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July 1, 2003

by Larry Mahnken

Ugh, what a crappy day. I'm sick, I'm exhausted--I slept until 2pm--and there's all sorts of personal problems going on in my life right now. And then the Yankees lost.

My personal life hasn't been doing too well recently anyway, but when the Yankees win, everything always seems okay. I don't know why I place such an emotional investment in the result of a game played by other people who I don't know, but I do. And so I take the good with the bad. The losses stick with me, and they upset me much more than they should, but the wins...ah, the wins...they can make even the worst day a positive one. Thank goodness my parents raised me a Yankees fan.

The eight game streak of joy is over, and with it dies the thread of everlasting goodness. At least we won't be missing the Yankees/Red Sox Chatter this weekend, it seemed wrong to skip over the Mets series, but you do what you have to.

Sunday, with their victory of the Mets, the Yankees reached the midway point, 81 games, 51-30. After the hot start and the cold May, the Yankees are on track to win 100 games again. Anyway, I figure that this is a good time to give my analysis of the Yankees at the mid-point. Yes, I know that Sunday night would have been better, but I was busy venting about a sports columnist you've never heard of over a topic that's totally unrelated to the Yankees.

FIRST BASE: Events have conspired to drag the Yankees' production at first base down all season: Giambi's sore knee and eye infection, Nick Johnson's glass skelton, Todd Zeile's incriminating photographs of Joe Torre. Still, on the balance, it's been more good than bad at first for the Yanks, and there is very little to worry about going forward.

Giambi struggled for most of the first two months, playing through his physical problems. He had a Barry Bonds-like June, posting a 1.373 OPS. That in itself might have been enough to carry the Yankees. Going forward, he's not likely to put up those numbers, but he's possibly the best first baseman in the game right now.

When the Yankees finished a series with Oakland this May, Billy Beane said that having Nick Johnson gives the Yankees two Jason Giambis. Nick isn't quite at that level yet, he still needs to develop more power, but he has mastered the strike zone, drawing 33 walks in only 155 PAs. Assuming there are no further setbacks once he returns this month, Johnson should end the season with the reputation as one of the very best hitters in the American League.

Zeile has done an excellent job of showing what a great hitter Johnson is by way of comparison. As a backup third baseman, Zeile has very limited value, as an everyday player he has none. Unfortunately, Torre is likely to continue platooning him with Nick Johnson against left-handers. Zeile is a decent hitter against lefties, but Nick Johnson will never learn how to hit them from the bench. I have no particular desire to see Nick Johnson sitting for 5 games in the ALCS against the A's in favor of Todd F. Zeile.

SECOND BASE: I think it's safe to say that all the talk about Alfonso Soriano being the best player in baseball was a bit premature. After being crazy-insane good for the first month, he was crazy-insane bad for the next two. Then he got his first day off all year, and has been pretty darn good in the few days since then.

What good is that Soriano has shown dramatically improved plate discipline--he already has 24 BBs this season, and only 1 of the 14 he's drawn since May 1 has been intentional. Is he going to ever be Barry Bonds? No, and he has had terrible lapses in his patience at times, swinging at pitches he shouldn't even think about swinging at. But still, he has shown a clear improvement in this part of his game, and it is an encouraging sign.

What everyone else can see about Soriano, but Joe Torre apparently cannot, is that Soriano shouldn't be anywhere near the top of the lineup. Even with his improved walk rate, his OBP is still below .350, and his isolated power is enormous. The only thing keeping Torre from seeing that he's a middle of the lineup hitter is the speed. Joe, it's 2003, not 1903. Speed is overrated, and the idea that it's best utilized at the top of the lineup, rather than the bottom, is ridiculous. What does it matter what base you're standing on when Giambi hits it out?

SHORTSTOP: I don't hate Derek Jeter. I like Derek Jeter. If I was a woman, I would want to marry Derek Jeter. Hell, I'm a heterosexual man, and I would still probably fool around with him if he hit on me. Hmm, I probably shouldn't have said that.

Now, Jeter is horribly overrated, but that doesn't make him a bad player. Well, defensively it does, but on offense, he has generally been an excellent hitter. He has struggled this season since coming back from the DL, but has been very good the past couple of weeks. I'm willing to give him a pass for the first month back.

Erick Almonte, was decent with the bat, awful with the glove. Talk of moving him to third is ridiculous, it would be a better idea to move Jeter to third and playing Almonte at short, but Almonte's glove his hardly better than DJ's, so it wouldn't really solve any problems. Almonte likely has a career ahead of him as a part-time middle infielder who can hit a little, unless the Yankees can trade him.

THIRD BASE: Robin Ventura has slipped a bit with both the bat and the glove, but he's still an effective third baseman, and still much better than the alternatives--Zeile and Wilson. After the season is over, the Yankees will likely have to look elsewhere to fill this position. They might try to bring in Miguel Tejada and move him over, which would probably be a bad idea, as Tejada is an overrated hitter. If they can find some kind of one-year stopgap, they might be able to make a run at Eric Chavez after 2004.

CATCHER: With Piazza out with the groin injury from hell, Jorge Posada is now the best catcher in baseball. Well, let me qualify that. Javy Lopez obviously caught a magic fish or found a djinni or something like that in the offseason, so I'm going to write his season off as a fluke right now, because A) it's out of line with the rest of his career, B) I want to make the Yankees players look as good as possible, and C) I'm not accountable for what I say. Pay me, and you'll get serious analysis. And I'll get a high-speed connection, APNY.

John Flaherty is a replacement level catcher who doesn't hit enough to give Posada a rest without hurting the team. But Torre loves the good fielding catchers, so he's staying.

OUTFIELD: Gotta start making these brief so the BIG POST ERROR monster doesn't eat me. Bernie, Great, bad, hurt, will be good. Mondesi, fluke April, same as last year since. Matsui, Okay, then awful, then GOD. Zilla.

Juan Rivera=Ruben Rivera. Well, not quite, but the star has faded. At least he speeds up games. Ruben Sierra has been awesome since his return, but that won't last. Bubba Trammell was wasted by Torre, not that he would have been anything special, but at least he'd be better than Rivera.

STARTERS: Moose, great. Boomer, excellent. Clemens, fantastic. Pettitte, okay, sometimes awful, sometimes good. Weaver, unlucky, whiny, will be fine if he shuts up. Contreras, who knows? Claussen, looked great Saturday, but you don't know about that arm.

BULLPEN: Lives under Calvin and Hobbes' bed. Rivera has been awsome. Anderson should get more opportunities. Osuna has been okay when healthy. Hitchcock, good at times, awful at others. Hammond better than I thought he would be, must have really turned it around last year. Miceli, not the answer. Choate, give the dude a chance, Joe. Reyes, ehh. We miss you, Steve. At least Mendoza has sucked.