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Observations From Cooperstown–Trading Giambi

The rumors have hit full throttle. Jason Giambi, the latest center of the storm, has been dangled in trade talks with the Angels, with names like Chone Figgins and Jose Molina bandied about in a return package. On the surface, a trade of Giambi to the Angels makes some sense. The Angels, who need hitting if they are to remain atop the American League West, have the depth of talent at both the major league and Triple-A levels to satisfy the Yankees’ desire to get younger and more flexible.

Well, not so fast. While I love a good trade rumor as much as anyone, this is simply not the time to trade Giambi. For all of his flaws as a fielder and baserunner, and his tendencies to fall prone to lengthy slumps, Giambi remains a productive hitter. He can be a home run/walk machine, the kind of guy who can keep rallies going with a base on balls or cap off a rally with a gargantuan tater. And with Bobby Abreu looking soft and passionless in most of his at-bats and Doug Mientkiewicz reaching base less than 30 per cent of the time, the Yankees simply need Giambi’s bat right now. Unless they can acquire a capable power hitter in a deal for Giambi—and that’s not likely to happen with the Angels—the Yankees simply cannot afford to carry another unproductive batter in their lineup. Furthermore, there are few productive first basemen available from other teams in trades, unless the 33-year-old Todd Helton strikes your fancy.

Here’s the bottom line. A package of Figgins and Molina is simply not enough to part with Giambi. Figgins’ on-base percentage has been in steady decline, while Molina is an OK backup who’s already 32 and not a potential replacement for Jorge Posada. At one time, I might have been inclined to make a deal if someone like Kendry Morales were included, but not anymore. The luster has faded from Morales, who is struggling in the minor leagues and unable to crack even a weak lineup like that of the Angels. Adding Shea Hillenbrand to the mix doesn’t really help the Yankees either; he doesn’t hit well enough to play first base or DH everyday and seems better suited to filling a super-utility role at a number of positions, a role that he has previously balked at.

If not the Angels, who else might be in a position to bid for Giambi? First, let’s rule out all of the National League teams. A consensus of scouts places Giambi at the bottom of the pile when it comes to defending first base. His statuesque range and popgun throwing arm make him a huge liability for NL teams. Plus there are all those games where Giambi finds himself unable to play first base because of a back or leg ailment. Without the DH option, except for a handful of inter-league games, NL teams would be taking on an albatross in The Giambino.

So let’s explore the American League. The Orioles could use a big bat, but they’ve already got Aubrey Huff, Jay Gibbons and Kevin Millar clogging up the DH and first base slots. And unless the Yankees were willing to take Huff or Gibbons, there doesn’t seem to be a fit here. In addition, Peter Angelos has been burned by so many high priced free agents in the past that I have to wonder whether he would be willing to foot the bill for much of the $40 million that is due Giambi over the balance of his Yankee contract.

The Red Sox (as if the Yankees would even trade with them), White Sox, Indians, Tigers, A’s, Rangers, and Blue Jays currently have productive DHs, or at least DHs with strong reputations (like Frank Thomas). The Devil Rays have a large depth of talent from which to draw for their DH position. So cross all of those teams off the Giambi list. The Royals, Twins, and Mariners don’t have the financial willingness to take on Giambi’s contract, so let’s forget about them, as well.

So that leaves us with, well, absolutely no one. Other than the Angels, there simply doesn’t appear to be a team that has a strong need, desire, or financial capability to take on Giambi’s services.

Developments over the last week have only depressed Giambi’s trade value. His recent comments amounted to an admission of steroid use, which has him in scalding water with Major League Baseball. The rumors of a failed amphetamine test, while disputed, don’t help the situation, especially when Giambi refused to deny that he had tested positive.

Beyond all of that, here’s the most important reason to keep Giambi. The Yankees need him to make the playoffs. He remains their most powerful left-handed hitter, their best threat to reach 35 or more home runs. As poorly as the Yankees have played through the quarter pole, they still have enough time left on the summer calendar to make a run at the Red Sox or catch the Tigers/Indians for the wild card. Without Giambi, the Yankees don’t have enough offense to overcome their other deficiencies. With him, they just might.

Keep in mind that we’ll need to check back on this issue in another month. If the Yankees continue to look like a sluggish and aging team—and more importantly, have drawn no closer in either the division or wild card races—then it might be time to raise the white flag on 2007. By then, the steroid talk might have died down, Giambi could be on a hot streak, the Angels might increase their offers, or someone else might have lost a DH to injury. Under the right circumstances, that would be the right time to trade Giambi.

Just don’t do it now.

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