Spring training is so close I can practically smell the soup at Max's, the basement lunchroom at The Boss where I will be taking most of my meals for the next seven weeks. Between now and Feb. 12, the day pitchers and catchers report to Yankees spring training in Tampa, Fla., Andrew Marchand, Mark Simon and I have been presenting a daily list dealing with specific issues facing the Yankees this season. Today, we explore one of the potential trouble spots -- the Yankees' outfield minus Nick Swisher.
FOUR REASONS THE YANKEES WILL BE OK WITH TWO SLAP-HAPPY CORNER OUTFIELDERS
1. They can field
New York Yankees
Brett Gardner was off-the-charts good in left field in 2011, the top-rated defensive outfielder in baseball, and aside from 2011, when, according to the numbers boys, he had a subpar year in the field, Ichiro Suzuki has always been an above-average outfielder as well, with plenty of range and a strong arm, both of which he displayed in his brief time as a Yankee last season. I'm not going to get into each player's UZR, FSR and TZL, but trust me when I tell you they are much better than Swisher's and -- yikes! -Raul Ibanez's. You may find this hard to believe, but Curtis Granderson was defensively the lowest-rated every-day outfielder in baseball last year. Then again, you may not. So even if these two can't produce runs the way Swisher and Ibanez did, they should be able to prevent a lot more.
2. They can get on base
Neither Gardner nor Ichiro is going to leave the park often in anything other than a car, but both are high OBP guys, a much-prized commodity. Swisher was an OBP specialist too, but his .361 career on-base percentage is slightly below Ichiro's (.365) and just a tick above Gardner's (.355). Ibanez had been a decent OBP guy as a younger player, but last year the number was an unacceptable .308.
3. They can run
I realize that in some quarters the value of the stolen base has plummeted, but the Yankees certainly missed Gardner's ability to stir things up on the basepaths last year and noticed the difference when Ichiro brought that dimension back to their offense in the second half of the season. In his career, Ichiro has averaged 38 steals a year and, even at 38 years old, managed to swipe 29 last year and wound up leading the Yankees with 14 steals in just 67 games. Gardner led the league in 2011 with 49 and has averaged 41 steals a year in his three full seasons.
4. They can score
Ichiro had eight straight seasons of 100-plus runs scored but dropped off to the 80 range after 2008. Still better than Ibanez, who despite hitting for power scored just 50 runs in 130 games. Swisher was a good run producer -- averaging 83 a year as a Yankee -- but not as good as Gardner was in his two seasons as a starter, in which he averaged 92 runs scored. And scoring runs, I might remind you, is the object of the game.
QUESTION: Do you think the new Yankees outfield will be an asset this year or an Achilles' heel?