The Salty Veteran Vs The Speedy Youth
Last year, Brett Gardner demanded Yankee attention during Spring Training while hitting .385 with three fence-clearing home-runs and showing blazing speed effectively making smaller the gaps in the outfield, especially left-center or Death Valley.
And without question, the Yankees will keep a close eye on his play this spring while contrasting it with their newly acquired, veteran-outfielder, Randy Winn.
It was announced last April that Gardner had earned the coveted-title, Yankee centerfielder, edging out promising fan-favorite, Melky Cabrera. And he kept that edge over Cabrera, completing 48 games in centerfield through July’s end as Melky went onto platoon.
“Mr. Speed” impressed fans with his play in the field, racing to cover huge gaps in left & right center and making motoring smash-into-wall catches at the warning-track of fence’s edge.
Gardner is a gritty, stone-jawed, young player and proved his courage on July 26th when he broke his thumb diving into second while stealing another one-of-twenty six total bags.
Instead of whining about the injury, Gardner gutted it out and went onto play the complete game. And thank-goodness, because—despite a loose shard of bone in his thumb, no doubt sending searing pain—Brett robbed Raji Davis off a short blooper hit over second-base. With a full-throttle head of steam and blatant disregard, Gardner made a full-body diving catch to help the Yankees topple the A’s.
At the end of the day, Gardner’s flat, long-in-the-zone swing left him hitting .275 in his first, albeit shortened, Yankee season.
And in only one-third of the plate-appearances of the player to lead New York in steals, Gardner reminded the team what it meant to have speed, finishing second in stolen bases—26—to Yankee Captain, Derek Jeter’s 30.
Not since Rickey Henderson garnered the pin-stripes have Yankee fans seen anything remotely close to Garnder's speed. When given the chance to play complete games for a full-season, Gardner could easily top seventy-Bronx Bomber-steals.
Potentially standing in the way of Gardner’s aspirations to be the regular outfielder of the New York Yankees is the freshly signed, veteran, all-star outfielder; Randy Winn.
It was first speculated that the Yankees were looking for a right-handed bat to bring off the bench, seemingly to cover for Curtis Granderson’s struggling offense against left-handed pitchers.
But Randy Winn’s .158-average against lefties in 2009 leaves much to be desired, as Granderson has struggled with the same, hitting .183.
It means that Winn will not replace Curtis against left-handed pitchers despite speculation and according to Joe Girardi , Winn was not signed to replace Johnny Damon, but rather to guarantee team-depth and add competition.
What it does mean, is Winn and Gardner will square off this spring in heated competition for a regular spot in the Yankee outfield.
If you’re one to think Winn was signed to be the regular starter, replacing Damon, think again.
While Winn does have impressive offensive numbers—.262 in 2009, .306 in ’08 & .300 in ’07—Gardner’s numbers against left-handed pitchers cannot go unnoticed.
Last year, Gardner hit .292 against lefties.
Without question, Gardner will play when the Yankees face a left-handed pitcher. There is no way that Granderson and Winn will face a lefty in the same game.
And while Winn is “Mr. Reliable,” having played in at least 149 games in each season since 2002, his power numbers leave for some interesting comparison.
In 2009, Winn had a .262 batting average to Brett’s .270 and had only two home-runs in 597 plate-appearances to Gardner’s three homers in 284 plate-appearances.
Randy had an on-base-percentage of .318 to Gardner’s .345—and—Brett has the edge in slugging-percentage as well, .379 to .353; for a total OPS of .724 to .671, Gardner over Winn.
The competition between Gardner and Winn will make for an interesting Spring Training for both fans and management alike.
With Winn’s impressive durability, all-star caliber play and higher-than-the-norm batting average over the past three years; and Gardner’s obvious edge in power numbers, stolen bases and ability to cover more field—one thing is for sure—the Yankee outfield is better this year than last.
The orthodox thought for baseball purist would demand that Curtis Granderson replace Johnny Damon in left-field. He has power numbers, a decent arm, good speed, and would be a clear improvement over Damon.
With lightning-fast speed, Brett Gardner would be a clear improvement over Cabrera. He has an average arm, hits for average and would pester pitchers all game long while on base.
The fact that Gardner is faster than Granderson demands that he at least be considered for center, because he would cover more ground in the vast Yankee centerfield. Not to mention that Curtis reportedly takes some suspicious routes to the ball.
And assuming that Gardner earns a starting role over Winn, Randy’s solid batting average may mean he platoons with Nick Swisher.
They are both switch hitters and while Swisher hits for power, Winn hits for average and would most likely be called-in for defense in the back-end of games to preserve a lead.
It all makes for a dynamic outfield as the Yankees head into 2010 in an attempt to repeat as World Series Champs; now with combinations that would both guarantee offense, and more importantly, solid defense.
Related Video Holy Cow: The Yankees Scoop! Gardner Vs Winn.