02/06/10 1:58 PM EST
Around the Horn: Outfielders
Versatility is key with Granderson, Gardner, Swisher, Winn
By Bryan Hoch / MLB.com
NEW YORK -- When the Yankees handed Curtis Granderson his jersey and cap in a moment to be captured by the cameras, they did so with the hope that they have found the new anchor for their outfield alignment.
One of the major moves of the Yankees' offseason was the acquisition of Granderson from the Tigers as part of a three-way trade in December, adding the 2009 All-Star to the mix that will chase down fly balls at Yankee Stadium all summer.
"I'm excited to get a chance to be here with the defending world champions," Granderson said. "Hopefully, we can look to repeat and add titles throughout the course of my career and be in the great city of New York."
Although Granderson was acquired with the intention of playing center field, the position is still open for competition. With only right fielder Nick Swisher returning from last year's alignment, the Yankees project to have Brett Gardner as a member of their starting lineup.
It is possible that the Yankees may prefer to have Gardner's speed and ability as a pure center fielder in a position that is more comfortable to him, reassigning Granderson to play left field, a task he has taken on in 22 Major League games, but none since 2007.
"Curtis is the type of player that would do anything that you ask of him," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "I've talked to our outfielders. We're going to see what happens in Spring Training.
"We're not necessarily going to nail down one position and tell a guy, 'This is where you're going to be.' We might have to make some adjustments with the players that we have. All of our outfielders are versatile, and I really believe that."
Girardi will evaluate a changed group from the one that celebrated the World Series title. Johnny Damon was a key cog in the lineup as the No. 2 hitter and the everyday left fielder, and he had hoped to return to New York before contract squabbles forced him to seek employment elsewhere as a free agent.
The Yankees also parted with the popular Melky Cabrera, a switch-hitter who made 97 starts in center field plus 33 more in the corners. A product of the Yankees' farm system, Cabrera will break camp in 2010 as a member of the Braves after serving as a chip to bring back right-hander Javier Vazquez.
The Yankees believe that the alterations have improved the team on the whole, in large part by the acquisition of Granderson, who hit .249 with 30 home runs, 71 RBIs and 20 stolen bases in 160 games for the Tigers in 2009.
General manager Brian Cashman cautioned against predicting a 40-homer season from Granderson, but there's no question that some of his offensive numbers could benefit from bringing his left-handed stroke to the cozier dimensions of Yankee Stadium.
"It doesn't look as small as everyone says it is," Granderson said. "The numbers speak for themselves. Guys have had great years here. To get a chance to be here 81 days out of the year, and, hopefully, into the postseason, the main thing is to do what I've done.
"I've never been a guy who considers myself a home run hitter. I can't go up there and just try to hit a home run -- I don't have that ability like, say, Alex Rodriguez."
The Yankees certainly aren't looking for power production from Gardner, 26, who hit .270 with three home runs, 23 RBIs and 26 stolen bases in 108 games for the Yankees in 2009. He beat out Cabrera for the Opening Day job in center field before filling more of a reserve role later in the year.
|"The thing is, everyone's going to play. That's the bottom line. ... I don't think we can have too much depth."|
|-- Yankees manager Joe Girardi|
"For me, it couldn't have gone any better," Gardner said. "You can sit around and say, 'I wish I would have hit better or hit more home runs' or whatever. From the first day of Spring Training, our goal was to make it to the postseason. We won 103 games and had a great season."
Swisher, 29, will bring his exuberant demeanor back into the clubhouse for a second season after becoming something of a big hit in his first campaign.
Acquired from the White Sox last winter and projected for a brief time to be the starting first baseman before Mark Teixeira signed an eight-year contract, Swisher stepped into a starting role after the Yankees lost Xavier Nady to injury in April.
The switch-hitting Swisher batted .249 with 35 doubles, 29 home runs and 82 RBIs in 150 games, ranking second in the American League with 97 walks thanks to a patient eye that helped run up opponents' pitch counts.
"I've been bouncing around from team to team the last couple of years, but, knock on wood, hopefully I've found a home," Swisher said. "I really feel honored to be part of this tradition."
Swisher's playoff run was largely a frustrating one, but he started working with hitting coach Kevin Long in December on adjustments to his swing and will try to continue bringing those tweaks into the spring.
"To Swish's credit, he wanted to get it right, and he wanted to start early," Long said. "He's a man on a mission. I think the playoffs opened up his eyes to how pitchers can throw offspeed pitches over and over again to expose you. He was ready to take another step forward."
Seeking another option to add flexibility, the Yankees moved in January to sign veteran Randy Winn to a one-year, $2 million contract, lining up the 35-year-old to compete with Gardner for playing time in the spring and perhaps serve as a mentor of sorts to the speedster.
"The thing is, everyone's going to play," Girardi said. "That's the bottom line. I believe that sometimes guys need days off. We had the situation last year where everybody thought we had too many outfielders, and Nady got hurt.
"I don't think we can have too much depth. Having four guys gives us good depth, and that's important, because you never know what's going to happen."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.