What To Do With Darryl

This is an article that was originally published on HardRockSports.com.
HardRock sports columnist Scott A. Ham examines how the return of Darryl Strawberry will effect the New York Yankees roster.

Sometime before September 1st, the Yankees are expected to place Darryl Strawberry on their major league roster, just in time to qualify him for post-season play. Strawberry has missed the entire season to date after being arrested in April in Tampa, Florida for cocaine possession and solicitation of a prostitute.  This was another in a long line of career setbacks, the previous being a cancerous tumor found in Darryl’s colon before the ’98 playoffs.

I’m not going to delve into the rights and wrongs of what Darryl did and didn’t do because frankly, I don’t think it’s relevant at this point in time.  People can argue for weeks about third and fourth chances for repeat drug offenders in sports and what a crime it is for these players to be allowed to continue playing.  Each argument has their side and I do have an opinion on the matter, but I feel no need to dissect the topic.  It’s been discussed ad nauseam and to review it further would make me, well, nauseous.

What I do want to look at is how the return of Darryl Strawberry will effect the Yankees. This September, it will be roughly eleven months since the Straw last faced major league pitching. Granted, major league pitching isn’t quite what it used to be, but it’s a far cry from batting practice and triple-A ball.  Is it reasonable to think that Strawberry can make a worthy contribution to the Yanks after having a tumor removed from his colon, undergoing over a dozen chemotherapy sessions, dealing with an arrest and the legal affairs surrounding it, and not playing organized baseball for the four months following?  At 37 years of age?

That’s an important question unto itself, but there’s more to Darryl’s return than just his performance.  If Darryl is to be placed on the major league roster before September 1st, someone has to be removed from the roster in order to make room.  The Yankees are carrying a 11-man pitching staff, 8 starting position players including the DH, 2 backup infielders in Sojo and Leyritz, and a backup/part-time catcher in Girardi.  That’s 22 players, none of which are going anywhere because they’re mostly veterans and have no options for the minors.

That leaves the left-field tandem of Chad Curtis, Shane Spencer, and Ricky Ledee.  Darryl will supposedly be playing a decent amount of left field upon his return, rendering one of the resident three excess baggage.  A lot of speculation has flown around about the status of Chad Curtis who, you might remember, made quite a stink following the recent brawl between the Yankees and Mariners because Derek Jeter was joking with his buddy Alex Rodriguez after the festivities had calmed.  In essence, Curtis was right to be mad, but very wrong to confront Jeter about it publicly.  Some people have wondered if there is a chemistry problem following the clash.

Forget about it. Curtis isn’t going anywhere. He’s a favorite of George Steinbrenner’s, is one of the fastest guys on the bench, plays a better than average outfield, and has a good on base percentage (.382).  He’s also making $2 mill a year which doesn’t make him attractive to most clubs and he can’t be demoted.  Curtis stays.

That leaves Ledee and Spencer.  If you’ve watched the Yanks last two games against Eric Milton and Jose Rosada, you know they don’t hit lefties very well.  Shane Spencer is right-handed and hits with power while Ledee and Darryl are both left-handers.  The Yanks are loaded with left-handed power (O’Neill, Martinez, switch hitters Bernie Williams, Chili Davis, and Jorge Posada) so the most expendable bat would have to be from the left side.  That means Ledee gets the heave-ho.

The irony of the situation is, Ledee has proved to be the best hitter of the three.  Leading into Tuesday night’s game, Ledee was hitting .289 with an OPS (OBP + SLG) of .815, .969 since the All-Star break. Curtis is hitting .242 with an OPS of .750 and Spencer’s at .236/.687.  Spencer has had a lot of health problems this season, most notably an irregular heart beat that surfaced just as he was getting hot at the plate.  He hasn’t been able to find his groove since he returned from rehabilitation.

The man who will be replacing him, Darryl Strawberry, posted .247/.896 last season, but that was before spending a year away from the game.  I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect those numbers from Darryl again.  Going into Tuesday night, in 13 minor league games, the Straw was hitting .255 with 1 home run and 6 RBI.  It may still be early to tell exactly how well he’ll perform, but those numbers do not make the outlook good.

The Yankees, hopefully, will handle this situation correctly and bring Darryl up on August 31st, the day before the playoff roster freeze.  If Ledee is not on the roster on September 1st and the Yanks add Darryl the night before, Ledee won’t need to make the trip to Columbus because the rosters expand to 40 players in September opening another spot for him.  Ledee should have enough time logged in the majors this season that he would still be available for post-season play if he weren’t on the roster September 1st. This little piece of maneuvering hopefully would keep the situation from creating a problem with Ledee who has battled the minor-league red-eye flights the last two years of his career. He’s finally showing what he can do on the major league level and he deserves the opportunity to expand on it.

This and That

Roger Clemens continued to be an enigma Monday after throwing 8 2/3’s of shutout ball against the Twins.  Yeah, I know, it’s only the Twins, but keep in mind that the Yanks two best starters, Cone and Irabu, lost the two previous games to those same Twins.  Eric Milton, the former Yankee prospect who was traded to the Twins in the Knoblauch deal, took the mound against the Yanks and pitched well, giving up 1 earned run over 8 innings . . .    Since the July 31st trading deadline, former trade-bait Andy Pettitte has gone 3 – 0, allowing 2 earned runs over 23 innings, giving 14 hits and striking out 18 . . .      Since David Cone’s perfect game, he’s gone 1 – 3, 11 ER, 28 2/3 IP, 31 H, 31 SO . . .    Jim Leyritz hit his first triple Tuesday night since his rookie year of 1990.  The King’s leadoff triple in the seventh inning sparked a 4 run rally that lead to the Yanks 5 – 2 win over the Twins . . .    With Tuesday’s win, the Yanks move 1 game ahead of the Cleveland Indians for the best record in the majors.  They also moved 7.5 games ahead of Boston and 10 games ahead of Toronto in the East.

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