Eric Chavez Rises Out Of The Ashes

Detroit, MI, USA; New York Yankees third baseman Eric Chavez runs the bases after hitting a home run as Detroit Tigers third baseman Omar Infante (left) reacts at Comerica Park. Credit: Rick Osentoski-US PRESSWIRE

Eric Chavez isn't just keeping third base warm for Alex Rodriguez, he's thriving for the New York Yankees.

You might remember Eric Chavez from the way he was portrayed in the Moneyball movie:


But there's actually a little more to the story. It turns out that Eric Chavez used to be really good. A star, even. When the A's won 20 games in a row, Chavez hit .338/.398/.613 with six home runs. By the end of the season, he had 105 career home runs, and he won his second Gold Glove and picked up some MVP votes. He was 24.

I think it's unconscionably odd that he's never been in an All-Star Game, but not everyone can be Mark Redman.

How much do you lock a player like that up for today? Something like $150 million? The A's did it for six years and $66 million. They had to choose between him and Miguel Tejada, and they chose the younger player. The only flaw with Chavez was that -- and, really, this was nitpicking -- he didn't walk quite as much as statistically minded folks liked. So in 2004, when he was 26, he led the American League in walks, even though he played in only 125 games.

Played in only 125 games … played in only 125 games … played in only 125 games …. You're supposed to read that in the echoey flashback voice from TV. Because now you're in the present day, and you know what happened. Chavez was pushed off the injury tree, and he hit every branch on the way down. You know things like "pulled hamstring" and "oblique injury", but check out these terms from Chavez's injury history over on his Baseball Prospectus player card:

Degeneration
Debridement
Microdiscectomy
Ulnar Neuritis
Fifth Metatarsal

There's even a "food poisoning" thrown in there for good measure. My initial plan was to make a half-real/half-fake list and stuff a bunch of old-timey maladies in there like "dropsy" and "the grippe", but the real list was messed up enough.

"I was having a swell day until I had one o' them … whaddya call 'em … microdisectomies. Everything went straight to hell after that, straight to hell."

Chavez played in 90 games in 2007, 23 in 2008, eight in 2009, and 33 in 2010, his last season with Oakland. He signed to a minor-league deal by the Yankees in 2011, and he hit .263/.320/.356. It took him a month to break his foot. It looked like the end was near.

But cross your fingers, because he's back. Don't cross them too hard, Chavvy … actually, it's probably best if you just don't cross them at all. It's a figure of speech. With Alex Rodriguez on the DL, Chavez has filled in and he's been fantastic. He hit the go-ahead home run against the Tigers on Thursday to lead the Yankees to victory, and he's hitting .287/.347/.526 with 12 home runs.

For comparison, Alex Rodriguez is at .276/.358/.449 with 15 homers with over 150 more at-bats. Of course Chavez is healthier and doing better. He's two years younger than Rodriguez, after all.

Will it last? I think we all have our suspicions, but for now it's just a really nice story in New York. I haven't heard a bad story about Chavez personally since he's been in the majors, and I have a soft spot for oft-injured players who defeat their medical gremlins. One day Mark Prior and Rich Harden will be in the same bullpen, you'll see. You'll see.

And of course it had to be the Yankees. The same rhinoceros-horn elixir that helped Bartolo Colon, Freddy Garcia, Raul Ibanez, and Andruw Jones over the last two years is now helping Chavez have his best season since 2004. I'll keep saying this because I just believe it so much: It's about time the Yankees caught a break.

When the Yankees needed some help from an internal option, it was Eric Chavez who came through. That wasn't something you expected to read last year, and it sure as heck isn't something you thought you'd ever read again.

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