Its bizarre to look at how much money the Yankees are spending at each position, only to come to center field where nothing is set. The Yanks have struggled to replace Bernie Williams at this position ever since he hit his sharp decline. We thought we had something with Johnny Damon but then we discovered his arm was worse than Williams'. We thought we had something with Melky as well but he's declined steadily every year. Hopefully, these two will just be keeping the seat warm for Austin Jackson but in the super-competitive AL East, they can't have a black hole in center field for even one year. So, we`re relying on either Melky Cabrera or Brett Gardner.
Melky's been in the big leagues for three years now. Intially, he displayed a ton of promise and earned himself some comparisons to perennial all-stars like Carlos Beltran from crazy people like myself. However, his offensive stats have declined across the board every year. Why? I don't know, but for some reason he lost all semblance of strike-zone judgement. After displaying some impressive plate discipline in 2006, that virtually vanished the next year and slipped even further in 2008. The dirty little secret that nobody realizes about Melky, though, is that he's not really such a great fielder after all. He's not really any better than average. His arm is great but his range, not so much. Melky is still young and he could still end up as a serviceable center fielder but probably not for the Yankees.
Gardner made his relatively unimpressive debut last year. A sub .300 SLG% won't cut it for the Yankees. However, 42 games is way to small a sample size to draw any conclusions from and he traditionally has started slow at new levels. In the minors Gardner profiled as the perfect leadoff hitter. He hit for a fairly high average and managed to walk a ton. The combination gave him an excellent OBP and when you combine that with the fact that he's the fastest white guy Nick Swisher has ever seen you`re going to get a really annoying and really good player. The problem is he has zero power. The theory that some fans, like nomaas.org, have been preaching is that with no home run threat, ML pitchers won't have to pitch around him. Then all those walks, and a huge chunk of his value, disappear. I can't really argue to much with that logic. Still, I`d give the job to Gardner. Simply because of his vastly superior fielding. Any of the stats we saw were of to small a sample size to use but just by watching the games we could tell that this guy is genuinely one of the best center fielders in baseball. I doubt either of them will hang onto the position past this year but for a one year fix, Gardner seems like the better option.