Larry Mahnken and SG's

Replacement Level Yankees Weblog

"Hey, it's free!"

The Replacement Level Yankees Weblog has moved!  Our new home is:

Larry Mahnken
Sean McNally
Fabian McNally
John Brattain

This is an awesome FREE site, where you can win money and gift certificates with no skill involved! If you're bored, I HIGHLY recommend checking it out!


Disclaimer: If you think this is the official website of the New York Yankees, you're an idiot. Go away.

November 4, 2003

Second base--and second thoughts
by Larry Mahnken

Sorry for no update for the past few days. I took the weekend off, and then some stuff came up yesterday. There wasn't much news over the weekend anyway, the Yankees declined their options of Gabe White and Antonio Osuna, which wasn't at all surprising. Osuna was ineffective in the second half, and didn't make the postseason roster, and even if the Yankees want White back (I'm not sure if they do or not), $3.5 million is a bit pricey for a middle reliever. They could probably resign him for less than that.

Also, they named Don Mattingly the hitting coach, Willie Randolph the bench coach, Lee Mazzilli the third base coach, and Luis Sojo the first base coach. I think all of these are solid decisions, getting Randolph off of third base might be an important positive improvement next season, and it likely means that Randolph will soon be the first black manager of the Yankees. I don't know how Mattingly will be as a hitting coach, but 1) he's a man that the players will respect, and listen to, and 2) let's be realistic, he's the type of hitter we hope Soriano becomes. Sure, it would be great if he became Hank Aaron, or Sammy Sosa, but more important than walking is that he stop striking out on bad pitches. Mattingly didn't walk, but he didn't strike out, because he swung at pitches he could hit, and hit them hard. Soriano can succeed with that approach.

And speaking of Soriano, let's move on to my overview of where the Yankees stand at second base.

While there were several disappointing offensive performances this postseason, the most putrid was that of Alfonso Soriano. For the entire playoffs, Soriano batted .225/.267/.296/.562, with one homer and a postseason record 26 Ks. Unlike Aaron Boone, his home run was meaningless, and didn't absolve any of his prior sins. Overall, Soriano did very little to win any postseason games for the Yankees, and much to lose them.

For some people, this was an "I told you so" moment, because it showed Soriano's hackiphilia at it's worst. For others, it was an eye opener, as they finally realized how fatal Soriano's flaw could be. Soriano became on of the main scapegoats this postseason, and many have called for him to be traded, or at least moved to the outfield.

As those of you who read "Moneyball" know, one of the reasons the A's have been successful is that they look at what a player can do for them, rather than what they can't do for them. What's important is not their style of play, but whether they can help the team win, and if they can, then they're worth having.

Alfonso Soriano is a player who can help the Yankees win. Yes, he has tremendous flaws in his game, he swings at everything, and not even the most stringent Soriano apologist is going to say that he's a good defensive player. From what I've read, it appears that the Yankees are blaming Soriano for these flaws, saying that he's lazy, and doesn't work hard to change. Perhaps, but perhaps it's poor coaching, too. Maybe Willie Randolph is good at tweaking infielders who are already good, but can't teach someone to play second. Maybe Rick Down could recognize flaws in the swing of an established player, but couldn't teach a kid how to look for his pitch. I get the impression from what I've heard and what I've seen that the Yankees have approached Soriano's plate discipline by demanding results, rather than pushing the process, saying that they want him to walk more and get on base more. And so he takes pitches. Not balls, just pitches, because you can't walk if you're swinging. And you'll walk more with this approach, but you'll also strike out looking a lot, and you won't hit the ball. Let me emphasize once again: the goal of plate discipline is not to draw walks, it's to get a good pitch to hit.

But even if he doesn't learn plate discipline, he's still got strengths: he's got tremendous power, and fantastic speed that he utilizes very well on the basepaths. But he's not a leadoff hitter, and perhaps not even a middle of the order hitter, either. Perhaps part of the problem with his hitting approach this year was that there were no palpable consequences for his hacking, he was inked at the top of the lineup, and if he was dropped down, he'd always go right back up, no matter ho he was hitting.

I'm wary of trading Soriano, or moving him to the outfield. If you make him an outfielder, you're risking the possibility that he'll be a lousy one, you're lessening his offensive value, and precluding yourself from adding another outfielder, one who can field well or hit great, and you have to sign a second baseman to replace Soriano, probably one who can field well, but with an inferior bat. If you trade him, you risk the possibility that Soriano could improve, and become a Hall of Fame caliber player. That's a risk with every transaction, but this one more than others, because he's halfway towards become that type of player.

If the Yankees are "stuck" with the same infield next season, it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world, but some improvement would be nice. I previously advocated retaining Soriano, and also was opposed to the idea of trading Nick Johnson, but in the past few days, I've rethought those opinions.

See, with Johnson I've fallen into the trap of being loyal to a player over the best interests of the team. As a fan, there's nothing wrong with that, but I shouldn't have let it color my analysis. Johnson is already a fantastic hitter, and a good defensive player, whose flaws (catching low throws) can be corrected with good coaching (hey, if the A's turned Scott Hatteberg into a "Picking Machine", they can make Johnson better, too). I am almost positive that he will, if he stays healthy, become an elite offensive player. You don't want to give away the next Jason Giambi.

But if you've got an opportunity to make the team better overall, you have to take it. Yes, Johnson's a great hitter, but the Yankees already have Jason Giambi locked up at first base for several more years, and with Bernie Williams and Hideki Matsui in the fold next season, it would be nice to move one of them to DH to open up centerfield and right field for improvement.

And so, I conjured up this plan of action for the postseason, that involves trading both Johnson and Soriano, as well as maybe signing the full limit of 3 Type A Free Agents. At first, I wondered whether the Yankees would be willing to increase their payroll to do this, but I've decided 1) whenever you ask how high the Yankees' payroll can go, the answer always seems to be "higher", and 2) If they don't make these moves, and they don't win, or nearly lose, George will spend money next offseason anyway. If he's going to do it next season, it would be wise to do it now, when it's a buyer's market and there are some excellent players available.

1) Re-sign Andy Pettitte. Above all else, this is the most important move for the Yankees to make this offseason. Houston's trade of Wagner worries me, because it may free up the payroll room needed to sign Pettitte, but the Yankees clearly need Andy back in the fold next season.

2) Trade Alfonso Soriano to Kansas City for Carlos Beltran. This is a move that Kansas City seems open to, and I think it would be a good move for both teams. Beltran is a better player than Soriano, he gets on base more, runs just as well, and while he doesn't have as much power as Soriano, he is an excellent defensive center fielder. For Kansas City, trading for Soriano makes sense, though. Beltran is about to become a free agent, with almost zero chance of coming back, while Soriano is just entering his arbitration years. Soriano fills a need for the Royals at second base, and you can also see him having great offensive seasons at Kauffman Stadium. For the Yankees, it improves their outfield defense, and also adds a player who moves the lineup along, something Soriano does not.

3) Trade Nick Johnson and Jeff Weaver (and pick up most of Weaver's salary) to Montreal for Javier Vazquez or Jose Vidro. This is tricky. First of all, I think this would be a good move on the part of the Expos, they'd be getting someone who will probably be a great hitter (and in three years, major trade bait) and basically two risk-free seasons of Jeff Weaver, who can and has been a very good pitcher, for one of their prospective free agents. However, Minaya probably doesn't appreciate Johnson's value, and Weaver is seen as almost damaged goods, and even if the Yankees paid his entire salary, the Expos might think they're doing the Yankees a favor merely by taking him. If there's any way to make this trade, if there's a prospect somewhere the Yankees' farm system that Minaya would take, make the trade, because freeing up DH is crucial, and using Johnson to fill a hole in the rotation or second base is, as well.

4) Sign Vladimir Guerrero. It might be tough to get him to come to New York, and you might have to "settle" for Gary Sheffield (horrors!), but if there is any way, any amount of money that can get Vlad to New York, do it. He's not only great, but he's young, and if you have him in right and Beltran in center, you've gone from having a hideously bad outfield defense to having a good one, while improving your offense, too.

5a) If Johnson is traded for Vazquez, sign Luis Castillo. Now, Luis Castillo isn't exactly the Yankees' type of offensive player. He has no power, hits the ball on the ground, and most of his value is tied up in speed. But, he does get on base at a good rate (because of his speed), and his defense is excellent, which is the key here. Adding Vlad allows the Yankees to take an offensive hit at second base, and Castillo's defense helps close up that hole in the middle infield, and makes Jeter's defense almost bearable. This move would make the Yankees' infield defense, on the whole, okay. If the Marlins non-tender him, signing Mike Lowell and moving Boone to second might be a good move as well--or even non-tendering Boone and signing both Lowell and Castillo, but that would be too much.

5b) If Johnson is traded for Vidro, sign Bartolo Colon. No, he's not an ace. Yes, he's going to get overpaid. But he's a very good pitcher, and basically, you're trying to replace Roger Clemens. I might even make this move if they traded for Vazquez, but again, that would be superfluous.

Then move Bernie Williams to DH, where he can stay healthy and hopefully return to his 2002 form, or at least near there. Also, since Bernie hits lefties better than righties, and Matsui vice-versa, you can platoon them in left in NL cities, without losing much offensively (perhaps gaining something).

You've improved your offense, you've improved your defense, and you've built an excellent rotation--and I've advocated keeping the bullpen intact for the most part, re-signing White and Heredia, bringing up Choate and Bean, and looking to the return of Karsay for improvement. The key is making the trade with Montreal, which will be tricky, but I think it can be done.

Of course, none of it will be. I expect the Yankees to sign Sheffield, Colon if Pettitte leaves, overpay a relief pitcher, and have all the same problems next year they had this year.

BTW, here would be the Yankees' lineup and rotation, if they made all these moves (and made the Vazquez trade, not the Vidro trade, and all the superfluous ones, as well, if Lowell were non-tendered)

SS Jeter
DH Williams
1B Giambi
RF Guerrero
C Posada
3B Lowell
CF Beltran
LF Matsui
2B Castillo

SP Mussina
SP Vazquez
SP Pettitte
SP Colon
SP Contreras

Yeah, that would be wrong. Am I evil for envisioning a way that the Yankees could assemble that roster, without "screwing" anybody over?