe me?
Sidney Ponson is the best example from this year, but there have been others over the past couple seasons: Richie Sexson, Darrell Rasner, Billy Traber, Brian Bruney, Josh Phelps, Aaron Guiel, Sal Fasano, Scott Erickson, Tanyon Sturtze, Mark Bellhorn, Rey Sanchez, Matt Lawton, Buddy Groom, Tim Redding, and the list goes on.
And those are just players who nobody wanted enough to offer them the minimum. Obviously, most of them have been pretty terrible, but they should be, right? They’ve gotten some good innings from Rasner, Sturtze had a decent run before Torre decided it was time to end his career by pitching him everyday, Bruney is still a good find, and a few of the others served their purpose for a time.
I’ve heard before that it’s somehow “embarrassing” when the Yankees resort to playing players that nobody wants. That is an extremely arrogant and ignorant way of looking at things.
Finding players from the “scrapheap” is what builds good teams. It involves a little luck. Look at David Ortiz. He obviously wasn’t quite a player whom nobody wanted – but he wasn’t exactly in high demand. In the 3 previous seasons in Minnesota, which were the only ones where he received more than 300 ABs, he was a decent hitter, posting OPSs of .810, .799, and .839 respectively. But, as is the case now, he couldn’t run or field and was best suited to DH. And those aren’t staggering numbers for a DH. So Minnesota didn’t offer him arbitration.
A few teams (including the Yanks) gave a look at him as a left handed bat for the bench or a platoon. The Red Sox signed him for $1.25M, which is barely above the veteran minimum. Within a year, he became their most dangerous hitter and I think we all know the rest. You could easily argue that he was their most important offensive player from 2003-2007 (though that Manny guy was pretty good too). Do you see the Red Sox winning without Ortiz? I don’t.
This season we’ve seen the Tampa Bay Rays rise to the top of the AL, primarily because of their young talent, especially the starting rotation. However, one of the rocks in their lineup has been Carlos Pena. Where did he come from? Well, the scrap heap of course. Both the Yankees and Red Sox had him in their minor leagues at one point but neither could afford to give him ABs in the majors.
Who else? Chris Carpenter, while still injury plagued, had a few good years for the Cardinals as their ace. One season brought a World Series championship.
I could keep going, but the point is that a lot of great players were nobodys before they were somebodys. And even players who weren’t great necessarily: look at the beloved Scott Brosius.
Next year, Melky Cabrera, Brett Gardner, and Johnny Damon are all flawed CF options for the Yankees. It would be wise for them to sift through the junk pile and bring in someone to compete. Looking at the 2009 FA class, there aren’t a ton of options. Mark Kotsay could still have a few good seasons left. But the name that stands out to me is: Rocco Baldelli. I know, I know, he’s been the outfield equivalent of Carl Pavano. But he’s only 27 and when he does play, he’s good. He has the potential to be very good. And because of his medical past, most teams won’t want to invest any money in him. If the Yankees could bring him in for a relatively modest contract, isn’t that exactly the type of high risk/high reward move a team with the Yankees’ resources should be making?