CD's Connect the Dots...Aaron Is No Boone-Doggle

Mr. Webster defines a boondoggle as a "waste of time and money" and, goodness knows, our Philadelphia Phillies have often "boondoggled" their way to mediocrity over the years. Anyone care to say Lance Parrish or Danny Tartabull? Yet, it says here that signing free agent third sacker, Aaron Boone, injured or not, would be much more boon than doggle and might even provide the team with their long-term hot corner player.

Expanding one's horizons is often a difficult and painful process.  People often get comfortable with their surroundings and have difficulty looking outside the box.  It is my feeling that this well could be the reason that the Phils might ignore what appears a very appealing situation that has fallen gently into their laps.

To be specific, 31-year-old Aaron Boone, he of the pennant winning home run last October while with the Yankees, is currently unemployed. It seems he was injured playing basketball, a no-no on his list of forbidden things to do during the off-season.  The ramifications of this knee injury were felt throughout the baseball world, as it lead to the recent acquisition of Alex [I love my Texas teammates] Rodriguez by the Yanks. 

 

No sooner was the ink dry on the trade for A-Rod than Mr. Boone was summarily released from his contract for a breach of contract. However, pity not his fate too grievously; he was given a $900,000 dollar severance pay check for his efforts, and no doubt, the timeliness of his home run last season.  This amount should keep him in good stead as he rehabs a torn anterior cruciate ligament, an injury that generally takes from 5 to 9 months to completely heal.

Yet, if the Phillies are just the least bit ambitious, and if they can somehow convinced themselves that it is not greedy to have three professional third basemen in hand, Boone can probably be had for a song.  Before you count the reasons why this would not make a semblance of sense, let me count the ways that it just might.

The predominant reason that this sounds like a potential winner is the significance of his last name to Philadelphia Phillie fans.  Boone…as in Bob Boone; as in former World Series hero; as in former All-Star; as in possibly the greatest catcher in Phil's history.  Not to mention a fact that the very same Bob Boone now works for the Phils and might be so inclined to talk his son into coming to Philly with just a bit of a push.


Remember that Aaron Boone played for his dad last year when Bob was the manager of the Cincinnati Reds, and was among the most outspoken critics when his dad was abruptly fired. It is not a stretch to imagine that this verbal barrage against management was no small factor in Boones being swapped to the Yanks for a prospect and a prayer.

It does not take a wild imagination to picture Aaron returning to the city where he spent his youth, growing up in a clubhouse with Larry Bowa, Mike Schmidt, and Garry Maddox, not to mention his very own father.  It is also not difficult to remember the summer of 2002 when the Phils were trying to make Aaron Boone the centerpiece of a potential trade for the disgruntled Scott Rolen. 

Only when the Reds balked at swapping Boone, did the Phils turn their attention to minor league 3rd sacker, Brandon Larson. That this trade was eventually squashed by Red's upper management eventually lead to the Rolen-Placido Polanco trade, a deal that has benefited both teams. And, irony of ironies, the very same Boone is now a free agent, and awaiting an opportunity to restart a career that is suddenly in neutral.

 

If these arguments are not convincing enough, how about the fact that Boone could be signed to a minimum wage deal for 2004 [say $300,000] while the Phils provide the opportunity for Boone to rehab under the Phillies medical supervision, and with their facilities as a home base. 

 

Along with his 2004 deal, Boone receives a 2005 contract for a reasonable salary, a fair buyout, and a heavily laden incentive deal.  This protects both Boone and the Phils and gives the team some options that they have probably just now begun to contemplate.

For instance, the Phils as now construed have two solid veteran infielders in David Bell and the aforementioned Polanco.  Along with these two potential starters, they have hotshot rookie Chase Utley chomping at the bits to begin his career as a major league regular at second base.  Initial reaction would suggest that the Phils are deep in infielders, and have no need or use for Boone.

However, let's examine the three players a bit closer. Bell is coming off a very serious back injury and is no guarantee to recover his previous form.  Although the early reports on Bell are positive, the simple fact is that back injuries can resurface at a moment's notice, and another Bell breakdown will probably mean an early retirement for the popular vet.

There are few players more popular in the Philadelphia clubhouse than Polanco, and he has established himself as a solid everyday player. Yet, he is also one season from free agency and there is no assurance that he will not take his considerable talents elsewhere after the 2004 season.

While he has indicated no desire to leave Philadelphia, and appears happy in the City of Brotherly Love, the simple truth is that he will undoubtedly expect, and receive a multi-year deal for 2005 and beyond.  It is entirely possible that the Phils, already committed to several players long term, and with an eye towards the future [as in Utley] may be disinclined to offer Polanco a three or four year deal.

Having Boone as an insurance policy not only protects the Phils in case Bell's back acts up again, but also is wonderful back up in case the Phils are either unable to resign Polanco or decide his talents might bring a solid young catcher to the team in a trade.  In fact, few players have evoked more interest in possible trade than has the versatile Polanco, a player who is equally adept at second or third base.

Speaking of Utley and his future, again having Boone in the fold provides a fallback plan as regards the solid left-handed hitting youngster.  Although most baseball experts are convinced that Utley is a future hitting machine, they are less inclined to give him a ringing endorsement when it comes to the defensive end of the game. At best, his defense is adequate, at worst it might become unacceptable.

When a player is viewed as defensively challenged, yet offensively powerful, the immediate reaction is to think about placing him in the American League, where the designated hitter provides safe haven for a player of Utley's offensive skills. This is not to say that he won't continue to improve defensively and become the player the Phils envisioned when they drafted him #1 out of UCLA.

However, having Boone in a staple of able infielders gives the Phils an opportunity to evaluate Utley's improvement in 2004, and make a decision based on that evaluation.  If Utley becomes a solid two-way player, the Phils are so much the better off, and can consider the merits of swapping Polanco.  If Utley fails to improve defensively, he, like Polanco, offers a valuable trade option for a Phil's team in desperate need of young catching and outfielders.

The final reason that signing Aaron Boone makes sense is because he is a talented player, who appears to be peaking in his early 30's.  He will turn 31 on March 9 of this year and has seen his home run totals climb from the mid teens in the years 1999-2001 to much higher totals of 26 and 24 over the past two seasons.  Not only this, but his RBI totals of 87 and 96 over the past two years are very solid numbers for a third baseman.

Even better, the hustling Boone has stolen 56 bases over the past couple of years while demonstrating an ability to play third, shortstop and second base.  It says here that Aaron Boone would provide a solid power right-handed bat to compliment the stances of Jim Thome, Pat Burrell, Bobby Abreu and Mike Lieberthal.  He also would add speed to a lineup that could use another stolen base threat.

 

The simple fact is that the Phils, for all their offensive skills, have only two stolen base threats, Jimmy Rollins and Marlon Byrd.  Having Boone as a third ace in the hole might make the lineup and even more potent one. 

This writer fully acknowledges that the Phils will probably not be inclined to take this potentially risky move. It would involve possibly upsetting a few players, namely Bell and Polanco.  It would guarantee nothing as many a fine player has suffered a torn anterior cruciate and never fully recovered.

It would also force the Phils to glance, if ever so slightly, towards 2005 when almost all focus in clearly on this season.  Yet, the Phils make no secret of the fact that they are less inclined to resign both Mills Boys, Kevin Millwood and Eric Milton, past this season in anticipation of the future aces-in-waiting, Cole Hamels and Gavin Floyd.

These pronouncements have done nothing to take away from the preparations of the Mills Boys, who both anticipate solid seasons, and rich fortunes in the future, be it in Philadelphia or elsewhere.  In fact, the added competition is likely to challenge all the players to attain greater heights, with the Phils as the likely beneficiaries.

Having Boone in the bullpen can only make Bell and Polanco better players, and they in turn will allow Boone to rehabilitate at a reasonable pace, unencumbered with the pressure of returning before he is ready and able.  By all accounts, Boone is a welcome clubhouse presence and would only seem to add positive vibes to a group of players who seem very together as the new season approaches.

Perhaps this move will never take place.  Maybe the New York Yankees will make an offer he can't refuse; they certainly seem to have an insatiable appetite for players of all ages, sizes and salaries.  Possibly the Reds will attest to the mistakes of their ways and offer Boone a chance to return to the team where his major league career first flourished.  Even more likely, teams like the Mariners, Braves or Tigers will offer Boone a guaranteed contract for 2005, with a promise of a starting position.

Yet, through all the haze and uncertainty involving Boone and his future, it would not be the worst decision the Phils ever made to bring the junior Boone home to be with his father.  His name alone promises a welcome home party, and his resume assures the Phils of an able performer.  To this writer, this move is a win-win proposition, both for team and player.  It just makes too much sense and the timing couldn't be more advantageous.

In a world of short change artists and poor investments running wild, Aaron Boone seems like a solid benefit for the club.  Although this move is uncertain at the moment, and the team will probably have to navigate through some potholes along the path to his recovery, Aaron certainly seems no boone-doggle in my mind.

Columnist's Note: I welcome suggestions, questions and comments.  Please send then all
to connectthedots@earthlink.net and I will respond. CD from the Left Coast

Philly Baseball Insider Top Stories