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December 14, 2005

by Larry Mahnken

Joe Torre's making the rounds again, calling Johnny Damon and Nomar Garciaparra while the Yankees try to woo them to the Bronx. Will it work? I doubt Damon will come, the Yankees won't sign him unless he's willing to take a 4-year deal, and the Red Sox have a 4-year deal on the table for him.

But Garciaparra is an intriguing notion. Since he's seeking just a one-year deal to try and get up his market value with a strong season, there's a tremendous amount of interest in Garciaparra around the majors. Still, nobody's going to go overboard with a contract, and the Yankees will still be able to outbid anybody, so this isn't going to come down to money.

It could come down to position. Garciaparra's exploding groin cost him enough range that he can't play shortstop anymore, so he's not getting any offers for that, and he won't be able to play third base for the Yankees, either. Some teams are interested in him at third, some at second, and some in left. The Yankees are interested in him at first, while backing up at third and short when Jeter or A-Rod need a day off.

If Garciaparra is willing to spend most of his time at first, it's a move I'm very in favor of. Even though he's got an injury history, Nomar has a legitimate first baseman's bat, and will, no doubt, be able to handle the position switch acceptably. They won't need to put Felix Escalona in the lineup when A-Rod takes a day off, and of course it gives the team greater overall depth.

I'm not sure if Nomar would be willing to do it, though. If Nomar hits .300 with 20 homers at third, that's an outstanding 3B, and he'll get big money next offseason. If he does the same at first base, well that seems fairly pedestrian, and he'll get smaller offers because people will be uncertain as to whether he can still play third.

On the other hand, there's less risk for him, too, which has to be an issue for him when he lost most of last season with a groin after taking a bargain deal from the Cubs to try and establish himself as a super free agent.

So really, I don't know what's going to come of this. But for the first time this offseason, I'm excited. The team is being creative, filling a need with a player who you wouldn't first think of to fill it, but who turns out to be a nearly perfect solution. For the first time, I'm starting to think they will win the AL East again, and that next year won't be a six-month long letdown.