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November 6, 2003

by Larry Mahnken

Seems there was some controversy over my most recent entry. Mostly because it wasn't very well written. Well, sorry about that, there was a lot of premise behind some of the things I was trying to write, and I didn't do a very good job of showing the premise.

That's why professional writers have editors, folks. Sometimes what you write sucks.

The first thing I'd like to clear up is that I wasn't taking a swipe at Randolph and Down when I said that maybe Soriano hadn't been coached well, but rather I was showing that it's possible that Soriano is capable of playing second base, and is capable of discipline at the plate, and the assumption that he must be lazy seems to me to assume that the coaching he's recieved is excellent, and discounts the possibility that maybe Randloph and Down are more suited for working with veterans than teaching young players. I'm not saying that's the case, but rather that I think it's unfair to say that Soriano must be lazy. He may well be, though.

I also seemed to be advocating two contrary positions, that the Yankees should keep Soriano and keep him at second base, and then that they should trade Soriano and Nick Johnson. Actually, I was saying that if the Yankees do keep Soriano, they should keep him at second base, and that while I would like to keep Nick Johnson, sometimes trading a favored player is best for the team. I'm not saying that they should be traded, but rather that there are circumstances under which I would trade them.

Let me make it clear: I'm opposed to trading Soriano for Beltran without making any other moves. If you make that trade, you've done the same thing as moving Soriano to the outfield, except Beltran is a better hitter at this point, and at least you know he's going to be a good defensive player (while Soriano might be awful). You're also moving Matsui to right and Bernie to left, and you have to look for another second baseman, and you can't sign a big-hitting outfielder.

I'm opposed to trading Johnson for Vazquez on it's own. You can then move Williams to DH, and in addition to signing a power hitting right-fielder, you can add a center fielder. Say, Mike Cameron. But you've essentially traded an excellent young hitter for an older hitter of questionable ability. Now, THAT would be a Steinbrenner early 80's move.

Nor do I think Johnson for Vidro would be a fair trade for the Yankees, but if you've made a Soriano for Beltran trade, and signed Guerrero or Sheffield, you've got an extra player. You're not going to be able to move Bernie, making either Johnson or Matsui expendable. Obviously, I'd rather have Johnson, but he's also the one who's more tradeable, and the one who is more likely to get value in return. I'd rather have Vazquez, because Vidro, while a solid hitter, isn't very good defensively. I'd rather have Castillo, who isn't as good a hitter, but does make up for some of Jeter's defense. But, if you're going to trade Johnson under those circumstances, you trade him to fill a hole, which in this scenario would be the rotation or second base. The other option is to bench either Bernie or Matsui, keep Johnson, and sign Castillo, which also works, but then you're only allowed to sign one more Type A free agent, and you have to depend more on Jeff Weaver, Jon Lieber or Jorge DePaula to fill out the rotation--and you're again forced to bench one of your best hitters in National League parks.

See, these moves I've proposed aren't meant to stand on their own, rather, they are a plan to not only improve the team, but make the pieces fit better. Can you honestly say that the team I've proposed at the end of the previous post (even if you remove Lowell and replace him with Boone) isn't better than keeping the same lineup and adding Guerrero? The offense might not be as good, but the defense would be far better, and the addition of Vazquez makes the rotation at least as good, of not better than it was this year.

Nobody should ever be considered untouchable, everyone should be available for the right price. The risk of trading away a good young player is that they will become great, and the risk of not trading them is that they won't become great, and the player you passed up would have helped you tremendously. I think these moves, done in tandem, would help the Yankees tremendously, both next season and in the seasons to come.

I also didn't address the situation with Beltran's contract: he's represented by Scott Boras, who prefers to have his clients file for free agency, to drive up their value, and he's eligible for free agency after 2004. There's two concerns here: 1) the Yankees could trade for him, then lose him as a free agent, and 2) the Yankees could also sign him after 2004 without making a trade, and still have Soriano. As for the first concern, it's not one. If the Yankees want to keep Beltran after 2004, they're going to keep Beltran, and not being able to sign him before he becomes a free agent would save them some payroll next season. As for the second concern, it's nice to try to have your cake and eat it to, but it doesn't help the Yankees at all next season, and they might need the help. And, of course, there's the possibilty that some other team could sign (or trade for and sign) Beltran next year, leaving the Yankees looking for other alternatives, and ones that might not be as good as the choices they have this offseason.

The Yankees are a very good team, a team that won the pennant. But they're old, they're deeply flawed, and while other teams can usually settle for that, the Yankees cannot. It's always been that way, the Yankees were never allowed to settle for anything but the best, the city won't stand for it. This offseason offers the Yankees to not only become a better team, but a more rounded team, with fewer weaknesses. There are risks involved in change, but there are risks involved in staying the same, too. If the Yankees don't make any moves, and just grab a right fielder, a starting pitcher, and work on the bullpen, I won't be upset--they'll be better than they were in 2003, and probably the best team in baseball. But they will have missed an opportunity to become something much better.