Talking Baseball

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Posted by Ben K. on Friday, January 30, 2004

The Hot Corner on the Hot Stove

On January 16, Aaron Boone played what will probably be the most expensive basketball game of his life. On that fateful Friday, the projected starting third basemen for the AL Champion New York Yankees decided to play basketball instead of running on a treadmill. What followed can best be described as a disaster: Boone apparently tore his ACL.

Boone, who gained fame in New York for his ALCS-winning home run in the 11th inning of game 7, will most likely have all but around $900,000 of his new $5.75 million contract voided. But I don't really care about the cost this injury will have to Boone. What he did was irresponsible and stupid. Playing basketball was expressly forbidden in his contract, and he did it anyway. But I'm not going to condemn Boone for his stupidity. Rather, I would like to look at what this means for the Yankees and the prospects at third base for the 2004 season.

As Dave showed you in his last post, Boone's injury will significantly hurt the Yankees offense. The Miguel Cairo-Enrique Wilson platoon certainly won't have the pop of Aaron's bat or his speed on the basepaths. Having watched Enrique Wilson try to play third base against the Red Sox in the ALCS, I can testify that the defense would suffer, too. And that's where I would like to pick up my analysis. What are the defensive prospects for the Hot Corner in Yankee Stadium and who's even in the running for the position?

Before I start my analysis, I would like to point out the defensive side of this problem is particularly important to one of the Yankees' newest pitchers: Kevin Brown. See, Brownie has a career groundball to flyball ration of 2.75. This number is simply astounding. Brown throws almost 3 groundballs for every flyball. So if Brown's up on the hill throwing ground balls that the Yankee infielders can't handle, it might make for a long season for arguably one of the game's best pitchers.

So let's start with the ousted incumbent:

Aaron Boone

Aaron Boone, with a little smirk on his face, was finally supposed to give the Yankees a solid third baseman since Scott Brosius retired. He can hit for decent power and average, he steals bases, and he's a good defensive third baseman. He had a .951 fielding percentage last season, good enough to place him squarely in the middle of the pack. His range factor last season of 2.96 was third best in the Majors. Furthermore, his EQR while on the Yankees was 25 and 73 for the entire season. (As a side note, EQR is a state from Baseball Prospectus that measures how many runs Boone created at bat while fielding his position.) All in all, Boone would have been a solid presence for the Yanks, and he'll be missed this season.

Now let's take a look at those who could possibly replace Boone:

Enrique Wilson

Enrique Wilson is on the Yankees for one reason: to bat against Pedro Martinez. Somehow, Wilson is a .500 career hitter off of the greatest pitcher currently playing baseball. But could Enrique really be a substitute for Boone? Dave showed his hitting wouldn't be anywhere near as good, but what about his fielding? Well in 155 career games at third base, Wilson has a fielding percentage of .955. While that's a little bit higher than Boone's, his range factor is 2.53 compared to Boone's career 2.86. Furthermore, his EQR was 4 in 17 games last year. Over a full season, that's roughly 38 runs. While Wilson would field the ball about as well as Boone, he wouldn't get to nearly as many grounders as Aaron would, and Wilson's offense wouldn't compensate for this at all. Clearly, this would not really be a satisfactory option for the Yankees.

Miguel Cairo

On December 19, the Yankees signed Miguel Cairo to a one-year contract. Cairo was supposed to be a reserve infielder, but now he could end up as the Yankees' starting third basement. If Cairo were indeed to play third for the Yanks, the hot corner, to say the least, would be a very ugly position. In 62 career games at third, Cairo has an astounding .871 fielding percentage. His range factor is a whopping 1.85, and his EQR last season was 2 in 12 games, or 27 for the entire season. Miguel Cairo makes Chuck Knoblauch seem like a golden god. Next!

Tyler Houston

Then there's Tyler Houston, who represents a visual upgrade over Miguel Cairo's sheer ugliness. But unless, you're Derek, looks don't count for too much. Otherwise, Randy Johnson would have been unemployed a long time ago. Anyway, the prospects for Tyler aren't too bad. Signed to a minor league deal, Houston has a real shot at winning the starting job at third. Yet, his .930 career fielding percentage and 2.46 range factor leave much to desired. He wouldn't be as bad as Miguel Cairo, but his 61 EQR shows that he wouldn't be offensively inept. In fact, he once even reached the mighty heights of 18 HR in a single season. If Houston ends up as the Yankee third baseman, and he can replicate his 2001 success, he would be an adequate replacement for Boone, but not a great one.

Moving right along. I'm not even going to touch the Gary Sheffield subject, except to dismiss it outright. Gary Sheffield, who will finally lend stability and offense to the right field corner in Yankee Stadium for the first time since Paul retired, once played third base. Yesterday, he kindly offered to play third this season. Brian Cashman wisely refused. Sheffield hasn't played third since 1993, and he wasn't that good. That would have been a disaster. Sheffield will play third base again the day Pete Rose is admitted into the Hall of Fame.

Then, there's the question of Drew Henson, the Yankees' star quarterback. Henson's been an utter disaster so far in the minors. He has shown that not only is his fielding horrendous but he can't hit either. His minor league average is a whopping .248 and he has struck out 556 times in 1857 ABs. Do I really need to say anything else? Oh right, how about his 28 errors at third base last season? Clearly, Henson should take the Houston Texans offer and join the NFL. His days in baseball are numbered, and slowly, football teams will lose interest in him too.

Finally, there's always the possibility of a trade. While the Yankees farm system is almost completely barren these days, the Yankees wouldn't have to trade much to get the guys on the rumor mill. One possible replacement is...drumroll, please...last season's Opening Day third baseman Robin Ventura.

Robin Ventura

Ventura was ousted by Boone halfway through last season because Robin was no longer Batman (hardy, har, har). Yet, as a replacement, Ventura wouldn't be half bad. He can field and can sort of hit. His career fielding percentage of .958 with an RF of 2.83 are on par with Boone, and last season on the Yankees, he had a fielding percentage over .970. But his RF was down to 2.57. At the age of 36, Ventura's lost a step, but his glove work is still solid. Offensively, Ventura is a nightmare. While his EQR last season projected to around 65, he hit only .242 with a .401 slugging and 14 HR in over 300 AB. Ventura would be an adequate defensive replacement and a pitiful offensive replacement.

Edgardo Alfonzo

Then, there's the question of Edgardo Alfonzo. He wants to come back to New York, and the Giants want to unload his contract. I'm not going to delve into Alfonzo's stats here because his career numbers would be distorted. A nagging back injury has resulted in a big drop in production from Edgardo's bat. In my opinion, trading for Alfonzo would only land the Yankees another injured third baseman.

So in the end, it looks like it will be a long season for the Yankees third baseman this upcoming season. Whoever plays third for the Yanks will either leave a hole in their lineup or a more costly hole in their infield. I believe that the stacked Yankees lineup can compensate for a weak-hitting man patrolling a the field solidly. Yet, the Yankee infield isn't by any means good enough to make out for a poor-fielding third basement. It looks like Tyler Houston would be the best choice for the Yankees if he can pull it all together. I just hope that the Yankees can make it through this disaster unscathed and don't turn to more drastic measures, such as Jeff Cirillo, as the solution to the most glaring Achilles' Heal of the past 9 season.

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