[A note on how the forum was conducted. The questions were e-mailed to the participants. When I received the responsesófrom fourteen guests in allóI recognized that I would need to run this in two parts on two consecutive days. As it is, itís looooong. Hope you donít have anything to do for a while. But hey, the whole purpose of Yankee Preview week is to offer a feast of insight and opinion to all the insatiable Yankee junkies like me out there. The worst it should be is too long.
Regardless, I tried to keep things brisk, and conversational. I have edited portions of the answers at my own discretion in order to keep the length manageable. In no way have I tried to misrepresent any of the contributorís original intent. Further, I am grateful for all of the time and effort each guest put into answering the questions. I hope you enjoy what they have to say and that it stimulates even further discussion.]
Cast of Characters:
Allen Barra: Slate
Jack Curry: New York Times
Steven Goldman: YES Network, Baseball Prospectus
Jay Jaffe: The Futility Infielder
Bruce Markusen: Baseball Historian
Rob Neyer: ESPN
Tom Verducci: Sports Illustrated
Bronx Banter: Will Joe Torre be fired during the 2004 season? If so, when? If he is canned, who will replace him? Will Torre ever manage the Red Sox?
Allen Barra: I have no idea. I do think sometimes that Torre's misery is a bit exaggerated by the press because of their hatred of Steinbrenner. If the Yankees win, Torre will probably be fine. If not, Willie Randolph would be the logical successor.
Jack Curry: How things can change around the Yankees in a matter of days. Toss a $252 million shortstop into the mix and have him play third base and then watch George play nice with Joe. A month ago, I would have thought there was a chance Joe could get fired in 2004. And, while there is always a chance for those sorts of occurrences around the Yankees, I think Steinbrenner's warmth toward Torre is evidence that he realizes how valuable Torre is to commanding an always turbulent ship. I now expect that Joe will end up signing an extension.
Steven Goldman: The walls of the Yankees clubhouse bulge with inflated egos. It would be asking a lot of a rookie manager, even Willie Randolph, to deal with this group, whereas Joe Torreís biggest positive is that heís been able to keep his players focused. At this point, thatís the result of the gravitas that age and success confers on a manager. As such, I donít think George will pull the trigger. He can be manic, but generally is not obliviousÖ Torre wonít manage the Red Sox. In addition to destroying the symmetry of his career dťnouement with the Yanks, the timing would be all wrong ó by the time Boston is done with its Franconastein experiment, Torre will be on the wrong side of 65 with nothing left to prove. The Francona signing also shows that a young GM will seek to work with a manager thatís within a hail Mary pass of his age. Regrettably, not many young people want to hire dad or grandpa.
Jay Jaffe: Unless the Yanks find themselves within a few games of .500 at some point after the first month of the season, no. In the unlikely event he is fired, Willie Randolph would probably get the "interim" tag for the balance of the season or until an already bad situation needs to be made worse. This is almost surely Torre's last gig and I doubt he could get on board with the Sox philosophy.
Bruce Markusen: While anything is possible in the Bronx, I believe this Yankee team is too talented to go through the kind of prolonged slump that would prompt the firing of the manager. Even if the Yankees fell behind the Red Sox by seven or eight games, the fallback option of the wildcard should maintain Torreís job status. Now if the Yankees were to fall seven or eight games out of the wild card spot, then that would produce a different outcome. If Torre were to be fired during the season, I think the new manager would be either Willie Randolph or Bucky Dent. Some of my sources say that Dent is actually George Steinbrennerís first choice to succeed Torre, but with a mid-season change of managers, ďThe BossĒ might be more inclined to pick one of the coaches already with the team, as a way of aiding a smoother transition. Keep an eye on Bucky, though.
Rob Neyer: No, I donít think that Torre will be fired. This team is just too good to struggle long enough for Torre to get canned. And no, I canít imagine that Torre will ever manage the Red Sox.
Tom Verducci: Torre will not be fired and in fact will decide to return next year. I doubt he will ever manage another team. It sounds as if he has caught a new enthusiasm not just for managing, but managing the Yankees.
BB: The arrival of Alex Rodriguez brings with it plenty of potential for controversy. The biggest issue of course is who should play shortstop? Though the Yankees don't have any intentions of moving Jeter right now, who do you think should play shortstop for the Yankees?
Allen Barra: The Yankees have won 6 pennants with Derek Jeter playing shortstop. I honestly don't see what the big deal is about this.
Jack Curry: A-Rod is the better shortstop. If the Yankees were starting a new team tomorrow and Jeter didn't have the history of success he has with the team, A-Rod would be the shortstop. I think the Yankees are paying homage to Jeter's captaincy and what he has done for them, which is a nice gesture. But Joe Torre constantly says that he will play the team that gives the Yankees the best chance to win. Is that the team with A-Rod at SS or Jeter at SS? I think one of the interesting points here is that A-Rod is the better athlete and defensive player so the switch to 3B will be easier for him than it ever would be for Jeter.
Steven Goldman Rodriguez, of course, because heís the better glove. Any other consideration puts winning second to soothing a playerís ego.
Jay Jaffe: A-Rod is clearly the superior shortstop, but Jeter's shortcomings, particularly his poor first step, are even more ill-suited to third base than they are to short. His future is in centerfield, where his speed and ability to judge fly balls will be assets and he'll be able to outrun some of his mistakes (just like his predecessor). It's probably too late to make a change for this season because Bernie Williams (CF-DH) and Jason Giambi (DH-1B) should both be in the lineup every day, and Jeter-to-CF means that to get all three bats in the lineup requires Giambi to be the regular 1B (or to have Bernie learn the position). Those moves should have the benefit of a full offseason to prepare for them. For the purposes of stacking the lineup, squeezing A-Rod into a new position for a year while leaving the rest undisturbed isn't the worst way this could go.
Bruce Markusen: If it were up to me, I would play Rodriguez at shortstop and move Jeter over to third. Rodriguez is a Gold Glove caliber shortstop, with above average range, great quickness, soft hands, and a strong arm. There are a few shortstops better than him defensively (Cesar Izturis with the Dodgers and perhaps Edgar Renteria with the Cardinals come to mind), but not many. And at 28 years of age, I donít anticipate that A-Rod has lost muchóif anyó range in the field.
Rob Neyer: Obviously, A-Rod should play shortstop because thatís where heís most valuable.
Tom Verducci: Of course, on paper A-Rod should play shortstop and Jeter should play second base. But itís not a controversy because it will never happen. The bigger controversy will be how Jeter feels about being eclipsed as the franchiseís biggest star. A-Rod is a better player and stronger personality. If Jeter is threatened by that, then you might have another Kobe-Shaq, or A-Rod-Griffey. If Jeter rolls with it and understands there is plenty of room for both and becomes real friends again with A-Rod, the rest of baseball should shudder.
BB: Some baseball observers are more offended that A Rod--the better defensive player, and the best shortstop since Honus Wagner--will be asked to move positions than they are that he's joined the Yankees. Jeter is famous as a team-first player. Do you think he would ever consider moving positions, ala Chipper Jones, if it helps the team? If he doesn't, how could that change his image? In addition, what position do you think would best suit Jeter's talents?
Allen Barra: Look, A-rod wants to prove he can be a winner, a team player. Let him display a little humility for the sake of the team.
Jack Curry: Jeter considers himself a SS and has since he was eight or nine. There will inevitably come a time, maybe in three months or maybe in three years, when Torre or another manager has to consider replacing A-Rod with Jeter. Jeter's reputation as a team player will be put in a dicey position if he resists this kind of change. I've talked to several AL talent evaluators who feel Jeter would probably be better off at 2B than 3B if he ever did move.
Steven Goldman: Everyone rolls their eyes when some gap-toothed old-timer (Iím imagining Walter Brennanís Groot Nadine from Red River) says, ďthe players of my day were way better than todayís preening candy-asses,Ē but those ďGreatest GenerationĒ players did have a better sense of team goals. Maybe Iím just buying into the myth the managers of that time liked to peddle, but when Joe McCarthy asked Joe Gordon to move to first base so Jerry Priddy could play second, he moved and didnít kick. That seems to have changedÖ Either Jeter is a man heavily into denial or heís selfish. That doesnít, by the way, make him less of a player ó just human.
The classic 1960s rock group The Band sometimes would switch instruments between songs. Itís not that they were interchangeable, because each of them was a technician with his instrument; they were just doing what was best for each song. This yearís Yankees song includes Kevin Brown and Paul Quantrill, so it would behoove them to get their best ground ball D out there when those fellows are on the mound (when Mussina or Vazquez are out there, a statue of Hans Wagner can play short). Joe Torre at al are probably sincere if they believe that shifting Jeter will break some magic spell thatís been in place since 1996. If thatís the issue, weíll have to accept it. If itís just about feeding Jeterís ego, then Jeter and the whole organization are hypocrites. Itís like a football team playing itís passing defense against a running offense because one of the linebackers objects to being replaced in the package. Imagine the publicís reaction to that player. Not moving wonít hurt Jeterís image, but it should.
Jay Jaffe: I think Jeter might come to the realization sooner or later, but it won't be overnight. I believe his resistance to it will be regarded similarly to Cal Ripken's resistance to ending The Streak, something that might benefit both the player and the team but run contrary to the image the player is trying to convey. It's an uneasy tension, but so long as the Yankees win, it will be a non-issue. If Jeter's defensive play is even remotely implicated in their failure to do so, then I do think he'll suck it up and do the right thing. See previous question for the last part of the answer.
Bruce Markusen: Yes, absolutely, I think Jeter would definitely consider moving to another position. A lot has been made of Jeterís supposed selfishness in being unwilling to move to third base, but thatís unfair speculation. I donít think the Yankees have even asked Jeter to move, and I donít think he considers it his place to suggest to Torre that he be moved. If Torre were to approach Jeter during the spring and ask him to move to third or second, Jeter would nod his head and do it. Internally, his pride might be hurt by it, but Jeterís professionalism and team attitude wouldnít allow him to make a public spectacle of the situation. Jeterís lack of range at shortstop would be better masked if he were to play third, but I believe his best position would be in center field. Jeter has always been great at reading and tracking pop-ups, so I see no reason why he couldnít handle fly balls on a regular basis. Although Jeterís first step is lacking, he has the kind of closing speed that a good outfielder needs.
Rob Neyer: Would he consider it? Sure. But so many people for so long have been telling himóand usóthat Jeter is a good (or great) defensive shortstop, that Iím sure he believes it. And if heís a team player and he thinks heís the best shortstop the team has, then why would he volunteer to move? I donít think heís going to move unless heís ordered to move, or he suffers an injury that makes it obvious he canít play shortstop any more. As for his best position, itís probably center field or left field.
Tom Verducci: Hereís one of those many situations in baseball where paper analysis is incomplete. You have to be around the team to understand what Jeter means to his teammates and his manager. And when you do understand that, you know why displacing Jeter would upset the equilibrium of the team. I believe Jeter could have said, ``Heck, Iíll play anywhere they want me to play,íí fully knowing that Torre isnít about to move him with the history and investments between the two of them. But then you could argue in that case that Jeter would be disingenuous and deserves credit for honesty in saying, ``Iím not going anywhere.íí It may not be what you want to hear, but itís what the man meant.
In Toronto once, Carlos Delgado played first base while David Segui DHd, clearly a poorer defensive lineup, but a manager would argue it was worth upholding Delgadoís status as a team elder and sachem. A similar equation is at work here. I donít think it hurts Jeterís image a bit. (It does enhance A-Rodís image to switch positions at the peak of his career.) I imagine Jeter would be a very good centerfielder. (Since he seems so opposed to second base, I question whether he could excel there without the mental commitment.) One thing Jeter does better than almost anybody except Omar Vizquel (including A-Rod) is catch pop flies. That tells me heís good at doing the quick mental calculus of tracking fly balls off the bat. Think Robin Yount.
BB: There has been a wide gap in the perception of Jeter's defense. Many fans and mainstream analysts believe that he is a good shortstop, while sabermetric observers contend that he is actually a poor defensive player. Now that the Yankees have a superior defensive option on their roster, will the perception of Jeter's defensive reputation change?
Allen Barra:It already has changed -- look at all the charts and stories about this after they acquired A-Rod. I do think Jeter loses a few opportunities at short because the Yankee pitching staff has generally been high on strikeouts, but on the whole, let me say again that I'm at a loss to figure out why this is an issue. Let me repeat this: the Yankees won six pennants with Derek Jeter at shortstop. If Jeter was the worst shortstop in baseball, wouldn't the six pennants indicate that this is not much of a problem?
Jack Curry: Jeter's defense, which has been average and which has taken a dip since he hurt his shoulder, will be watched more than ever this season. You know the first time Jeter makes an error to cost a game, the questions about replacing him with A Rod will start. So a player who has already been under the microscope will have to deal with even more scrutiny.
Steven Goldman: There are still ordinary Americans out there who believe that the presidentís tax cuts were intended to benefit the middle class. If they canít see a man with his hand on their wallet, how are they going to be objective about something as hard to judge as a ballplayerís defensive skills, especially when the team announcers are going to keep telling them how great he is? That being said, there will be people asking ďWould A-Rod have booted that one?Ē every time Jeter makes an error, which will be missing the point ó itís not about the balls he almost gets to, but the ones he doesnít get to at allÖ There are more implausible myths than Jeterís great glove that have millions of adherents. Logic is a weak force against blind faith. I donít see that changing any time soon.
Jay Jaffe: You'll hear a lot of "A-Rod would have had that" carping from some fans and media, and if Jeter goes down for any length of time where A-Rod takes over, the scales will fall from peoples' eyes, particularly the fans. I do think the Yankee brass, from Torre to Steinbrenner, is protecting Jeter here, not wanting to make their $189 million player look inadequate in anyone's eyes. They'd rather make the move a year too late than a year too early.
Bruce Markusen: The wide gap in perception is still there. During the press conference to introduce Rodriguez, Suzyn Waldman of the YES Network asked out loud and Iím paraphrasing here, ďWhen did Jeter become such a bad shortstop?Ē That kind of statement indicates she doesnít visit the baseball internet sites where Jeterís defensive play has been criticized by Sabermetricians for about five years now. And thatís probably the case with a lot of the mainstream media, which is still very distinct from the Internet breed. Now that A-Rod has joined the mix, I think that the mainstream media in New York will put Jeterís defensive play under a heavier microscope. If Jeter has a rough game where he makes a couple of errors or allows two or three up-the-middle grounders to get past him, some writers will inevitably speculate as to whether Rodriguez would have made the plays. Itís unavoidable that Jeterís defensive reputation will suffer; as one gets older, his range is only going to diminish further. Would this result in Torre making a mid-season switch, moving Jeter to third and A-Rod back to shortstop? I donít think so, if only because Torre hates the idea of asking a player to change positions in the middle of the season. Torre would only make a switch like that during the early or middle stages of spring training.
Rob Neyer: Yeah, I think so. People are going to watching Jeter very, very closely, and itís less likely that those routine grounders-turned-singles will be ignored by Suzym Waldman. (Well, maybe thatís a bad exampleÖ)
Tom Verducci: People may look at Jeterís defense with a more critical eye because it has become a front burner issue, but Jeter never plays the position so awkwardly that you regard him as deficient. The guy is great on pop flies, very good at timing line drives, has very good hands and footwork on slow rollers and has a patent on the jump throw from deep shortstop -- all of which look great on the nightly highlights. He doesnít make a ton of errors. Itís more what you donít see with Jeter, such as range, especially to his left, so thatís more subtle. (I also have to give him a bit of a hall pass because heís had shoulder problems in two of the past three years. He never uses injuries as an excuse, but I believe the injuries have hindered him a bit.) I would not place Jeter in the poor category. Heís better than that. I donít think itís A-Rod so much that will put his defense under the microscope as it is more the Yankeesí staff. Brown, Lieber and Quantrill especially will throw a ton of groundballs. And if the Yankees donít go out and get a glove-first second baseman (which I think they will) their defense up the middle risks undermining the strength of the staff.
BB: How much better is the Yankees bullpen this season than it was in 2003?
Allen Barra: The Yankees' one major weakness last season was their inability to get from the 6th inning to Mariano Rivera. This showed up big in the post-season. If nothing else, they addressed that weakness in this off-season. Paul Quantrill is the best right-handed setup man the Yankees have had in several seasons. The problem now, of course, is the fragility of the starting rotation.
Jack Curry: The bullpen is much improved with Gordon and Quantrill and Joe Torre shouldn't have to dial for relievers with trepidation, as he did last year. I think Gordon is going to have a terrific year for the Yankees. He also gives them insurance if Rivera suffers an injury.
Steven Goldman: Much better, assuming all the old guys donít break down at once. If they take turns being unhealthy, the Yankees now have the depth to wait out the injuries instead of trading for Graeme Lloyd, Armando Benitez, Billy Brewer. It should be noted that depth that encourages less work for Mariano Rivera is not necessarily a good thing.
Jay Jaffe: Considerably so, especially if Karsay comes back. With Gordon, Quantrill and Karsay, the Yanks are very deep in righties who can pitch the late innings, but Heredia and White are a bit thin from the left side. Don't expect too many strict-platoon maneuvers from Torre, and don't be surprised if the Yanks look for a lefty reliever to shore up the pen midseason.
Bruce Markusen: On paper, the bullpen will be much better, assuming that Mariano Rivera still has another season of dominant relief pitching left in his right arm. Paul Quantrill is always good; heís been one of the most underrated relief pitchers of the last decade. Tom ďFlashĒ Gordon is a bit more inconsistent than Quantrill, but can also be dominant with his great overhand curve. I also have a feeling that Steve Karsay will bounce back and have a big season. From the left side, Felix Heredia and Gabe White figure to be a big improvement over the parade of situational left-handers the Yankees used last season. All in all, the bullpen looks to be better by leaps and bounds, but it still comes down to Rivera being great.
Rob Neyer: Without looking at every pitcherís projected stats, I would guess that itís somewhat better but still not one of the best in the majors. I like Gordon and Quantrill, of course, and if Karsayís healthy (fat chance) heís obviously pretty scary. But there will still be times when Torre has problems getting the lead to Rivera, and I suspect that once again weíll see 1) a bunch of late-season additions, and 2) at least one high-price reliever left off the postseason roster.
Tom Verducci: This is the most underrated area of improvement on the team. Torre tried 19 guys last year and still didnít know what he had by the World Series. (Can you say Jeff Weaver?) He also used his starters and Mariano Rivera a lot in the early season because he had little trust in his setup guys. He canít afford to do that this year, because he will have to carefully manage the workload of the post-rehab Lieber and Contreras, who made only nine starts last year and is unaccustomed to the 220-inning, every fifth day grind of big league pitching. Gordonís stuff was lights out last year (though he looks like he came into camp heavier). Quantrill thrives on pitching often and can get lefties out, too. Heredia had a very underrated season last year, even if heís not the classic lefty specialist. And if the Yankees get anything out of Steve Karsay, the bullpen might be so good Rivera wonít have to worry about getting outs in the eighth inning (unless the Yankees are playing Boston, of course).
BB: Will the Yankees sign Mariano to a contract extension before the end of the 2004 season? And should they?
Allen Barra: As Tommy Lee Jones would say, "Hell yes!" The Yankees might lose Pettitte, but they'll never lose Rivera.
Jack Curry: I think Rivera gets the three-year deal he wants and finishes his career as a Yankee and as a Hall of Famer.
Steven Goldman: The value of closers is greatly overstated, but you can make an argument that Rivera is a cut above because of his consistency. He hasnít had any Jose Mesa or Armando Benitez seasons where you dread the manager making that last call to the bullpen. What you do next depends on how well you believe that this fastball-dependent pitcher will survive the inevitable loss of velocity that comes with age. I think the Yankees will sign him, but Iím not convinced itís the right move or even an essential one.
Jay Jaffe: Yes, they'll sign him. Given the money they're paying everybody else, Mo's salary is justifiable, and all the moreso because of the air of infallibility he carries and the confidence he gives Torre and the rest of the team.
Bruce Markusen: I donít think that Rivera has much interest in negotiating during the season, but Iíd be surprised if he doesnít return to New York. He likes it there, from all the winning to the heavy Latino population. The Yankees will probably try to re-sign him to a two-year deal, while Riveraís agent will likely ask for three. They might end up compromising on a guaranteed deal for two years, with a club option for a third. Personally, Iím not a big fan of giving three or four-year deals to pitchers in their thirties, but letís also keep in mind that Rivera keeps himself in great shape and throws with such an unusual ease of motion. He might just last until heís 40.
One point about Rivera: he did go through a couple of slumps during the 2003 regular season that had people asking ďWhatís wrong with Mo?Ē Then in the playoffs Rivera reverted to his usual postseason form, pitching about as well as Iíve ever seen him pitch; he had it all, great control, terrific movement on the cutter, and Ďrisingí action on his straight fastball. The Yankees would take that scenario again in 2004: an OK regular season followed by a lights-out postseason.
Rob Neyer: Yes, the Yankees will sign Rivera before the end of the season, or if not before the end of the season, before the beginning of the 2005 season. Because the Yankees can afford him *and* heís such a huge asset in October, the only reason *not* to sign him would be a significant drop in his performance this season. Which is possible, but not likely.
Tom Verducci: Rivera has no interest in pitching anywhere else and wants to sign a three-year extension today. I am generally against the idea of sinking $10 million a year into a guy who throws 70 innings, especially when any big league pitcher could convert most two- and three-run save situations. Rivera is an exception. (The Red Sox, for instance, think the Yankees would be nuts to sign a 35-year-closer to big bucks.) His body type and his mechanics have not changed a bit since he broke in back in 1995. His cool under pressure is unquestioned. He has exceptionally long fingers, which tells me he will master another pitch, such as a splitter, if he needs to adjust off the cutter as he ages. I think the Yankees will sign him to an extension before the end of spring training, with $10 million per year on the low side.
BB: Jason Giambi hasn't been embraced by New Yorkers in spite of two impressive offensive campaigns in pinstripes. Has the criticism been unfair? How much pressure do you think Giambi is facing going into the 2004 season? Does he get a pass now that Rodriguez and Sheffield are here to help? Short of the Yanks winning a championship, what will it take for him to be accepted by Yankee fans?
Allen Barra: N0, he doesn't get a pass, and since Giambi is such an intense player, I imagine he's putting a lot of pressure on himself. But if you're asking do the presence of A-Rod and Sheffield take some pressure off of him, of courseÖI don't know what kind of injuries Giambi played with last year; that's never been made completely clear. I'm afraid the steroids investigation is going to put him under more pressure whether he deserves it or not. Until he leas the Yankees to a World Series victory, he's on the hook. That's what they acquired him to do -- win a World Series.
Jack Curry: Giambi's number have been solid with the Yankees, but he still hasn't been the player they thought they were getting. The injuries have throttled him and not playing in the the World Series game, even if he was hurt, is something that will stick to him. I think A-Rod's presence will take the pressure off someone like Giambi because there should be fewer people around his locker. On the other hand, both Giambi and Sheffield could be hounded all year because of their connection to Balco. If names start trickling out from that grand jury investigation, and theirs are included, it could be a long year for those players.
Steven Goldman: The mass-hypnosis/Orson Welles stunt that was Tino Martinez has still not worn off. Giambi has had the two most productive offensive seasons by a Yankees first baseman not named Gehrig or Mattingly. Maybe if he runs out on the field doing backflips a la Ozzie, landing with a terrific thud that shakes the Stadium to its very foundations, the fans will like him. Whatever the reason, it has nothing to do with the quality of his performances.
Jay Jaffe: Recall that prior to sitting in the World Series, Giambi hit two homers in Game Seven of the ALCS. Overall, the criticism is unfair, and I don't think it's coming from Yankee fans, it's coming from the shit-stirring element in the local media. Unless a .412 OBP and .527 SLG are suddenly bad, then Giambi at 90% or whatever he was playing at lat year is still a PFG hitter: Pretty Fucking Good. The arrival of Sheffield and Rodriguez will take some pressure off of him, but the longer he's connected to the BALCO thing, the more that will be negated. I think he'll put up about a .420/.550 season with 40 jacks again, and the memory of Tino Martinez will become even more distant.
Bruce Markusen: Part of the criticism of Giambi stems from the fact that he hasnít been the same hitter in New York that he was in Oakland. Heís not hitting .320 to .340, as he did during his peak years. Yet, heís still a very good offensive player because of his sheer power (41 home runs) and keen knowledge of the strike zone (.412 on-base percentage). If he can match the home run and on-base percentage marks in 2004, the Yankeesí management will be pretty satisfied. Giambi will only be accepted fully by fans if the Yankees win the Seriesóand if he plays a sizeable role in them winning. Those are hefty requirements, but thatís the way of life in New York. Giambi might gain more acceptance if he took more of Jeterís public approach when talking about the team. Jeter seems obsessed with winning, whereas Giambi is concerned with winning. Thereís a difference. I know that Giambi wants to win a World Series, but it doesnít seem to consume him. It didnít help Giambiís image when reports circulated last October that he was wound up as ďtight as a drumĒ during much of his playoff struggle. Yankee fans want him to be like Reggie Jackson, who always seemed so confident and at ease during the playoffs and World Series. In reality, I think Giambiís the better hitter, but we havenít really seen it during the short season. Defenders will cite sample size, while critics will take more of a ďno-excusesĒ approach.
Tom Verducci: Giambi was undoubtedly restricted last season by his knee. That was not the same swing he had in prior years. He deserves more slack than has been given him. That said, he had to at least argue a little bit to stay in lineup in Florida in the World Series. Torre didnít like his body language and scratched him without a peep of protest from Giambi. The World Series? Come on. My question with Giambi is how much first base can he play? His body is older than his chronological age. If Iím the Yankees I worry that when he goes, he goes quickly, like McGwire or Keith Hernandez. Now the good news for the Yankees: he should have the best hitting spot in baseball, smack dab between A-Rod and Sheffield, which means teams will be reluctant to bring in a lefty except for very late, and he will gets pitches to hit with runners on. The ideal spot is to be surrounded by great hitters who both hit from the opposite side of the plate as you do. Best example: Sheffield with the Padres, who hit between leftties Fred McGriff and Tony Gwynn. How did it work out? Sheffield nearly won the triple crown. One more thing on Giambi: he needs a Yankee moment before New York fans totally embrace him. The two-run single against the Twins in a Division Series game when the Yankees were leading doesnít cut it. His home runs in Game Seven of the ALCS were lost in the shadow of Matsuiís double, Posadaís double and Booneís homer.
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