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June 7, 2003

Prospectus Today

Ruben Sierra Redux

by Joe Sheehan

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This was originally a 2,000-word column, but with the profanity snipped, it's down to about 1,000.

Friday, the Yankees traded for Ruben Sierra, perhaps because it worked out so well the first time. Don't remember that? The Yanks swapped headaches with the A's in 1995, sending Danny Tartabull to the A's for the outfielder Tony La Russa dubbed "the village idiot." Sierra spent about a year with the Yankees and hit .259/.325/.410 before being dumped on the Tigers in the middle of 1996 for Cecil Fielder. At the time Sierra remarked, "all they care about is winning," apparently believing that to be an insult to the Yankees.

Now the Yankees have brought Sierra back. He's no better a player than he was then--he can't hit and he can't field--and judging from his reaction to the trade, he hasn't quite grasped the team concept, either. Sierra blasted Buck Showalter and John Hart, complained that he'd been looking forward to a road trip to Puerto Rico (where his family is), and, buried in all that, grudgingly conceded that he'd be going from last place to first place.

Setting all that aside...Ruben Sierra sucks. He's hitting .263/.333/.398 (.256 EqA) this year after a .270/.319/.418 (.271 EqA) season in 2002, poor numbers that were themselves inflated by a monster April. He's not an adequate DH. The idea that he's going to provide the Yankees some help from the left side is a joke: he's at .257/.330/.386 against righties this year, and has always been a better hitter from the right side of the plate.

What's most frustrating is that the Yankees could have improved their team by simply calling up Fernando Seguignol. Seguignol, a switch-hitter hitting .303/.391/.592 at Columbus, would be a clear improvement on the Yankees' current DH situation. He can't play the outfield, but then again, neither can Sierra at this point. In four seasons and 359 at-bats, Seguignol has career numbers of .251/.305/.457. He'd be a much better gamble than Sierra, much less likely to be disruptive, and a lot easier to walk away from if he didn't pan out.

It's no secret that this isn't Brian Cashman's deal, and you have to give Cashman credit for not giving up much (Marcus Thames, .279/.332/.407 at Columbus this year, is a non-prospect). This is George Steinbrenner's trade, another indication of his increasing influence on a roster that had its best run while he was keeping his mouth shut and cashing checks. It doesn't make the Yankees better, but it adds a familiar name and gives the impression of addressing problems. (Visions of Steve Trout, and of Steinbrenner gloating to Lou Piniella, "I just won you the pennant," haunt my memory.)

Let's not forget John Hart in all this. By dumping Sierra on the Yankees, he cleared a nasty roster logjam and created more at-bats for Mark Teixeira, who has been mashing the ball for five weeks now. Teixeira and Buck Showalter are the big winners in this deal.

George, please, commit a felony. Pay a weasel for damaging information about a ballplayer. Do something before you condemn the Yankees to relive the 1980s.

Misuse of Assets

Watching the Yankees and Cubs yesterday, I noticed that Mark Guthrie has thrown 14 innings in 22 appearances, facing 57 batters all season long.

Why?

Guthrie has rarely had a big platoon split (45 points of OPS from 2000-2002), he keeps the ball in the park (18 home runs in 171 2/3 innings the last three seasons), and he has the ability to throw multiple innings (the A's considered returning him to the rotation as recently as 2001). If there's one role he's particularly NOT suited for, it's lefty specialist. He doesn't have the nasty breaking pitch or great heat that causes left-handed batters trouble, and he doesn't hold lefties to particularly low numbers at the plate (.244/.330/.329 from 2000-2002).

The Cubs actually have two guys like this in Guthrie and Mike Remlinger. Remlinger is averaging less than an inning per appearance as well, despite an even better track record against right-handed batters.

It's not just that Baker is using his left-handers less often than he could. The three effective righties in the pen are also right around an inning per appearance (Joe Borowski, 27 IP in 26 games, Kyle Farnsworth, 28 IP in 27 games, and Antonio Alfonseca, 16 1/3 IP in 16 games). Meanwhile, Cubs starters are throwing 104.6 pitches per start, with 22-year-olds Mark Prior and Carlos Zambrano up around 110 pitches per start.

Baker could increase the Cubs' chances of getting through the long summer by transferring some of the workload from his rotation to his bullpen. He has relievers who can take on an increased role, and who in fact might be more effective if used in longer outings. The right arms of Prior and Zambrano would benefit by being spared an inning here or there, and it's hard to argue that the Cubs would be that much worse off having a fresh Remlinger (3.16 ERA), Guthrie (3.21 ERA) or Farnsworth (2.25 ERA) picking up a bit earlier from a tiring starter.

This is a clear case where a manager can help his team win games this year and increase their chances of winning them into the future. How Baker handles his pitching staff may well make the difference in the NL Central this season.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Joe's other articles. You can contact Joe by clicking here

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