HOT STOVE EDITION
By Bruce Markusen
(Reprinted at Bronx Banter with the permission of the author.)
In spite of the acquisitions of veteran free agents Gary Sheffield, Kenny Lofton, Tom “Flash” Gordon, and Paul Quantrill, itís been a winter of discontent for many in Yankee fandom. Most Pinstriped diehards have already vented frustration over the failure to aggressively pursue homegrown Bomber Andy Pettitte (which might have served as a preemptive strike against the Astros and their offseason plan to sign the resident Texan), the lukewarm interest in free agent prize Vladimir Guerrero, the continued signings of older players in their mid to late-thirties, and the failure to address the teamís near abysmal defensive scheme. The Yankees, though still talented and ever capable of reaching the World Series for a sixth time in seven years, are a less likeable bunch than most of their predecessors dating back to 1995, which means that many of their fans have placed an even higher premium on winning it all. Otherwise, George Steinbrenner, Brian Cashman, and perhaps even Joe Torre will hear a season-long wrath filled with “I told you soís” and “What were you thinkingís?”
The latest offseason setback canít be blamed on the front office or the owner, however. Aaron Booneís ACL tear, which he suffered while foolishly playing pickup basketball in violation of his contract, leaves the Yankees with a serious hole on the left side of their infield. (The Players Association has stepped in and claimed that Boone didnít violate the contract, but Booneís already admitted to his mistake. The Association is trying to say that Boone didnít breach his contract because he wasnít playing basketball in a professional league, which is a simply laughable argument.) Letís hope the Yankees donít try to kid themselves into thinking that some makeshift platoon of Miguel Cairo and Enrique Wilson will fill the bill in 2004; in a stacked division where the Red Sox may have already established themselves as favorites, the Yankees need a real third baseman, preferably one whose strength is on the defensive side of the field. Cairo and Wilson are middle-infield utility types; neither has a tremendous amount of experience on the corner and neither can hit well enough to play every day.
Whom do the Yankees turn to? In the short term, theyíre ready to take a flyer on ex-Phillie Tyler Houston, who lost his place on Larry Bowaís Christmas card list but has quietly signed a minor league deal with the Pinstripes. Houstonís an intriguing option, but heís a below-average defender at best, doesnít hit left-handers, and is better suited to filling a bench role as a backup infielder and third-string catcher. Coming off an excellent season as a pinch-hitter in Philadelphia, Houston could very well make the Yankeesí 25-man roster, but itís not likely to be as the everyday third baseman.
So whoís the answer to the Yankeesí newly developed hole on the infield? Gary Sheffieldís offer to play third is a noble gesture, but the Yankeesí infield defense is already well below average and canít sustain another position filled with unnecessary hijinx. Drew Henson can barely play at the Triple-A level, so the Yankees shouldnít dare think that he might be anything near adequate in the Bronx. Erick Almonte isnít out of the question, but the fact that he was dumped from the 40-man roster over the winter