It started in the 2005-06 offseason, after Bernie Williams completed his seven-year contract. Bernie agreed to come back to the Yankees for the 2006, but with the understanding that he would serve as a DH/extra outfielder, thereby officially ending his long, terrific run as the team's everyday centerfielder.
And that's when Brian Cashman, newly granted the power to be a bona fide general manager, spoke of Bubba Crosby as a viable option to be the team's everydyay centerfielder.
We had seen some of Crosby in 2004 and 2005, and, well, he just wasn't very good. It was silly to think that any team, let alone the Yankees, was going to hand over its starting centerfield job to him.
And sure enough, once Johnny Damon's demands dropped from seven years to four years, Cashman pounced on him and executed one of his best signings.
Now, as tends to occur in the baseball circle of life, Damon is on the other end of such a situation. He priced himself off the Yankees' radar, and Cashman now insists that leftfield will be in the hands of Brett Gardner and a right-hitting platoon partner to be identfied shortly.
Which begs the question - at least by some of my Tweeps - is Gardner nothing more than this year's Bubba Crosby? Is this just a posture by Cashman to get Damon to lower his price?
I really, really don't think so. Follow Cashman long enough, and you can start to get a feel for when he's pulling a Bubba Bluff, and when he's really serious about something.
When he said earlier this winter that Juan Miranda could be the Yankees' DH against right-handed pitching? That was a Bubba Bluff. Juan Miranda has 23 major-league plate appearances on his resume and, on top of that, the free-agent DH market couldn't have been more buyer-friendly. With the Damon negotiations going nowhere, Cashman targeted Nick Johnson and signed him at a reasonable price.
When Cashman professed that he didn't absolutely need a fourth veteran starting pitcher? A Bubba Bluff. The Yankees knew they had gotten lucky in winning the whole thing with just three starting pitchers. And along came Javier Vazquez.
Gardner, though? He's hardly an established veteran, yet he has 3.2 Wins Above Replacement to his name already - not bad, given how little money he still makes.
We all saw that he plays good defense - all the more so, when you compare him to Damon - and that his speed can be a real weapon, and that he can work a count.
If his profile doesn't fit the prototypical leftfielder...well, Curtis Granderson's profile doesn't fit the prototypical centerfielder. Besides, it's still possible that the Yankees will wind up playing Gardner in center and Granderson in left.
Gardner has been good enough that you understand that the Yankees are excited to see more of him. As opposed to Crosby, who picked up just 96 more big-league plate appearances after Cashman pronounced him as a potential successor to Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle and Williams.
--Here's the piece I wrote about being with Roberto Alomar as the bad news came down for him yesterday.
--Tyler Kepner wrote a great appreciation of Randy Johnson for the New York Times.
--I've been nominated for a Shorty Award. If you want to support or trash my case, go to the linked page.