Unassuming vets play large role on Yanks
From Chavez to Ibanez, former stars offer dependability other clubs lack
NEW YORK -- The New York Yankees have often and understandably been associated with star power. But their current success has much to do with a group of people who have traded additional playing time elsewhere for a real chance at team success with the Yankees.
Nobody in baseball has a bench that resembles that of the Bronx Bombers. Here is a collection of proven Major League veterans, players who have been standouts on other teams.
"You have to give [general manager] Brian Cashman a lot of credit," first baseman Mark Teixeira said, listing some of the names involved. These would include Eric Chavez, Raul Ibanez and Andruw Jones. The versatile Jayson Nix does not have the long-term success of those players, but he has been a valuable utility player. More recently, Casey McGehee was obtained in a trade with Pittsburgh and has provided the Yankees with additional depth at the corner infield spots.
Joe Girardi was asked if, as a manager, it's gratifying to have these types of players available to him.
"Extremely," Girardi responded. "When you have those kinds of options, those kinds of players who know how to play in pressure situations and have been successful, it's very similar to what it was like when I was a player here. Guys would give up playing time as a player to come here and have a chance to win.
"And you'd see them be very productive in their roles, as we've seen now, whether it's been our platoon in left or our platoon at third with Alex [Rodriguez] being down. Sometimes, Nixie filling in at second or at short, wherever we've put him. It's very gratifying."
The contributions of this group to this club probably cannot be fully quantified. Individually, some are not at the peaks of their careers, but they can still obviously be valuable contributors. And they have had admirable careers.
Ibanez was initially seen by the Yankees as a designated hitter candidate who could also play the outfield. But Ibanez still played the outfield well enough to be regarded, as Girardi has noted, as an outfielder who can also DH. Ibanez has a streak of 182 consecutive errorless games in left field, the longest current run of any Major Leaguer who has played left this season. On the other side of the game, he's riding a streak of 10 straight seasons with more than 30 doubles and throughout his career has put together four seasons with more than 100 RBIs.
Jones, once regarded as the finest center fielder in the game, won 10 straight Gold Glove Awards from 1998-2007. He has 433 career home runs. As a focal point of the Atlanta Braves' long run of division-winning success, he has played in 76 postseason games.
Chavez, who is having the best statistical season of any of the Yankees in this group, once won six consecutive Gold Glove Awards at third base and had seven straight seasons of 22 or more home runs with the Oakland Athletics, along with four seasons of more than 100 RBIs.
The Yankees' power is another indication of this club's quality depth. New York leads the Majors in home runs with 187, and this is not a Mantle/Maris/1961 kind of circumstance. The Yankees already have 10 players with 10 or more home runs. That ties the franchise high, set in 1998. Chavez (13), Ibanez (15) and Jones (13), are all in that group.
The latest addition to the Yankees' bench is McGehee, brought in just before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, after Rodriguez was placed on the disabled list. McGehee doesn't have the long resume of some of his colleagues, but he is an established Major Leaguer. He drove in 104 runs for Milwaukee in 2010.
"He's been very good, too," Girardi said. "You go back to the hits he had in Toronto; he's been part of a number of rallies for us. He's taken his walks. He's done a pretty good job at third base, first base, wherever we've needed to put him. He's done a good job. He's fit right in with some of the other veterans, even though he's not as old as some of our other bench players that are veterans. He's accepted this role, and he's done a good job."
Saturday wasn't a day for many of the Yankees to do much for either individual or collective stats. The Red Sox got the game that they always have hoped for from lefty Jon Lester and stopped the Yankees, 4-1 in the second game of a three-game series.
But at the end of the game, the Yankees still had a 12 1/2-game lead over the Red Sox, a 5 1/2-game lead over their nearest AL East competitors, the Rays, and the AL's best record.
There have been numerous factors going into this season's success for the Yankees, but prominent among them is the presence of a group of remarkably accomplished bench players. These players have made it possible for this club to compensate for the kind of injuries that could have derailed a club with less depth.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.