Yankees stopgap third basemen of yesteryear

Christopher Hanewinckel-US PRESSWIRE

The Yankees once faced a hole at third base before, and dealt with it quite effectively. Can they replicate that savvy today?

Once upon a time, Scott Brosius was the starting third baseman for the New York Yankees and Alex Rodriguez was nothing but a young phenom who had nothing to do with New York. Brosius, unfortunately, retired after the 2001 season and left a large hole at third base. I mean, Brosius didn't leave that large of a hole, as he had only tabulated 3.7 fWAR in his final three seasons. But even so, they needed a stopgap to fill the position, at least until their star prospect Drew Henson (ha!) was ready to take up the mantle.

In the 2001 offseason, the Yankees made a trade to acquire Robin Ventura from the New York Mets. Ventura certainly was not the player he was when he first signed with the Mets in 1999, (.301/.379/.529, 129 wRC+, and 7.3 fWAR) but he still was a very productive player. The Yankees dealt David Justice for Ventura, ending a tenure for Justice that was quite profitable for both parties. Even though Ventura had a couple of down years, he bounced back in 2002 thanks to a first-half surge that gave the Yankees their best season from a third baseman since 1998. He put together a line of .247/.368/.458 (120 wRC+) with 27 home runs, a UZR/150 of 25.0, and 3.7 fWAR.

In the start of the 2003 season, the Yankees front office noticed that Ventura's performance was tapering off. Ventura, as opposed to his first-half 131 wRC+ surge in 2002, dipped to 106 wRC+ in the second half, and plunged further to 92 wRC+ in the first half of 2003. By the All-Star break, the Yankees had seen enough and dealt Ventura, hoping to flip him and a few prospects in hopes for another short-term gain.

And thus, we all came to know and love Aaron Boone. On July 31, 2003, the Yankees traded Ventura to the Dodgers for two minor-leaguers, and traded Brandon Claussen and Charlie Manning to the Cincinnati Reds for Boone. Through 106 games with the Reds, Boone put up a slash line of .273/.339/.469 (108 wRC+) with 18 home runs and 1.5 fWAR. He certainly was not going to put up the numbers that Ventura did in 2002, but he could definitely act as a serviceable third baseman. And so he did. In his short tenure with the Yankees, 54 games, he put up a line of .254/.302/.418 (89 wRC+) with 6 home runs and 0.6 fWAR. That's not too bad for only 54 games. But what truly made his half-season and salary worth the price was the home run he hit off of Tim Wakefield in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS to send the Yankees to the World Series.

And today the Yankees face a slightly similar situation in which they are faced with a black hole at third base, but the parameters have certainly changed. There's the possibility that Alex Rodriguez will return in 2015, and in 2014 there is the concern that the Yankees may not stay under their $189 million budget. They also have a greatly diminished farm system, so it'll be much more difficult to find a suitable trade partner without talent in the minor league system to offer as bait.

The Yankees will have to take a similar route that they did in 2002 and 2003, as their only viable, long-term, internal option, Eric Jagielo, is still a few years from his possible major league debut. There has been discussion ad nauseum about the options of Mark Reynolds, Michael Young, and Stephen Drew as possible replacements. Whoever their replacement may be, it probably won't yield the same result as Ventura/Boone in 2002 and 2003, but it can certainly come relatively close. If they can even find a stopgap that can provide them with 1-2 fWAR a year, that would be serviceable enough until they either have the money to acquire a free agent or have an internal replacement as a long-term solution, similar to their bridge until they acquired Alex Rodriguez. Hopefully their next long-term third baseman does not end up in a legal and media circus.

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