According to New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi, Xavier Nady has a leg up for the starting job in right field.
Coming as a surprise to many including myself, Girardi has appeared to have gone against his heart by not sticking with personal favorite Nick Swisher.
Instead, the Yankees brass decided to think in terms of July 31 as opposed to April 6.
Swisher is the more dynamic offensive player, possessing more power and the ability to hit successfully from both sides of the plate.
Defensively, Swisher has greater range and the tendency to get dirty to make an inning-changing play.
Nady is more than adequate as a defensive outfielder, but lacks the hard-nosed mindset to commit to sacrificing his body. He has always been perceived as a glider as opposed to a sprinter.
It is clear that 2008 was a season Swisher could not have cooked up even in his worst nightmares.
He managed to hit just .219, and seemed lost at the plate in his first year with the Chicago White Sox. He generated just 69 RBI and 21 doubles, the lowest such totals of his career.
However, Swisher still managed to post a higher American League OBP than Nady in 2008.
Nady had a .320 OBP in New York, as opposed to Swisher’s .332 OBP in Chicago. This is a telling stat considering the abnormally low batting average Swisher carried.
Nady was able to capitalize off of one superb half of baseball in Pittsburgh in order to skyrocket his worth.
The Yankees are now hoping he can do the same in the first half of 2009.
With Swisher under contract through the end of 2011, Nady is the expendable piece in a crowded Yankees outfield puzzle.
If the Yankees are to receive solid trade value in return for Nady, he will have to play on a consistent basis.
By handing him the starting right field job before the end of spring training, they will hope to jumpstart his confidence heading into April.
The Yankees would have traded Nady months ago had the right opportunity presented itself.
However, the discounted prices teams received for Pat Burrell, Bobby Abreu, and Raul Ibanez severely crippled their chances of finding interested suitors.
A salary dump is always available, but GM Brian Cashman is in no hurry to give away a valuable player for nothing more than minor league journeymen.
If Nady is hitting .300 or above heading into July, teams will come calling in droves for his services. Cashman will be ready to listen, likely in search of major league-ready bullpen help for the stretch run.
Perhaps Girardi is making sure a lineup without Alex Rodriguez does not become left-hand dominant. Swisher has always generated much more power from the left side.
Ironically, Nady struggled last year against left-handed pitching. He hit only .262 against lefties in 2008, while his season average stood at .305.
If this trend continues, the Yankees may be left wondering what advantage Nady holds over Swisher.
Do not be surprised if this “victory” is no more than a marketing campaign for Nady’s services come July.