October 26, 2000
The Aging of the Guard
Tino Martinez and Scott Brosius
Several readers have written in to ask me about the comments I made in my latest ESPN.com piece, in which I argued that Tino Martinez and Scott Brosius are no longer useful baseball players, particularly given their salaries. The gist of the feedback is that because Martinez had driven in 100 runs in all of his years with the Yankees before 2000, and because Brosius had a good year in 1998 capped with a World Series MVP award, that these two players are therefore valuable.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Brosius's case is a pretty easy one. Tell me which one of these stat lines is not like the others:
Year AVG OBP SLG OPS 1997 .203 .259 .317 576 1998 .300 .371 .472 843 1999 .247 .307 .414 721 2000 .230 .299 .374 673
You don't need me to tell you that he was horrible in two of those three years and lousy in a third. Among 11 American League third basemen who qualified for the batting title in 2000, Brosius finished dead last in OBP and tenth in slugging, just .001 ahead of Rangers' rookie Mike Lamb. Brosius's .673 OPS was 145 points behind that of Mike Lowell, whom the Yankees traded when they re-signed Brosius to that idiotic three-year, $15-million deal in the wake of the 1998 World Series.
It's no exaggeration to say that Brosius was the worst third baseman in the AL, even without considering his salary. When you realize that Troy Glaus, Eric Chavez, Tony Batista and Mike Lamb combined made less than Brosius did, you see what an incredible mistake the Yankees made when they retained him.
Tino Martinez's case is a little more complex, but let's start with the same statistical snapshot:
Year AVG OBP SLG OPS 1997 .296 .371 .577 948 1998 .281 .355 .505 860 1999 .263 .341 .458 799 2000 .258 .328 .422 750
Martinez had a great year in 1997, topping 30 home runs for just the second time in his career. Since then, he has declined in every category above in every year; by 1999, he was decidedly below-average. In 2000, he hit rock bottom.
Among the 16 American League first basemen who qualified for the batting title, Tino finished last in slugging percentage, and was more than 200 points behind the third-ranked hitter in that category. Brian Daubach saves Tino from a last-place finish in OBP, but Boston watchers know that Daubach didn't exactly keep his job all year. So for 2000, we can pretty safely say that Tino was either the worst or the second-worst first baseman in the AL.
But what about all those RBI? Tino knocked in at least 105 runs in his first four years in pinstripes, and his supporters have all pointed that out, calling him a "solid run producer". Well, if you stuck me in the lineup behind the guys Tino hit behind, I could be a "solid run producer", too:
Paul Bernie Tino Year O'Neill's OBP Williams's OBP Martinez's RBI 1996 .411 .391 117 1997 .399 .408 141 1998 .372 .422 123 1999 .353 .435 105 2000 .336 .391 91
Do you think it's a coincidence that Martinez's RBI fell below the 100 mark when the two hitters in front of him had their worst OBP years in the Tino Martinez Era? I can assure you it's not. You can't knock in guys who aren't on base.
When you consider that Martinez plays the easiest defensive position on the field, he apears to have even less value. I do have to give him some credit for handling a lot of errant Chuck Knoblauch throws, but the defensive value he brought over a replacement-level first baseman was minimal.
Instead of blowing $10 million on Martinez and Brosius, the Yanks could easily have found less expensive replacements to put up similar or better numbers. It's hard to believe that Mario Valdez, who spent the whole year with Minnesota's Triple-A team despite slugging .665, wouldn't have outslugged Martinez's .422 mark if the Yankees had taken such a chance.
If Nick Johnson is healthy next spring, Torre should install him as the first baseman and have Brian Cashman hand Martinez a ticket out of town. As for Brosius, there's no easy solution at hand, but the daring mind thinks that moving Derek Jeter to third base and installing D'Angelo Jimenez at shortstop would be the right long-term move for the team and for Jeter, who would face less wear at the hot corner. If the Yanks put Johnson at first base next year, though, I'll be happy.
Keith Law can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.