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September 28, 2003

by Larry Mahnken

I can't help but notice the numbers under Aaron Boone's name are going up pretty much daily, and starting to approach respectability. It'll take a couple of homers for those numbers to get there, and I highly doubt that's going to happen.

But, still, what the heck happened? When did Aaron Boone, Lord of the Outs, become...good? Did he become good?

Well, I'll go so far as to say that he's stopped being bad, and he's no longer a liability (Now, that IS a backhanded compliment). Sure, he's had a great 3 weeks (1.171 OPS since September 10th), but let's not forget Voros' Law--and let's not forget that the competition the Yankees have played in those three weeks has been about the weakest in the American League. Boone started hitting as soon as the Detroit Tigers came into town, and that's probably not a coincidence. The only good team the Yankees have played since the series against Boston is the White Sox, and Boone managed only two singles in that series.

Boone has still failed to produce as a Yankee against a quality opponent. He's obviously not a .500 OPS hitter--or a .600 or .650 hitter, but whether or not he can break .800 outside of Cincinnati is still an unanswered question. However, I have a feeling that Boone is going to have a Tino Martinez moment this postseason. Hey, I'll take it, but let's hope that a mediocre postseason and a big hit don't make everyone think he's a long term solution at the hot corner.

So, onto my final roster ratings, the bench:

Probably the most frustrating thing about the Boone trade is how it inspired the Yankees to send Robin Ventura off to Los Angeles for peanuts, instead of cutting Todd Zeile. Retaining Ventura would not only haven given the Yankees more depth, but more flexibility. Aaron Boone can play second base and shortstop, Ventura can play first, and the Yankees could have used this to give Derek Jeter, Alfonso Soriano, Nick Johnson and Jason Giambi full days off without losing too much offensively. Instead, they had Todd Zeile, a corner infielder who couldn't play third base well, and didn't hit enough to play first, and Enrique Wilson, whose greatest asset is his ability to play three infield positions adequately.

But these are concerns for a month ago, with you postseason bench, it's not important to have that kind of flexibility (you're not going to give your stars days off!), it's more important to have players who compliment your starters at positions where you are weak--in the Yankees' case, right field. Karim Garcia is the usual starter, playing against righties, while Juan Rivera gets most of the PAs against lefties. Playing in this way plays to their strengths, and makes the Yankees better, on the whole. They also have David Dellucci, who has more speed, and Ruben Sierra, who has a better track record as a hitter.

Dellucci is valuable in that he can play center field as well as right and left, but Sierra can barely play those two positions. Considering that Sierra is not a better option offensively than anyone in the Yankees' starting lineup now that the Yankees are platooning in right, there really isn't much reason to include him on the postseason roster until the World Series, to pinch-hit for pitchers.

The backup catcher is John Flaherty, who has done a good job in that role this season, but will be almost useless in the postseason. You need to have a backup catcher, of course, but you hope to never have to use him, and when you have one who has hit as poorly as Flaherty in the past, his value as a pinch hitter is almost none. If you see John Flaherty in the game this October, it's either really good--they're in the World Series, or really bad--Posada is hurt.

Enrique Wilson also won't be playing much in October, though Joe Torre has a ridiculous penchant to pinch-run for Jason Giambi and Jorge Posada late in close ballgames, so Wilson and Dellucci might find their main roles there. Unless Torre adds Erick Almont-E to the roster as well, Wilson will be the only backup infielder the Yankees have, so he might get saved for emergencies.

The Yankees this year are a top-heavy team, and having a great bench isn't only not necessary, it probably wouldn't be helpful. They've got the players they need at the spots they need them, and barring injuries, it's a fine bench. I'd grade Sierra a C, Wilson a C, Flaherty a C, Dellucci a C+, and if Almont-E makes the roster, he'd be a D. It'll do.