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.

December 5, 2003

by Larry Mahnken

All at once there came a blood-curdling shriek, filled with hatred and despair. Gollum was defeated. He dared go no further. He had lost: lost his prey, and lost, too, the only thing he had ever cared for, his precious. The cry brought Bilbo’s heart to his mouth, but still he held on. Now faint as an echo, but menacing, the voice came from behind:

"Thief, thief, thief! Baggins! We hates it, we hates it, we hates it for ever!"

- J.R.R. Tolkien
The Hobbit

It's difficult to express how I feel right now. On the one hand, I am heartbroken, as my precious, Nick Johnson, is gone, and likely never to return to the Yankees. On the other, painful as this loss is, I know in my heart that this was a trade that could make the Yankees better, and that it's a trade that they probably had to make.

Above all else when it comes to baseball (and perhaps when it comes to anything), I love the Yankees. But I do hold a great esteem and affection for many of the players who have passed through Yankee Stadium in years past. While there were a few mediocre players in the bunch who earned my irrational yet honest loyalty, most were stars: Don Mattingly, Jimmy Key, Bernie Williams, David Cone, Paul O'Neill, Mariano Rivera, just to name a few. Nick Johnson did not fall into the first group, nor did he fall into the second group yet, but this trade leaves me feeling as I would seeing any of those players sent off. When I try to step away and see Nick Johnson for what he is, I see a very talented hitter with a disturbing injury history, a poor physique, whose rate stats have been outstanding, but overall value is limited by his playing time. He might be great, but the injuries might someday diminish his skills to a level below what he's at now. He's a pretty good first baseman, but they already have a pretty good first baseman.

It's dangerous if you're running a team to get too caught up in names, and place too much value on loyalty. If you asked me for a list of players who I'd be willing to trade Nick Johnson for this summer, I would probably only place Alex Rodriguez, Barry Bonds and Mark Prior on that list. Putting aside the fact that none of those trades would be remotely close to being fair for the other team, such favoritism excludes a great many potential deals that do make the Yankees a better team, and to ignore them because of loyalty to a first baseman who might be great someday, when you already have a first baseman locked up for the next several seasons who already is great... well, that's just foolish.

I really do think that this is a good trade for the Yankees, because of the situation their roster is in right now, and what this trade allows them to do. It allows them to put Bernie Williams at DH, which frees up center field if they want to add a player with enough skill to give them a quality outfield defense. Signing Mike Cameron right now would be an excellent move, but that's not going to happen. There are some reports that the Yankees have already signed Kenny Lofton--again, placing more value on a name than actual value. Lofton would have been an excellent addition in the mid ninties, when he was a good offensive player and a strong defensive player, but now he's a mediocre hitter with okay defensive skills--better than Bernie, but nothing special. Considering that the offense he provides will probably be equal to that which a Garcia/Rivera platoon would have put up in right field, the Yankees have, in my opinion, taken a giant step sideways with the lineup.

But what makes this deal a good one for the Yankees, regardless of what they do with center field, is the quality of the player they accquired in Vazquez. Javier Vazquez is an excellent pitcher, almost certainly better than any pitcher on the free agent market this season, including Andy Pettitte, and according to DIPS, was even better than the Yankees' best pitcher last season, Mike Mussina. Vazquez replaces the retired Roger Clemens more than adequately, he almost certainly makes the rotation better than it was last year, assuming Andy Pettitte returns, which I still am confident will happen.

There are concerns about Vazquez, of course--particularly his workload and mechanics. Vazquez was ridden hard in Montreal, but if one wants to look at the bright side, the Yankees have assembled such a deep bullpen for 2004, that they are almost certain not to overwork Vazquez. And Vazquez is also precisely the type of pitcher the Yankees should be accquiring with their defense: he keeps the ball out of play.

And even the centerfield situation can be spun positively. Mike Cameron would have to be signed to a multiyear contract to come to New York, while Lofton will only be in pinstripes one season. That opens the way towards pursuing prospective free agent Carlos Beltran next offseason, who will be the ballhawk and hitter the Yankees want.

Yet another aspect of this deal is first base, which Jason Giambi will now be playing every day. Giambi will certainly need days off, and may very well be injured at times next season, too. With Nick Johnson gone, the Yankees will need another backup firstbaseman. Fernando Seguignol's MVP season in the Internation League didn't do much more than get him a few ABs in September, but he'll probably get a chance to make the roster out of Spring Training. There are options on the free agent market too, and the Yankees are not unlikely to pursue those, placing a high value on veterans, even mediocre ones. Travis Lee (ugh) might be brought in, as well as Brad Fullmer, and maybe even Rafael Palmeiro. Jeremy Giambi is available cheap, and if he rebounds from his awful 2003, could provide a great bat off of the bench. Filling this roster spot should be easy.

Five years from now, we might look at this trade and kick ourselves, as Nick Johnson goes on to multiple All-Star appearances for the Expos, while Vazquez blows out his arm in May of this season, and is nothing more than a mediocre pitcher for the rest of his career. But it's also possible--perhaps just as likely--that Vazquez will be more valuable to the Yankees over the rest of his career than Nick Johnson would have been.

I would qualify this as being a bold move, and a far better response to the Schilling trade than the Sheffield signing. I think it makes the Yankees better than they would have been in 2004 otherwise, and the real questions are in the years to follow. I think that if the Yankees bring back Pettitte now, I would consider them the best team in baseball again. I think that this is a good trade.

But damn, it hurts to lose Nick. We hates the Expos. We hates them for ever. Gollum, gollum.