By Sweeny Murti
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The Yankees will most likely have an Opening Day lineup that features 13 Gold Gloves (Derek Jeter 5, Mark Teixeira 4, Alex Rodriguez 2, Robinson Cano 1, Russell Martin 1). The amazing part is this…they could have another 16 Gold Gloves sitting on the bench (Andruw Jones 10, Eric Chavez 6).
Jones is in camp with a major league contract, signed to be the 4th outfielder, playing backup in the corner spots after a decade as the best defensive centerfielder in the National League. As a right-handed batter Jones fits in nicely with a lefty-heavy group like the Yankees. You’ll recall they spent most of the first half last season being quite vulnerable to lefty pitchers, then acquired Austin Kearns at the trade deadline. Kearns didn’t become the force they hoped he’d be.
Jones has 36 home runs in part-time play over the last two years, and could be a significant upgrade. Defensively his experience in center is a plus. While he is probably no longer elite in that spot, he appears to be in very good shape and could be excellent in a corner spot, which is where the Yankees will need him.
Chavez comes to camp on a minor-league deal, but at this point appears to be a front-runner to be a backup corner infielder. Chavez considered retirement this winter after battling back and shoulder injuries that limited him to 64 games, 230 at-bats, and 3 home runs from 2008-2010.
But Chavez decided to try and win a bench job with the Yankees, the sparse playing time available to a guy that has to back up Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira perhaps being just enough to get the most out of what is still only a 33-year old body. Chavez has only 6 major league innings of experience at first base, but is getting more comfortable there the more he works, taking pointers from Teixeira this spring as well.
If healthy, Jones and Chavez could give the Yankees the type of bench they had in the late 90’s with Chili Davis and Darryl Strawberry. Joe Girardi will not be as hesitant to give dragging players a day off when he has experience on the bench, and he will have righty and lefty options to combat late-inning relief matchups.
Brian Cashman clearly missed out on the big-ticket item this winter, but his bargain shopping could prove to be quite valuable.
**By the way, both players come from the “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” school. Jones played on Braves teams that lost to the Yankees in the 1996 and ’99 World Series (Jones hit .400 in the ’96 series and hit home runs in his first two World Series at-bats as a 19-year old), while Chavez and his Oakland A’s lost deciding Game 5’s to the Yankees in the 2000 and 2001 ALDS.
Chavez is part of a bit of lore from the 2000 season, thanks to his pregame interview before that Game 5. While the Yanks were on the field taking batting practice, Chavez was in the interview room, unaware that his press conference was being shown live on the Oakland Coliseum scoreboard.
Asked about the possibility of ending the Yankee dynasty, the 22-year old Chavez responded, “I don’t mind at all. I mean, they’ve won enough times (smiling). It’s time for some other people to have some glory here.”
“But, no, they’ve had a great run,” Chavez continued, as the Yankees watched from the field. “I mean, it’s hard to stay Number One. Everybody’s gunning for you, everybody’s trying to beat you. They’re going to throw their best at you. They’ve done a phenomenal job as it is. But it’s time.”
The fact that the Yankees scored 6 runs in the first inning that night, en route to a 7-5 series-clinching/dynasty-extending win, is probably coincidence. But there is no question the Yankees heard Chavez’s remarks.
Asked about it this week, Derek Jeter remembered seeing it on the scoreboard, more amazed that it was being shown while they were hitting than anything else. He chuckled at the notion that an opposing player words could motivate the two-time defending champs. Jeter seemed to recall more about being exhausted from a cross-country flight after Game 4 in New York the night before than anything else.
As for Chavez, he laughed when it was brought up, saying he wasn’t even aware that his pre-game pep talk was part of the storyline until the following spring. Laughing at the memory of it, Chavez said, “From what I heard it motivated them to beat us, which I’m finding hard to believe.”
“It was a question that maybe I shouldn’t have answered,” Chavez said. “The bottom line was I wanted my team to win, and I wanted them to lose and go home.”
Both Jones and Chavez are now hoping to win rings they might have had more than a decade ago if not for the Yankee dynasty.