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June 19, 2003

by Larry Mahnken

At least we don't have to worry who starts on short rest Saturday anymore.

There has been a lot of talk lately about who the Yankees might trade for, although a lot of those trades sound like wishful thinking. The Yankees aren't getting Brian Giles, unless they're willing to give up Nick Johnson, Claussen, Rivera, and then it's still just a maybe. Carlos Beltran and Mike Lowell are pipe dreams, too.

Most of the trades being discussed for good players would probably require Johnson to get done, and I don't think the Yankees are that stupid. The time to steal Johnson was last winter; now he looks too good to part with, injuries nonwithstanding. If they can get a young third baseman in return--a Teixeira or Blalock, for example--or a fantastic player like Giles, it would be okay to part with Nick, but a half-season from an overpriced reliever is not worth giving up a player of Johnson's caliber. Cashman was wise to end talks with the Rangers when Johnson for Urbina came up. John Hart has some big balls for making that request.

The Yankees really shouldn't be in a hurry to make a trade right now. Nick and Bernie will be back in a few weeks, which will be a bigger boost to the offense than any trade the team is likely to pull off. Even if they're slow in returning to form, they're replacing Todd Zeile and Juan Rivera, whose combined offensive contributions are less than either Bernie or Nick. Unless Nick leaves in a trade, whoever they accquire would be squeezed out of the lineup when those two return. Now that Matsui is hitting well, there doesn't appear to be any holes in the lineup where you could fit anything less than a star player; Unless you count Right Field, where, after a hot start, Raul Mondesi has reverted back to being more or less the same player he has been the past few years--something that probably won't become clear from a quick glance at his stats until August.

The holes that need filling are, of course, the bullpen and bench, as I've said again and again and again. Too much focus has been placed by the media on Ugueth Urbina and Armando Benitez, who are effective but unspectacular relievers. They would both be good additions to the Yankees' pen, but the price for them would likely be too high. Accquiring a lesser-known, but equally effective reliever would be a much better idea, as would waiting until the end of July for the asking price for the Proven Closers™ to go down.

As for the bench, the biggest problem is the lack of any hitters (though Ruben Sierra at least used to be one), but the lack of anyone who can play great defense isn't helping, either. While the Red Sox collected slugging 1B/LF/DH types on the cheap, the Yankees wasted roster spots on Todd Zeile and Charles Gipson, whose role as a pinch-runner has been useful in only one game so far, when the Yankees had come back to within one run with two outs in the ninth inning, and Gipson pinch-ran for Posada at first. You know the rest. Bringing back John Vander Wal to assume his natural position of PH might not be a bad idea, they simply need someone who can hit.

Other rumors have included the Yankees trading Jeff Weaver for bullpen help, which would be a collosally stupid move, in my opinion. Not only is Weaver likely to be an effective arm out of the pen himself, he's the only young starter the Yankees have. If the Yankees want to move an inconsistent starter, they might want to consider Andy Pettitte, who costs more and might fetch more return on the trade market anyway (sorry Caitlaegn).

The Yankees have a very good team, but an aging one. If they want to stay competitive for years to come, they can't trade their young talent for replaceable pieces. They will probably win the division without adding anything, but Boston and Toronto are going to be much better next season, and even better the year after that. Nick Johnson for Urbina might mean the difference between a first round exit and a World Championship this season, but not having Johnson for the next four years might also mean 2003 is the last postseason the Yankees will play in for a while. If they've got their priorities in order, they won't do it. But don't count on it, George is still in charge.