"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Friday’s Game – Papi Choi Edition

Randy Johnson turned in his second consecutive strong showing yesterday, but the Yankees’ road lineup of bench players couldn’t muster enough offense to make it count resulting in a 3-1 Twins win.


Bubba Crosby CF
Miguel Cairo SS
Bernie Williams DH
Andy Phillips 1B
Robinson Cano 2B
Kelly Stinnett C
Luis A. Garcia RF
Russ Johnson 3B
Kevin Reese LF

Subs: Ramiro Pena SS, Omir Santos C, Kevin Thompson RF, Tim Battle PR

Pitchers: Randy Johnson, Jose Veras, Dusty Bergman

Big Hits: Just a double by Andy Phillips (1 for 3)

Who Pitched Well: As I said, Johnson: 6 1/3 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 HR (Terry Tiffee), 0 BB, 6 K

Notes: Because both of his final two spring starts were to come against the Devil Rays, Mike Mussina will instead take his turn with the minor league campers today against the minor league D-Rays. In his place, Matt Childers will make the major league start.


After the game, the Red Sox claimed ex-Dodger Hee Seop Choi–whose availability has been an inevitability ever since the Dodgers signed Nomar Garciaparra to play first base, if not since the firing of Paul DePodesta–off waivers. Choi is a twenty-seven-year-old lefty-hitting first baseman with a severe platoon split who has yet to live up to his potential. Three years ago, the Twins released another twenty-seven-year-old lefty-hitting first baseman with a severe platoon split who had never lived up to his potential. That player signed with the Red Sox and proceeded to be one of the ten most productive players in the game over the following three years. His name is David Ortiz. Here’s a comparison of the two players’ careers prior to signing with Boston:

David Ortiz: .266/.348/.461, .524 OWP, 1693 PA
Hee Seop Choi: .240/.349/.437, .531 OWP, 1086 PA

Indeed, the age-27 player Choi is most similar to according to PECOTA is none other than Big Papi himself.

Ortiz’s numbers since signing with the Red Sox: .297/.383/.600, .709 OWP, 1891 PA

When Ortiz was available in the winter of 2003, George Steinbrenner instructed Brian Cashman to sign him, but Cashman refused because of the presence of both Jason Giambi, who had just hit .314/.435/.598 in the first year of a seven-year, $120 million contract, and Nick Johnson, a home-grown prospect who was nearly three years Ortiz’s junior (incidentally, Johnson, who was the key player sent to the Expos in the Javy Vazquez deal, is also 27 this offseason and has a better career line than Choi or Ortiz at the same age: .265/.383/.437, .587 OWP, 1767 PA).

This year, the Yankees still have Giambi (coming off a .271/.440/.535 comeback season), but their back-up is Andy Phillips, who not only lacks any sort of meaningful major league track record (just 49 career PA), but is nearly two years older than Choi. I’ve long been rooting for the Yankees to give Phillips a shot because of his minor league numbers, but even I couldn’t argue against limiting him to a utility/righty pinch-hitter role, or even dumping him altogether in favor of the younger, more established Choi, whose lefty swing could have been a perfect fit for Yankee Stadium. A Choi/Phillips DH platoon, meanwhile, could have pushed the Yankee offense into 1000-run territory this year. Instead, Choi’s presence in Boston will allow the Red Sox to kick the 38-year-old J.T. Snow to the curb and, if necessary, move Kevin Youkilis to third base should Mike Lowell fail to rebound from his dreadful 2005.

But don’t blame Brian Cashman, or anyone else in the Yankee front office for that matter. Because of the waiver order–which begins with the worst team in the same league as the waiving team (determined by the previous year’s standings through the thirtieth day of a new season), proceeds to the best team in that league, then begins the other league again going worst-to-first–the Red Sox were able to claim Choi before the Yankees got their shot. In a vicious twist, it was the tie-breaker that awarded the Yankees the 2004 AL East title–which proved to be worth little more than bragging rights as the second-place Red Sox claimed the Wild Card, neither team had home field advantage in the playoffs, and both were eliminated in the ALDS–that cost them Choi. This is very different than what happened with Ortiz. Ortiz was released before the Twins had to offer him a contract for 2003, making him a free agent during the winter of 2002-2003. Choi, on the other hand, had already re-upped with the Dodgers by signing a one-year $725,000 deal, thus he had to be waived lest the Dodgers be forced to eat that entire contract. Instead, the Red Sox will assume his full salary and likely paid a waiver price for the privilege. They’ll almost certainly get their money’s worth, though it’s staggering to think that 26 other clubs passed on Choi before the Red Sox put in their claim.

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver