- Buster Olney, Senior Writer, ESPN Insider
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Over the last month, Jason Giambi's plate appearances have played out like videotape of the same at-bat. He takes the first strike, then swings at the second only if he's ahead in the count -- and often misses. Then, with two strikes, right-handers throw a two-seam fastball at the inside corner, freezing Giambi for strike three; left-handers throw a fastball high and away, strike three.
When Giambi does put the ball in play he never hits anything hard; he's averaging about one line drive a week. He's on a pace to accumulate over 500 plate appearances, about 20 extra-base hits and 30 RBI.
But the Yankees won't allow him to keep playing while hitting so poorly. General manager Brian Cashman and manager Joe Torre met with Giambi before Tuesday night's game, and they were expected to discuss the possibility of having Giambi go to the minor leagues. They cannot make this move without Giambi's permission.
Tue., May 10
Jason, please go. All of those people who want you to get back to being an outstanding hitter want you to go back to the minor leagues, find peace, your swing, your confidence and the edge you had in spring training and make it back to the majors.
You understand that you are of no use to the Yankees on the bench, because they need position players who can defend. Sure, we all know that George Steinbrenner can fire Bellamy Road, but he can't fire you without paying you the $79M or so you still have coming to you. But this is not the way your Yankee days can end.
Thus far this season, you have failed to put the ball in play in 52.5 percent of your plate appearances; no player has ever failed to put the ball in play in 50 percent of his plate appearances over a full season.
Dating to Aug. 1, 2003, you have hit .210, with a higher on-base percentage (.403) than slugging percentage (.365), which hints that you are praying for walks. In that time, you have played in 159 games and spent 157 days on the disabled list.
You are not a mercenary, we know you do not want to steal money. You can't silence the boobirds and those who are rustling through your closet by sitting on the bench and challenging Steinbrenner to pay you off and let some last-place team sign you for the minimum salary.
Go ahead and accept an assignment to the minor leagues.
"This might be a situation where he would benefit from a change of scenery," said one member of the organization.
And Giambi should go; he should embrace the opportunity. He should go to the Class A Tampa Yankees or perhaps the Triple-A Columbus Clippers, so he can keep playing and keep trying to get his swing back. If he stays with the Yankees, he's not going to play any more.
Ruben Sierra is expected to come off the disabled list next week and he's going to get a chance to serve as the designated hitter. Tino Martinez has been hot and he is the Yankees' first baseman. Giambi can't field well, can't run and he's not hitting, so he's not going to play, and at time when he needs to play.
Giambi reportedly used steroids for years, and presumably he believed they helped him become a great player; he kept taking them, after all. Part of his comeback must be to convince himself he can be a great player without them.
If Giambi goes to the minor leagues, he can try to get his swing back, try to get his timing back. David Justice, a Yankees television analyst, made a good point the other night that Giambi is not swinging at bad pitches, so he must still be seeing the ball well.
But his swing is a mess and his confidence looks wrecked, and he needs to play. If Giambi went to the minor leagues, it would be apparent that he is making a good-faith effort to get better.
Maybe it won't work out. Maybe Giambi would go to Triple-A and hit .200 there, with lots of strikeouts. If that's the case, the Yankees' next move will likely be to discuss the possibility of a buyout of his contract.
Right now, the Yankees' intent is to try to get Giambi back to being a productive player and to get some return on the $79 million or so remaining on his contract. If Giambi refuses an assignment, refuses the opportunity to play, then his stance would be clear -- getting the money would be his first priority.
The Yankees then would have no choice -- either bench him indefinitely or pursue a settlement.
"It's one of those checking your temperature-type meeting," Cashman told reporters, in an interview aired by the YES Network. "We discussed a lot of different things, a lot of them I don't want to speak to ... Obviously we're all working toward the same goals."
Some kind of resolution is right around the corner.
Buster Olney is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. His book, "The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty," is being released in paperback on May 1 and can be ordered through HarperCollins.com.
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