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January 27, 2004

Breaking Balls

Bye, Bye Boonie

by Derek Zumsteg

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Aaron Boone hurt his ACL playing basketball on Monday, which could mean that he's out for the season. His contract isn't guaranteed if he plays basketball, which he did, so the Yankees aren't going to pay him his full salary, which they shouldn't. It may be a different situation if it's a minor tear and he'll be healthy for spring training in less than 30 days, though, so we'll have to wait and see. (I can't express the jolt of joy I just felt typing "spring training in less than 30 days," by the way--only a month of this seemingly interminable purgatory remains, where I'm forced to watch whatever my wife has found on one of the 80 different home improvement channels DirecTV was kind enough to cram into my package.)

If it's minor and he'll miss a little time, the Yankees might decide that 90% of Boone is worth 100% of the deal he signed (though that seems difficult to justify). But more likely they're going to set fire to his contract and then mail him the ashes. Boone at $5.75 million for a year was high when he signed it, and considering comparable signings this off-season (Adrian Beltre was the only close signing, and he's way younger, though BP's PECOTA forecasts have Boone hitting better in 2004, while others like Scott Spiezio came much cheaper). The Yankees might just even call do-over and see what Boone will take, now that almost everyone else has signed their third basemen and are probably not going to offer Boone anything close to what he was scheduled to receive.

I don't think there's been a situation like this since 1994, when Ron Gant busted his leg in a motorcycle accident and the Braves cut him. But here's the big problem: there's no one left out there. Nobody. And that's counting Todd Zeile. The Yankees are staring a season of Erick Almonte or Enrique Wilson right in the face, and even from Boone's contributions, that has to be considered a too-steep drop. And unless Drew Henson learns to recognize the curve ball in the off-season, they're screwed.

I don't think we've seen this version of the Yankees face this type of situation. Their money hasn't bought them infield depth, and there's nothing it can find them on the open market. Or...can it?

The Red Sox tried to bring Alex Rodriguez over, but were unable to make the deal work. I can see the idea entering Steinbrenner's head even now: What better way to turn this injury into a huge Yankee victory and stick it to the Red Sox at the same time? Oh yeah...you trade Jorge Posada to the Rangers for Rodriguez. The Yankees can afford the salary the Red Sox couldn't, even now, even with their monster payroll. Then they sign Ivan Rodriguez, the only real star hitter left out there, to catch. Derek Jeter moves to third (which, as Joe Sheehan has pointed out repeatedly, solves little, but this is the Yankees). The Yankees go on to score 1,100 runs while running Luis Sojo out there every day as a super-utilityman. Sure they'll be old, and the contract Pudge wants is too long for too much, but they could win over 120 games easily. By August.

What if Jeter doesn't want to move, though? How can the Yankees use their money to patch this hole?

  • Pay baseball whatever it takes to implement Bob Costas' long-neglected scoring reform, making shortstop '5' and third base '6'. Explain to Jeter that shortstop has moved over, and Rodriguez is the one making the position switch, though he'll have to move over a little.

  • Hire biotech firms to inject Graig Nettles ("Best Yankee Third Baseman Ever for Duration of His YES Network Deal") with experimental revitalizing serums and see how long before side effects catch up to him in spectacular fashion.

  • Using images from Mars rovers, locate super-intelligent Martian third baseman. Send super-intelligent Martian third baseman contract along with money to build ship to travel to Earth in time for spring training (hopefully super-intelligence does not preclude being able to sustain high-G acceleration and braking). If Martians have evolved past the need for money, corrupt their cute little society and then proceed normally.

  • Give someone $240 million to buy the Milwaukee Brewers, distracting MLB Commissioner Allan H. "Bud" Selig, who owns (I mean, uh...does not own in any way except the huge chunk he has in a trust) the club. Call A's owner Steve Schott up, ask "How much for Eric Chavez?" Write Schott a check, drink champagne.

  • Put profile on dating service that will be seen in banner ads across Internet with misleading picture of hot women/men: "I'm Need A Third Baseman. Do you want to play with me?"

  • Hire Orlando Bloom to play a handsome elvish third baseman in 162-game stage production (plus potential encores) of Lord of the Diamond. Even if he flops, the attendance boost from his legions of female (and, uh, male) enthusiasts will make it profitable.

  • Move Jason Giambi back to third, since they're already resigned to punting infield defense (along with outfield defense). Sign free agent Eric Karros to provide additional veteran leadership from the first base position.

It's certain that these, and even more nefarious, ideas have already been considered in the darkened halls of Yankee headquarters. The only question now is how crazy the move is going to be. We're told that the cornered rat is deadliest, but what about an already-insane baseball owner with essentially infinite resources, denied in consecutive years a championship he believes rightfully belongs to him? Is anything too outrageous? Maybe moving Giambi to third. Other than that, though, remember you read it here first.

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