PP Spring Training Report: 2004 Yankees Bench

For most American League teams, the bench is just a place to rest your regulars every once in a while. The bench system isn't integral to AL baseball like it is in the National League, but that doesn't mean that a strong bench isn't a plus. Last season, the Yankees' bench was decent enough, but this season it might just be even stronger, with players of many sizes and shapes.

Projected 2004 Bench:
1B Travis Lee
OF Ruben Sierra
1B Tony Clark
IF Miguel Cairo/Enrique Wilson
C John Flaherty

Other names to know: OF Bubba Crosby, 3B Mike Lamb, SS Erick Almonte, 2B Homer Bush

Lee Will Challenge For A Regular Job

Travis Lee, Opening Day Age 28
The signing of Travis Lee came as a surprise to many, and a relief to many others.  Amidst growing concerns over incumbent 1B Jason Giambi's ability to play first base everyday - and play it well - the Yankees went out and acquired an excellent defensive first baseman.  Lee brings a lot of interesting things to the table, including enough talent with both the glove and the stick to challenge Giambi for the everyday job.  Should Joe Torre decide that he wants to play Lee at first regularly (a wise decision in my opinion, as upgrading the defense is always a good thing), that would force Giambi to the DH role, leaving no room for either Bernie Williams or Kenny Lofton.  Lee, a left-handed batter, has very good power, but strikes out fairly often.  He would make a good enough pinch-hitter, but is more suited to a regular role.  His abilities to get on base and hit for power make him a good fit on the Yankees in any capacity.  I just personally wish the Yankees had signed him sooner instead of Kenny Lofton (and let Derek Jeter lead off.  How come nobody listens to me?)

Ruben Sierra, Age 38
Somehow, Sierra is still ticking.  After skipping the 1999 season, Sierra made his triumphant return in 2001 with the Rangers when he hit .291 with 23 homeruns in only 344 at bats.  The switch-hitter, who played with the Yankees from 1995-96, returned to pinstripes last season in the Marcus Thames trade.  Sierra is one of just three holdovers from the 2003 bench, signing a one-year deal this off season.  The Puerto Rican native is still a capable hitter with good power from both sides of the plate.  He is a far better hitter from the left side, however, and since he doesn't strike out much is a good option for a pinch-hitter.  Torre loved having Sierra on his bench down the stretch, as it gave him flexibility and the ability to mess around with opposing team's bullpen matchups.  Expect more of the same in 2004.

Clark Will Be Tried In The OF

Tony Clark, Age 31
Clark actually has an outside shot of not being in pinstripes when the season starts.  Lee is a far superior player at least defensively - and probably offensively - with fewer injury concerns, and there may not be room on the roster for an extra first baseman.  Clark does have some definite upside however.  He is a switch-hitter with serious power and a better history of productivity than Lee.  Clark is also reportedly an excellent influence on the clubhouse.  While clubhouse leadership isn't really necessary on a mostly-veteran team like the Yankees, another good egg in the locker room is always a positive.  Word has it that Clark is going to be tried in the outfield, but the Mets tried that in 2003 with poor results.

Miguel Cairo/Enrique Wilson, Age 29
Wilson has been penciled in to start the season, but the position "battle" will be won in Spring Training on the field.  I honestly have no idea which player is better for the bench, as both are merely adequate with the bat and passable with the glove.  Cairo might have a slight advantage defensively (at least at second base), so he could be more suited as a defensive replacement.  It doesn't really matter, they're essentially the same player, which makes one wonder why the Yankees brought Cairo in in the first place.

John Flaherty, Age 36
Flaherty became one of my favorite players last season, just because it felt good to have a backup that was capable of doing more than spot-starting.  Flaherty would still start on many clubs and is the perfect player to have as a backup.  His defense is top-notch, the pitchers love him and he's good enough with the bat to spell Jorge Posada on a regular basis.  That, in turn, makes Posada a more productive hitter (and probably was part of the reason that Posada had his best season ever).  Any time a player can come and make the team better just by being around, that player is welcome to come back any time he wants.

Will Lamb Be Able To Stick?

Other Names:
Crosby is a career minor-leaguer that the Yankees acquired from Los Angeles in the Robin Ventura trade.  Crosby is a good enough hitter, but has always been blocked to the majors for some reason or another.  The left-handed outfielder will start the season at 27 years old, but he led the Pacific Coast League in batting average (.361) before being traded to New York.  He'll be the first called up if someone gets hurt and is definitely good enough to warrant his own bench spot.
Lamb came over earlier in the off season while the Yankees were still looking for cheaper options to replace Aaron Boone at third.  He's nothing special with the glove, but he is a reasonably good hitter that doesn't strike out often (which makes for good pinch hitting).  It's possible that the glut of players looking for a bench spot will force Lamb to the minors or, worse yet, to be released from the team altogether (which would be a terrible waste of a trade).
Yankee fans know Erick Almonte for his near-heroic filling in for Jeter at the beginning of last season.  Almonte will never be a regular in the majors, but is a serviceable backup with some good pop in his bat.  He looked atrocious in the field last season, but that could have been big-league jitters.  Expect Almonte to start the year in AAA, but if someone falters at second base, he could see some time there.
Long-time fans might remember Homer Bush, the second base prospect that was actually pretty good but ended up in the package the Yankees sent to Toronto for Roger Clemens.  Bush has been around for a few more years and suffered a hip injury that has kept him out of commission recently.  He's attempted a comeback and could be a dark horse candidate for the second base job.  He used to have serious speed, and if he does, he could fill the pinch-runner role rather adequately.

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