Yankees Need The Right Melky Cabrera

Perry ArnoldSenior Analyst IApril 29, 2009

NEW YORK - APRIL 22:  Melky Cabrera #53 of The New York Yankees rounds the bases after hitting the game winning home run against The Oakland Athletics in the 14th inning of their game on April 22, 2009 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx Borough of New York.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

Over the past four years, New York Yankee fans have seen several Melky Cabrera's.

There was the one we saw when he first arrived in 2005 in what was heralded as the beginning of the Melky Cabrera era in New York.

He played only a few games and was obviously over his head at that point when he was only 20 years old.

But he returned to start the 2006 and 2007 seasons and provided excellent defense and a spirit that had been missing on the business like Yankees.

Fans will remember Melky banging into the wall in left center field and bouncing off to land on his belly in the grass.  But the ball was securely in his glove and he had robbed Manny Ramirez of an extra base hit.

He finished 2006 hitting .280 and things looked pretty good for the Yankees. After all Melky was only 22 at the end of that year.

He played in 150 games in 2007 and hit .273 with 73 RBI. Considering the defense he played Yankee fans would probably have settled for that Melky.

But fans also remember a very disappointing year in 2008. After starting red hot in April, Melky seemed to get full of himself or full of foolishness or something.

He was a flop at the plate for the remainder of the season and just seemed distracted. One image that will remain forever in many fans' minds is Melky in center field, a ball bounding toward him in the first inning.

Melky took his eye off the ball to acknowledge the "roll call" of the Bleacher Creatures and the ball eluded him as the runner took second base.

Melky embarrassed himself in 2008 and he embarrassed his team.

He was demoted to the minor leagues and Brett Gardner was promoted to take his place in centerfield.

Rumors abounded in the off season that the Yankees were intent on trading the 24 year old Cabrera. The most likely deal seemed to be to the Milwaukee Brewers to bring Mike Cameron in to play center in the Bronx.

But that deal was never consummated and the Yankees entered Spring Training declaring that there was an open competition between Cabrera and Gardner for the starting spot in hallowed center field in the New Yankee Stadium.

Gardner won the spot out of camp with a very good spring.  But Cabrera had played very well in Florida as well.

Brian Cashman and Joe Girardi announced that Gardner would start but that the team needed Melky as well.

Gardner has played exceptional defense since the season has begun and has shown a better arm than his critics would have expected.

But he has been horrendous at the plate. After 18 games Gardner was hitting just .220 and had fifteen strikeouts. 

When the Yankees entered Motor City Monday night to take on the Tigers, Girardi wrote Melky's name down to start in center.  He was back in the lineup last night as well, as Gardner rode the pines.

Cabrera got one hit Monday night and two more last night to raise his average to .325.  He also has hit four home runs and driven in eight in just 40 AB.

It is not likely that Cabrera would hit .325 for the whole season or hit 40 homes or drive in 100 runs as his numbers would project if he got 500 AB this year.

But the Yankees don't need that from Cabrera. What they need is a player who can prove that he is mature enough for Center Stage in the biggest theater in baseball.

If he can hit .280 and drive in 80 runs, Yankee fans should be happy.

If he can be more patient at the plate and maintain his concentration in the field and on the base paths, he will be real asset for this team.

No one knows at this point what Girardi will do long term about his center fielders.

No one knows at this point whether the Melky Cabrera Yankee fans remember from 2006 and the player they have seen in him so far in 2009 will continue to perform at an acceptable level.

If the Yankees get the right Melky Cabrera it will be a considerable upgrade over the wrong Brett Gardner they have had so far this season.


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