August 9, 2006: N.Y. Yankees 7, Chicago White Sox 6
Borrowed the title from Peter Abraham, but it was a question on many a fan's lips last night. Was sending down Bubba and keeping Andy Phillips really the smart thing to do?
Even Steven Goldman, who is not exactly a Bubba fan, thinks Bubba is more useful than Andy Phillips:
Bubba Crosby got cut this week despite having more of a defined role (pinch-runner, defensive replacement) than does Phillips. Despite the Yankees insistences on Phillips' continued presence with the club, this is something we should expect to change.
We now have lots of backup first basemen and corner outfielders, but no decent backup centerfielder. Given Johnny Damon's fragility, this is not a good situation. We have no legitimate backup for the position that's most likely to need it.
This point was hammered home last night, when Damon was pulled after three innings with a sore groin. Forced to improvise, Torre moved Abreu to CF, Wilson to RF, and Andy to 1B. But he apparently wasn't comfortable with that situation, because in the bottom of the 8th, he moved Bernie, who was DHing last night, to CF, and Abreu back to RF.
The decision was controversial, to put it mildly. I guess Joe wasn't kidding when he said Bernie was the backup CFer. Still, using a guy who currently has a 72 "rate" on centerfield defense as a LIDR seems highly questionable. (An average "rate" is 100, so Bernie is an incredibly bad centerfielder these days. If he's not the worst in MLB, he must be close.) Plus, Joe gave up the DH with the move.
And it did come back to bite us in the bottom of the 9th, though not too badly. With a one-run lead, a man on, and two outs, Mo gave up a fly to CF that Bubba would have caught easily. Heck, any decent CFer would have caught it. It should have been game over. Instead, the ball bounced in front of Bernie Williams, allowing the man on 1B to get to 3B. Mo managed to get the next guy out, but it was close.
Torre seemed aware of the problem; in the post-game interview, he admitted the ball was "catchable." And he seemed to be re-thinking the idea of Bernie as the main backup CFer. He was talking about maybe using Abreu there today, if Damon couldn't play.
I don't think Abreu has the range to be a CFer, though; according to Phillies fans, he always refused to play that position in Philadelphia. Melky is a possibility, but it seems Joe is dead set against moving the rookie. We need Bubba, dammit. We now have no outfielder on the bench who is even an average defender, let alone an upgrade.
We lost a lot of flexibility with Bubba Crosby. No, he wasn't mashing 'em at the plate, but with our current lineup, we don't need another slugger. We have plenty of those. What we don't have is a speedy pinch-runner off the bench, and a guy with a good glove and the range to cover centerfield. Bubba provided those. And I bet Joe Torre missed him last night.
Hopefully it won't be an issue tonight. Damon is seemingly okay; he's back in the lineup. But he's constantly suffering these little unexpected injuries, and it's likely to get worse, not better, as the season grinds on. We desperately need a good backup centerfielder/LIDR. Clippers Watch:
Bubba is now listed on the Clippers roster
. He's wearing his #19. Not in the starting lineup tonight, though.