Melky Cabrera 'doubtful' for Game 5 after injuring hamstring

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Melky Cabrera injured his left hamstring last night while running out a ground ball in the sixth inning. He initially tried to stay in the game, but was replaced defensively by Brett Gardner in the next half-inning and is now considered “doubtful” for tonight’s Game 5.
Cabrera has started every playoff game in center field, but Gardner drew 63 starts there during the regular season as the Yankees ran a platoon for much of the year. In terms of overall value there isn’t much of a dropoff from Cabrera to Gardner and in some situations Gardner would be the superior option, but in this case the injury hurts New York because of Cliff Lee.
Even if the Yankees were still employing a platoon in center field the switch-hitting Cabrera would get the call against the left-handed Lee. Cabrera hit .268/.343/.420 in 178 plate appearances against lefties this season, while the left-handed-hitting Gardner has batted just .241/.310/.316 in 91 plate appearances against southpaws during his brief career. Toss in the fact that Lee is much more effective versus lefties than righties and Cabrera is clearly a better bet to do damage against the Phillies’ ace.
Joe Girardi also brought up the possibility of leaving Gardner on the bench and giving Jerry Hairston Jr. the start in place of Cabrera. Hairston started twice in center field for the Yankees during the season, which is two more starts than he made in right field before getting the nod there against Pedro Martinez in Game 2. Hairston has logged 847 innings in center field during his dozen-year career and might be a slightly better bet than Gardner against Lee, and Girardi has certainly shown a willingness to tinker.

Brandon Belt signs $6.2 million deal, avoiding arbitration with Giants

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In a last-second compromise before a scheduled heading today, first baseman Brandon Belt and the Giants have avoided arbitration by agreeing to a one-year, $6.2 million deal.

Belt requested $7.5 million and the Giants countered at $5.3 million, so they’ve settled slightly on the team-friendly side of the midpoint. Belt will be arbitration eligible again next season for the final time before hitting the open market as a free agent.

He’s coming off a very good season in which he hit .280 with 18 homers and an .834 OPS in 137 games and Belt has a lifetime .803 OPS through age 27, making him one of MLB’s most underrated all-around first baseman.

Orioles sign ex-Padres reliever Dale Thayer

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Right-hander Dale Thayer and the Orioles have agreed to a minor-league contract that includes an invitation to spring training.

Thayer had a rough 2015 season for the Padres, posting a 4.06 ERA and spending time in the minors, but he was a solid part of San Diego’s bullpen from 2012-2014 with a combined 3.02 ERA and 173/50 K/BB ratio in 188 innings.

At age 35 there’s no guarantee that Thayer will look good enough to claim a spot on the Opening Day roster, but he’s got a strong chance to wind up pitching middle relief for Baltimore.

Phillies acquire Taylor Featherston from Angels

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Taylor Featherston, who was designated for assignment by the Angels last week, has been traded to the Phillies for a player to be named later or cash.

Featherston stayed in the majors with the Angels for all of last season due to being a Rule 5 pick from the Rockies organization, but the 25-year-old infielder hit just .162 in 169 plate appearances.

He’s been much better in the minors, but nothing about his track record there screams quality regular and the Phillies are likely viewing him as a defense-first bench option for now.

Keith Law: The Braves have the best farm system in baseball

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Flags fly forever! Hooray for The Process championship!

Ah, sorry. This is about as much rooting as I’ll get to do this year, so cut me some slack.

This is the week when ESPN’s Keith Law releases his prospect and farm system rankings. He kicks off his content this week with a top-to-bottom ranking of all 30 farm systems. As a rule he limits his analysis to players who are currently in the minors and who have not yet exhausted their rookie of the year eligibility. The top system: the Atlanta Braves. The bottom: the Los Angeles Angels, about whom Law says “I’ve been doing these rankings for eight years now, and this is by far the worst system I’ve ever seen.” Enjoy Mike Trout, though, you guys.

If you want to know the reasons and the rankings of everyone in between you’ll have to get an ESPN Insider subscription. Sorry, I know everyone hates to pay for content on the Internet, but Keith and others who do this kind of work put a lot of damn work into it and this is what pays their bills. I typically don’t like to pay for content myself, but I do pay for an ESPN Insider subscription. It’s worth it for Law’s work alone. And though he drives me crazy sometimes, Buster Olney’s daily column/notes thing is also worth the money over the course of the year.