Now that February is here, baseball will start reclaiming the place on the sports page that it ceded to football. Battles for sixth man out of the bullpen and fifth outfielder roles will be dissected like the Zapruder film, and the names of previously unknown utility men will roll off of tongues as if they were dear uncles.
The competition between Xavier Nady and Nick Swisher for the starting rightfielder job in the Bronx is slightly more consequential, but it shouldn't be confused with anything that will make or break the team. Both players are decent major leaguers, nothing more and nothing less, and the loser could probably be shipped out of town with something useful coming back in return. They'd save some scratch, too, which seems to interest them.
Joel Sherman of the New York Post, however, thinks that the team should make no such deal. He takes a look at the benches of both Tampa and Boston, finding them superior to the Yankees reserve unit. He's right, they are superior but it's a stretch to say that any of the three teams could survive an injury to a key player and keep playing at the same level. Rocco Baldelli is a nice fourth outfielder, but if J.D. Drew misses a month, the Red Sox will see some seriously diminished returns.
That's not true for the Yankees. If Johnny Damon or Hideki Matsui were hurt for a long period, Nady and Swisher would both play every day and the team might not see much offensive loss. Neither one helps the bench much, though. Swisher might pop in to play defense for Nady late in a game or he might pinch hit for whoever starts in center, but there are limited opportunities to use the bench in the American League.
Sherman also doesn't consider the very real possibility that Jorge Posada can't catch any more. That would mean you'd need a spot for another catcher and that eliminates the luxury of having an emergency starter taking up space on the bench. Matsui can only DH, which means that he and Posada couldn't co-exist on the team. Matsui's the guy you'd most like to trade, but his age, contract and diminished physical state will make that impossible.
Having both Nady and Swisher is a luxury, one the Yankees can afford today and which could help down the road. Trading one of them for players who could help for several years, though, remains the best choice for the team.