As Brian Cashman searches from Kankakee to Petaluma for a pinstripes-worthy third baseman, let's first ask, "Can the Yankees replace Aaron Boone with somebody they've already got?" (And this is mostly for those of you who did not read Bob Klapisch's column, which answered the question in some detail.)
Well, at the major-league level they have Erick Almonte, Miguel Cairo and Enrique Wilson as backup infielders. Almonte doesn't know how to play third base, and if he were in the lineup every day might post a .300 OBP with a sub-.400 slugging percentage. Same for Cairo. Wilson's even worse (and yes, one of these days his luck against Pedro Martinez will run out).
OK, so what about the farm system? The Yankees' Triple-A third baseman last season was Drew Henson, their Double-A third baseman was (sort of) Brian Myrow. Henson's (supposedly) got talent but can't hit, while Myrow can hit but (supposedly) doesn't have much talent. Here are their minor-league stats from last season, interesting only because they're so different ...
Games OBP Slug
Myrow 137 .447 .525
Henson 133 .291 .412
Henson will soon turn 24, completely stalled after reaching Triple-A in 2001, and might be signing an NFL contract as you read this. Myrow can obviously hit ... but he's 27, and hasn't spent a single day of his career above Double-A. It's true that Myrow's been an on-base machine for all of that career, from his two seasons in the Northern League to his 1˝ seasons in the Eastern League. It's also true that the Yankees are as likely to promote an old Double-A player to an everyday major-league job as they are to declare that 2004 is a "rebuilding year."
So short of a return to the infield for Gary Sheffield (crazy voice in head: "Hey, it worked for Pete Rose!"), the Yankees will have to look outside the organization.
But where? Where do they look? In 2003, 21 major-leaguers played at least 100 games at third base. Of those 21, I consider 16 of them either unavailable (because their teams need them) or uninteresting (because you're simply not going to see Joe Crede or Casey Blake in pinstripes). That leaves five "maybe availables" (and I'll add a couple of others to the list, veteran third basemen who didn't play 100 games at third last year).
A Beltre .305 .450
W Helms .310 .440
C Stynes .330 .400
T Batista .285 .420
V Castilla .290 .405
R Ventura .340 .400
T Zeile .330 .390
Those numbers are 2004 projections, amalgams of those concocted by Nate Silver (for Baseball Prospectus) and by Ron Shandler (for his Baseball Forecaster). I initially decided to combine them for the sake of "accuracy," but the projections were extremely similar in every instance so I needn't have bothered. Anyway, I think all those numbers represent reasonable expectations.
You know what's interesting about Ventura and Zeile (who I added because they're proven veterans who can probably be had for the right price)? Both of them played for the Yankees last season, and both were found wanting. Ventura was dispatched last July 31 because the Yankees thought Boone was better (as it turned out, he wasn't), and Zeile was flat-out released in mid-August.
Neither of them are likely to wind up with the Yankees. Zeile just signed with the Mets (and anyway he's not good enough), and due to some obscure rule, Ventura can't be traded from the Dodgers until June 15.
So with all that in mind, if you're Brian Cashman -- or perhaps more to the point, if you're George Steinbrenner -- who do you want?
What Cashman wants -- what Steinbrenner wants -- is a name. Unfortunately, none of the names (Troy Glaus, Edgardo Alfonzo, others) are likely to be available before July. And whichever of the non-names is stationed at third base for the Yankees, he'll be the worst player in the lineup by a comfortable margin.
I spent a few minutes toying with the idea of a platoon, perhaps including Milwaukee's Wes Helms, but that notion died with my realization that, with Ventura out of the mix, there simply aren't any left-handed-hitting third basemen available.
The Yankees' best options, then, are Helms and Adrian Beltre. Helms is cheap (which is of course irrelevant) and he can do some damage against left-handed pitching, while Beltre is younger and certainly has more upside. The Yankees don't have many prospects to trade, but they're capable of putting together some sort of package that would get Helms or Beltre.
Either way, the Yankees' third baseman will be the worst player in their lineup. It's often said that money can't buy happiness, but that's not precisely true. What might be more true, at this particular moment, is that money can't buy you a championship-quality third baseman.
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.