Not many teams can plug in an outfielder with 423 career home runs off the bench. Not many teams can rest their all-star third baseman and put in another former all-star third baseman with six gold gloves (all won consecutively) to his credit.
These two players are of course Andruw Jones and Eric Chavez. One of the deeper aspects of this years Yankees team is their bench, which is one of the best in the majors. Since Joe Girardi has stated he wants to rest some of the older players, the bench has become a vital tool for the manager. Raul Ibanez, a former all-star, Chris Stewart – a defensive wizard behind the plate and Eduardo Nunez, an infielder (now turned outfielder) who has some pop comprise the rest of the bench.
Andruw Jones, who was once on his way to becoming one of the best centerfielders to play to the game, has now found himself with the Yankees in the latter stages of his career in a limited role.
Jones came up as a 19 year old in 1996. He burst onto the scene after becoming the youngest player, surpassing Mickey Mantle, to hit a home run in a world series game, which just so happened to be against the Yankees.
Jones went on to have some all-time great seasons with the Braves. In 2004, his best all-around year, Jones hit 51 home runs and collected 128 RBI. He was subsequently named the National League Player of the Year. The following year, Jones hit 41 home runs and drove in 129. He went to the Dodgers in 2008 on a $14 million contract. Jones then had one of worst seasons in baseball history, hitting .158 in just over 200 at-bats. Jones was released by LA, and played for Texas and the White Sox before Coming to the Yankees before last season.
Although he isn’t the player he was with the Braves, Jones is still a valuable player for Girardi. He can play both corner outfield positions and is the DH usually against lefties – off whom he does a lot of damage. Jones has tallied 10 gold gloves (won from 1998-2007) and five all-star nods. He’s finished in the top 10 MVP voting twice, and is 45th on Baseball’s all-time home run list.
Eric Chavez was once the best third baseman in baseball. On the “moneyball” Oakland Athletics, Chavez was an important player for GM Billy Beane. However, injuries have slowed him down, as he hasn’t played in over 100 games since 2006. Along with Miguel Tejada, the A’s had one of the best left sides of the infield in baseball. Chavez’s best all-around year came in 2001. He hit .288 with 32 home runs and drove in 114.
Chavez signed with the Yankees after the 2010 season. Not only can Chavez play third, but Girardi has even put him at first, which can give Mark Teixeira a day off. Chavez has won six gold gloves and has a silver slugger award for best third baseman, won in 2002.
Raul Ibanez came to the Yankees this offseason on a one year deal from Philadelphia. An all-star in 2009 with Philly, Ibanez has established himself as a solid major league hitter. He has 235 career home runs and over 1,000 RBI in his career. At the age of 39 (he’ll be 40 in June) Ibanez can still play the outfield. When the Yankees had to sign a DH, they wanted one who they thought could play defense, which is why they passed on former Yanks Hideki Matsui and Johnny Damon.
Ibanez is also a great personality to have on the team. He is notoriously known as one of the nicest guys in baseball, and his presence in the clubhouse has been a welcome addition.
Christ Stewart was once a Yankee, having been with the team in 2008. He was designated for assignment then, but has since returned in a trade at the end of spring training this year. Tony Peña and Girardi, both former catchers, rave about Stewart behind the plate. His ability to call a game has pleased CC Sabathia as well – Stewart seems to be Sabathia’s personal catcher. Stewarts offense has been a surprise. Stewart has three RBI on four hits in limited at bats so far.
Eduardo Nuñez rounds out the Yankee bench. Yankees fans seem to hold their breath whenever a ball is hit to him, but Nuñez has some pop with the bat. He’s clearly a Girardi favorite, as he is playing in a lot of games early this season. Nuñez is starting to play the outfield, which makes the Yanks bench even that much more versatile.
With injuries to Nick Swisher and Brett Gardner, the bench has been called upon a lot. With former all-stars and gold glove winners, the Yankees do not lack experience on the field whenever the “backups” are put into action. On a team that has an aging Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter, and a revolving door at the DH spot, the bench players have become very important to the success of the 2012 team. By the numbers, New York seems to have one of the best and deepest benches in baseball.