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MLB.com Columnist

Marty Noble

Endy knows his role, and does it well

Endy knows his role, and does it well

Endy knows his role, and does it well
NEW YORK -- Nick Swisher will be back, sooner than later if he has his way, and the Yankees' outfield alignment again will be as they envisioned it -- left to right, Brett Gardner, Curtis Granderson and Swisher. When that occurs, Andruw Jones and Raul Ibanez will return to their roles as understudies. They will share the roles of No. 4 outfielder and part-time designated hitters, and the Yankees' bench again will be what it often has been since the days of Gene Woodling, Enos Slaughter, Johnny Blanchard and Dale Long -- deeper than most.

The Yankees will have "deep depth" as Earl Weaver used to say.

Weaver reveled in the "deep depth" of the Orioles' bench in the days of Gary Roenicke, John Lowenstein and Terry Crowley. He once acknowledged his appreciation of reserve strength was the result of watching Casey Stengel manipulate his secondary personnel to clear advantage. "In most games," Weaver said, "you don't start managing until the seventh anyway."

The respective descendants of Stengel and Weaver, namely Joe Girardi and Buck Showalter, have spent the past two nights managing all nine innings, doing what they could to gain the upper hand.

Neither was a clear winner.

Girardi and Showalter have decidedly different views about the role of the fourth outfielder. The Yankees see the proximity of the right-field wall in the Bronx and use the role primarily to enhance their offense, not that Jones isn't capable of playing the corner positions effectively.

Showalter asks two things from his No. 4: defense and speed. So the Orioles carry the best prototypical No. 4 outfielder in the business: Endy Chavez. He unquestionably provides defense and speed. And every so often, Chavez will poke one or lay down a squeeze that underscores his offensive value.

He's not an everyday player; never has been. But he's capable for starting 10 games during a two-week absence of a regular outfielder and filling the void without embarrassing his manager, which is another prerequisite of a No. 4 outfielder or any bench player.

At age 34, Chavez retains genuine value.

Showalter said Monday, "I've been trying to get him for a long time. He's a great outfielder, he still can run, he's got a good arm and can do some things with the bat. He's a real good teammate and a good guy to have in the clubhouse. You never have to worry about Endy Chavez." Which is to say he won't embarrass the manager.

Chavez's value became quite conspicuous during the three seasons he spent with the Mets. Then-general manager Omar Minaya had a Endy-fetish. In his time general managing the Expos and Mets, Minaya acquired Chavez four times. Never were Chavez's contributions more celebrated than during his Mets' tenure. We all recall the sensational Game 7 catch in the National League Championship Series that should have catapulted the Mets into the 2006 World Series. That one will stand forever even though the Mets -- not Endy -- dropped the ball in the ensuing half-inning, turning a promising rally into a zero.

But that extraordinary play hardly stood alone in Chavez's 2006-08 Mets resume. His performances were routinely skillful, intelligent and athletic. He knew how to play the game. He threw to the proper base, unlike his outfield colleagues.

Former Mets skipper Willie Randolph started Chavez (left field), Carlos Beltran (center) and the fleet Carlos Gomez (right) at Shea Stadium on May 13, 2007. The Mets never had started a quicker outfield. The three cleverly moved the foul lines closer and the walls closer to the play. With fly-ball Oliver Perez pitching, the Mets achieved 13 fly-ball outs, an inordinately high total. And Chavez made the catch of the day at the warning track. The infielders had three assists that day.

Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik knew what he was doing when he pried Chavez away from the Mets and Franklin Gutierrez from the Indians in the late 2008 trade that dramatically enhanced the Mariners' defense.

Chavez may have lost a step by now, so he might not be the best outfield defender on his team. That wasn't the scenario when he played behind Beltran in Queens. Beltran played too deep and wasn't opposed to trying the heroic throw to third when the proper play was to hold the runner at first. Chavez threw by the textbook and still got his assists.

Now he plays behind Adam Jones, a wonderful, often-spectacular defender who is as effective as any center fielder in the game. No less an expert than Andruw Jones sees that. Nick Markakis won a Gold Glove for his work as the O's right fielder last year. Chavez is right there with each.

He doesn't have the innings to warrant inclusion with the special center fielders of the post-DiMaggio era, the ones who have graced television screens -- Adam Jones, Torii Hunter, Mike Cameron, Ken Griffey Jr., Andy Van Slyke, Devon White, Kirby Puckett, Garry Maddox, Duke Snider, Amos Otis, Jim Landis, Eric Davis, Ken Berry and, of course, the great ones -- Andruw Jones, Willie Mays and Paul Blair. (Note the absence of Jim Edmonds, who always timed his catches to make them appear more challenging and appetizing for the highlight cameras.)

But Chavez does have the glove.

And now the Mets have a young center fielder who, off early samplings, appears to be have the special center-field chromosome -- Captain Kirk Nieuwenhuis. Too bad they moved the walls closer in Citi Field.

Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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