The tale of how the Yankees were left unprepared for a host of spring 2013 injuries begins, as many great journeys do, with Sergio Mitre.
Mitre was traded before throwing a pitch for the Yankees in 2011. The team reacquired him later in the season and he posted an 11.81 ERA, his third go-round with the Yankees. And though Mitre had a 3.33 ERA for the Yankees in 2010 and won three games for the 2009 World Champion squad, he may have been most valuable in 2011, despite that unsightly season-ending ERA.
But it had nothing to do with anything Mitre did on the mound. It had everything to do with what Yankees GM Brian Cashman did when Mitre wasn't on the mound, trading the right-hander to Milwaukee for Chris Dickerson on March 25, 2011.
Despite consistently posting above-average offensive and defensive numbers, Dickerson was pegged as a fourth outfielder or platoon player and played infrequently with the Reds before making his way to the Brewers and eventually the Yankees. The Yankees used him even less than his previous teams did, preferring to give at-bats to fading players such as Andruw Jones.
Dickerson was given 72 plate appearances in two seasons with the Yankees before being released on Jan. 11 to make room on the 40-man roster for right-handed hitter Russ Canzler. Canzler himself was claimed off waivers from the Yankees less than a month later, on Feb. 5. By that point Dickerson had already signed with the AL East-rival Orioles.
When Dickerson was released, the Yankees had three, healthy starting outfielders: Ichiro Suzuki, Curtis Granderson and Brett Gardner. They had veteran Matt Diaz signed and were just two weeks away from acquiring another veteran, Juan Rivera. Dickerson looked to be nothing more than a spare part.
Then, Granderson was hit by a pitch during his first spring plate appearance, suffering a broken right forearm that will cause him to miss at least the first month of the season. Diaz hit .200 with a .450 on-base plus slugging percentage in spring training and was released. First baseman Mark Teixeira suffered an injury that could require Rivera to spend time at first base. Minor leaguers Melky Mesa and Zoilo Almonte have posted anemic spring numbers.
In the span of two months, Dickerson went from needless luxury to big-time regret.
Big-time regret because:
-- In 599 career plate appearances (what would amount to basically a full season if any team ever gave him one), Dickerson has a .266 average, .352 on-base percentage, .407 slugging percentage and better-than-league-average .759 OPS. He's scored 76 runs, hit 11 home runs, driven in 47 runs, stolen 27 bases (caught just six times) and posted a 3.8 Wins Above Replacement during that span.
-- Dickerson can play all three outfield spots well, according to his UZR/150. UZR/150 is an advanced stat used to measure a fielder's ability to get to balls hit in their zone. Dickerson has a 1.4 UZR/150 in left field, 39.7 UZR/150 in center field and 12.9 UZR/150 in right field. He hasn't played more than 543.1 innings in any of those spots, so some of the numbers may be skewed high (particularly the outrageously good center field number), but it's still a good sign that those numbers are skewed toward the positive – in some cases, the very, VERY positive – and not the negative.
-- He's currently signed to a minor league contract and is slated to earn the MLB minimum salary should he make the major league squad.
-- Spring training stats are highly unreliable, but no matter the setting, it's better to have a positive on your side than a negative. And while Diaz, Almonte and Mesa struggled in spring training, Dickerson is hitting .308 with an .842 OPS.
The Yankees signed former Tigers outfielder Brennan Boesch last weekend, reportedly to a split contract that will pay him $1.5 million in the majors. Boesch is a below-average to poor defender who can't play center field, has a sub-par eye, below-average speed on the base paths and a career .729 OPS. In 1,487 plate appearances, nearly double the number Dickerson has, Boesch has just a 1.0 WAR to Dickerson's 3.8.
Still, it was not a bad signing given the Yankees' injury issues, the dearth of talent available to acquire and Boesch's upside (he'll be 28 on April 12 and posted a .799 OPS as recently as 2011). The Yankees would have been better served, however, not having to depend on Boesch to excel as a starter, and rather adding him as a complementary piece to a Dickerson-Gardner-Ichiro outfield.
But the front office decided Dickerson was expendable in favor of a player (Canzler) the woeful Cleveland Indians deemed unnecessary and that the Yankees would also cast to the wayside before he could ever swing a bat for the organization.
Think of that the first time Boesch or Rivera (also a poor defender) can't make a play in left field, Mesa strikes out or Almonte grounds out to kill a rally.