Scrap Heap Heroes
He’s finished. He’s washed up. He’s through. He’s a loser. Why bother with this guy?
All things some current Yankees have probably heard over the past couple of years. But right now, no one is saying any of these things. Right now the Yankees are in first place in the American League East, mostly because of the players who were taken off the so-called scrap heap.
I’ll begin with the obvious: Bartolo Colon.
Tonight he played the role of stopper, pitching eight strong innings en route to a 3-1 Yankee win over the Chicago White Sox, ending a two-game losing skid. Colon worked effectively, throwing 99 pitches, striking out six and only issuing one walk.
He only allowed one earned run, an RBI single in the sixth inning from Adam Dunn which plated Carlos Quentin. Other than that hiccup, Colon was masterful. He worked out of a bases loaded, no out jam in the second inning and his fastball had both life and movement, topping out on the speed gun at 96 mph.
So far Colon is 2-1 with an ERA of 2.77 and honestly, who expected this from him?
Probably not many people.
It’s still early in the season, and Colon has not logged more than 200 innings since 2005, the year he won the A.L. Cy Young Award. In 2007 he tossed 99 1/3 innings, but only registered 39 innings the following year. In 2009 he only threw 62 1/3 innings.
The question has to be asked: can his arm hold up for the rest of the year?
Time will tell. If he continues to pitch as effectively as he has this month for the rest of the season, the Yankees will not have a problem. However if the season rolls along and his velocity goes down, his pitches lose life and they fall flat, the Yankees may have to take action.
But they will cross that bridge when they get there. For now, the Colon signing is looking as if it was the right move. Bench Coach Tony Pena managed him over the winter and recommended him to the front office.
At the moment, Pena deserves a vast amount of credit.
Another signing the Yankees made during the off-season, which right now is paying off, was the acquisition of Freddy Garcia.
Although Garcia hasn’t gotten a lot of mound time, he has made two starts and is 1-0 with a 0.69 ERA. On April 16 he beat a powerful Texas Ranger team, pitching six innings and giving up no runs on just two hits. He only walked one and struck out one, but he made a statement with that game:
“I’m for real and I can still pitch.”
On April 24 he certainly pitched good enough to win, befuddling the Orioles for six innings and not allowing a run while giving up just two hits. He walked two but fanned seven. The Chief did not pick up the win, as the combined efforts of Mariano Rivera and Joba Chamberlain weren’t enough to handle the O’s in the late innings.
The Yanks did win the game though, 6-3 in 11 innings.
Garcia still has a little bit to prove because he only has two starts under his belt in this early season. But both starts have been of the quality variety and he has demonstrated decent control and good command of his pitches.
Another signing paying dividend: Eric Chavez.
Some analysts called having Chavez on the bench a “luxury” being that he is a former Silver Slugger winner (2002) and a six time Gold Glover winner (2001-06). Again, he hasn’t had a lot of playing time (12 games played) but he is making it count when he does play.
So far Chavez is batting .348 (8-for-23) with two doubles, three RBIs, and four runs scored. He has also done a pretty good job playing defense, as he made a nice bare-handed play at third in yesterday’s game, playing third base for Alex Rodriguez who served as the designated hitter.
Chavez has had a series of injuries in his career and the Yankees took a chance signing him. That risk is proving to be a great reward, at least for now. Again, we are in the early stages of the 2011 season, and there is no telling what can happen in terms of injuries.
But if Chavez remains healthy, he could be looked at as a steal in the future; a brilliant acquisition and one of the better moves the Yankees have made in recent years.
Along with Chavez is Andruw Jones – a player once regarded as the most dangerous hitter in the National League. Like Chavez Jones is a former Silver Slugger (2005) and he is a 10-time Gold Glove winner and a five time All-Star.
Jones has played in eight games so far this year and is batting .316 with a home run and two RBIs. He isn’t as fast as he once was, and maybe not even as athletic. But serving the Yanks as the fourth outfielder, he has made a couple of good catches in left field.
As the year progresses, he could become more and more valuable to the Yankees. Jones hit 19 homers for the White Sox last year and knocked in 48 runs. If you ask me, that type of production from a bench player is definitely a plus, and in many ways a bonus.
Yankees’ General Manager Brian Cashman was criticized heavily by the media and the fan base for making these questionable moves in the off-season. Skeptics (including myself) thought the players taken off the scrap heap were never going to make it.
I think the only way to look at it this way:
If the GM signs the player and he bombs, the GM looks like an idiot. If he signs the player and the player prevails, the GM comes off looking like a genius.
So far, Cashman is looking like a genius.
Yet, it cannot be stressed enough: the season is young. Very young. Through the first month each of the scrap heap signees has done extraordinarily well. They have stepped into these roles and flourished, keeping the Yankees (13-8) above the rest of the teams in the division.
But they need to keep on trucking, otherwise Cashman, as smart as he looks now, will look like a person who didn’t know what he was doing in terms of making these signings.
And for now, they are the scrap heap heroes.