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No Cliff Lee? No Problem! Yankee Offseason Pickups Prove Valuable

To the average baseball fan, the Yankees’ offseason didn’t seem too productive.  Their most hated rivals, the Boston Red Sox, picked up Carl Crawford, whom everyone seemed certain would sign with New York.  Superstar pitcher Cliff Lee opted for less money (big burn!) and returned to the Phillies.

Instead of the expected blockbuster, the Yankees made some different moves.  Although the deals were rather low-profile, each one was made to fill a void that the Yankees anticipated for the 2011 season.

Russell Martin

In the wake of Andy Pettitte’s retirement and Lee’s passing on the Yankee offer, baseball analysts and fans alike wondered who would fill the fourth and fifth spots in the rotation.  During the offseason, the Yankees signed Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia to minor-league contracts.  (Ironically, Cliff Lee was one of the prospects traded by the Montreal Expos for Colon back in 2002 before their reincarnation as the Washington Nationals.)

Originally, it was expected that both Garcia and Colon would start out in the minors and perhaps be called up to be either the long man in the bullpen or replace a starter in case of injury.  When Phil Hughes was placed on the disabled list after three unsuccessful starts, it provided both pitchers with a chance to step up.  Like Martin, Colon and Garcia have far exceeded expectations.  So far Colon has made three starts, with a record of 2-1 and an ERA of 3.00.  Garcia has made four starts, with a record of 1-1 and an ERA of 2.00.  Both pitchers have also come in as relievers this season, and pitched a combined 51 innings, proving they can give the Yankees much-needed distance.

Eric Chavez

Two veteran players the Yankees picked up for their bench this season have also proven themselves to be valuable.  Eric Chavez is a utility infielder who has made a few starts and come in late in games in order to give regulars a rest.  He is currently batting .290 with an on-base percentage of over .400.  Andruw Jones, notorious to Yankee fans as the 19-year-old who hit two home runs against them in the 1996 World Series, has settled into his role as bench outfielder quite nicely.  Jones is batting .280 in 25 at bats.  Perhaps even more important than his bat is his ability to switch from right to left field.  With both Brett Gardner and Nick Swisher getting off to slow offensive starts, Jones has been able to fill in for each.  And Swisher can’t begin to compete with Jones’ arm, one reminiscent of Paul O’Neill’s.

The season is young, but so far the Yankees’ offseason pickups are making Brian Cashman look like a genius.  Perhaps the best move he made was not picking up Crawford.  The outfielder is sporting a sub-.200 average with only 1 home run and looks as lost at Fenway as a fan wearing a Yankee shirt.

But as everyone says, the baseball season is a marathon, not a sprint.  And the Yankees can be content to say that so far, they’re at the head of the race.

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