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Monday, February 16, 2004
Vidro would be perfect fit for Yanks

By Rob Neyer
ESPN.com

For your Monday pleasure, a two-part quiz ...

Q: What do the Yankees need least?

A: Another great player.

Q: What do baseball fans need least?

A: Another reason to hate the Yankees.

And yet, with just a friendly wink from Commissioner Bud, we're going to have both of those things when Alex Rodriguez models pinstripes for the pleasure of George Steinbrenner.

The most amazing thing about all this? It's a great deal for the Yankees. The Rangers are picking up a huge chunk of Rodriguez's contract, essentially leaving the Yankees on the hook for only $112 million over the next seven seasons. That's an average of $16 million per season. And as Doug Pappas cannily observes, the Yankees will be paying Derek Jeter more than Alex Rodriguez in each of the next seven seasons (and in three of the next five seasons they'll be paying Jason Giambi more than Rodriguez, too).

If there's a thin reed of hope for everybody else, it's the fact that the Yankees don't have an obvious replacement for Alfonso Soriano (who, as the Yankees' last real trading chip, was exiled to the Metroplex). In rough order, here are who I think are the best second basemen in the major leagues:

            Age
Al Soriano   26
Jose Vidro   29
M. Giles     26
Bret Boone   34
Jeff Kent    36
Or. Hudson   26

Jose Vidro
Jose Virdo is a career .304 hitter with a .367 on-base percentage.

The order is based mostly on what each player might do in 2004, but future considerations figure into the mix, too. These are the players who are either superstars now or have a chance to become superstars.

Soriano's a Ranger, and figures to remain a Ranger for at least the next couple of seasons (that is, as long as he's relatively cheap). Giles is just getting started, and unless the Braves completely collapse and slash payroll, he'll be in Atlanta for at least a few years. Boone and Kent are both 1) playing for contenders that won't let them go, and 2) old. Hudson is one of the Blue Jays' young jewels, and isn't going anywhere soon.

I left somebody out of that paragraph: Jose Vidro. And now that Brian Cashman has a third baseman but no second baseman, you can bet that when Cashman sleeps, he sees visions of Vidro dancing around second base in his head.

In fact, right now Vidro might be the most important baseball player on the planet. Without Jose Vidro, the Yankees are still pondering the possibility of playing a bunch of scrubs at second base. Without Jose Vidro, the Yankees still do have a hole in their lineup. Yes, it's only one hole -- the general age of the lineup notwithstanding -- but at least it's a hole. But if the Yankees pick up Vidro, their lineup will look something like this:

CF Kenny Lofton (6)
SS Derek Jeter (5)
1B Ja. Giambi (4)
SS Al. Rodriguez (7)
RF Ga. Sheffield (7)
 C Jorge Posada (4)
DH Be. Williams (5)
2B Jose Vidro (3)
LF Hideki Matsui (1)

Those numbers in parentheses are the number of All-Star appearances for each player. You think the Red Sox had a good lineup in 2003? With Vidro, the Yankees would have a career .306 hitter and one of Japan's all-time greatest power hitters (Matsui) in their lineup.

The bottom of their lineup.

When Aaron Boone's knee injury entered the public record, there were serious suggestions that the Yankees would choose their new third baseman from a group including Erick Almonte, Enrique Wilson and Drew Henson.

Crazy talk, I replied. There's no way in hell that any team owned by George Steinbrenner is going to start the season with a no-name at third base. I'm not boasting, because I didn't have any idea the Yankees would actually snag Alex Rodriguez. I'm just sayin' ...

Now the Yankees need a second baseman, and -- you guessed it, buckaroos -- it's been seriously suggested they'll consider Almonte, Wilson, and Miguel Cairo, with Luis Sojo lurking in the wings.

Sure.

No, I don't know who Steinbrenner will snag. My gut tells me that Vidro's not available, at least not now, because the man who owns the Expos -- Commissioner Selig -- simply isn't willing to take the PR hit that would come with trading a great player to the Yankees. But the night is young, my friends. And as long as Erick Almonte's officially in the mix at second base, Brian Cashman's dreams will be haunted.

************

Nobody asked, but just a few more thoughts on this deal ...

Derek Jeter
Jeter

Alex Rodriguez
Rodriguez

  • I suppose it's obvious that shifting a Gold Glove shortstop to third base in order to leave a terrible shortstop at shortstop is a questionable decision. However, I don't think it's as questionable as some think.

    For one thing, Rodriguez isn't actually a great defensive shortstop. He's good, but not great. And for another, there's no reason to think that Jeter would be a decent third baseman. Many think his first step is what makes him a lousy shortstop, and a quick first step is the first thing you look for in a third baseman because a third baseman often doesn't have time for a second or third step.

    On balance, I can't imagine that Jeter at shortstop and Rodriguez at third base -- rather than the other way around -- will cost the Yankees more than a win or two in 2004. As baseball fans, we can only hope the pennant race is close enough where a win or two matters.

  • Also as a baseball fan, this offends me in two ways. Yes, I'm offended that the Yankees are able to acquire virtually every player on their expansive wish list (and yes, I despise them more today than at any time since the late '70s). But what really bothers me is that the best player in the American League will be wasting a part -- granted, a fairly small part -- of his vast talent. I'm sure there will be a competition to come up with the perfect analogy and I'm sure that I'll lose, but let me try just a few ... Asking Alex Rodriguez to play third base is like asking Pavarotti to sing "Louie, Louie," or asking Julia Roberts to act in a radio play, or asking Elvis Costello to write the jingle for a Peoria Ford dealer.

    Actually, it's not at all like any of those things. It does take great skill to play third base competently, and if Rodriguez becomes a crackerjack corner man he'll have a great deal of value with the glove.

    I still say it's a shame, though. I thought we were watching the greatest shortstop since Honus Wagner, but it might wind up that all we saw was the greatest player since Barry Bonds.

    Senior writer Rob Neyer writes three columns per week during baseball's offseason. This spring, Fireside will publish Rob's next book, "The Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers" (co-authored with Bill James); for more information, visit Rob's Web site. Also, click here to send a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.