CD's Connect the Dots... Boone or Bust

Call me stubborn. Say I am inflexible when it comes to certain things Phillie red. Many readers have. Accuse me of being oblivious to the mantra of "if it doesn't subscribe to the way Billy Beane does things, then its archaic." Good then, I am a baseball dinosaur. Yet, this tiny voice inside my baseball sinew continues to whisper Aaron Boone, no matter how hard I try to make it disappear. To me, the name Boone and Phillies is synonymous and a reunion should be held as soon as possible.

Several weeks ago, almost immediately after the New York Yankees released Aaron Boone, after an ill-timed basketball game caused him a serious knee injury, I suggested that the Phils should get while the getting was good and sign Boone. My reasons were obvious, and many.

For one thing, his dad, Bob Boone, is now a roving coach in the organization and could have probably put in a good word for the Phillies. After all, Aaron played for his dad in Cincinnati, and was most outspoken in his defense when the Reds fired the elder Boone. Not coincidentally, Aaron was traded a few weeks later to the Yanks, and hit the home run that catapulted the Bronx Bombers into the World Series.

Another reason I thought signing Boone in March was a good idea was that I felt the Phils could steal a solid player when his value was at its lowest. Let's face it, things didn't look so good for Boone after his injury cost him not only a 5.75 million dollar deal with the Yanks, but his knee injury threatened to keep him out of the 2004 season. What better time it was to swoop in and possibly acquire a good player at a below market value price tag.

I also knew that Aaron grew up in the Phillie clubhouse and might still have some emotional; attachments to the city and team. His dad is still considered by many, this writer included, as the greatest catcher in Phillie history. I felt that there would be a comfort zone at work between the team and player.

Finally, I felt more than a bit concerned about the health of several Phillie infielders, most notably David Bell, and to a lesser extent, Placido Polanco. The health issues of Bell have been more than well chronicled here and count me as one who is still skeptical about his long-term ability to play regularly. From bad backs to shoulder miseries, he has had more than his share over the past year.

Polanco's injury was a bit murkier. By all accounts he was healthy and ready for a solid season in this his free agent year. Yet, he had missed almost all of September with leg problems, specifically a pulled quadriceps. As someone who has suffered leg muscle pulls in the past, I can attest to the nagging way that they reappear, often without notice.

My feeling was that Boone would be ready to play by August, and along with youngster, Chase Utley, might just give the Phils the infield depth they would need to sustain not one, but two injuries to their infield regulars. This move seemed sensible, proactive, and very doable.

After I proposed a possible Boone-Phillie marriage, the naysayers came out in full force. Though never surprised at negative feedback, I was a bit puzzled at the almost total lack of respect for Boone as a player by many Phillie fans. If I had not known better, I would have suspected that it was not Aaron Boone, but Kim Batiste, that was being trumpeted here.

Too old, many fans wailed. Huh? At 31 years of age, he is younger than Bell, and no one questioned age when the Bell to the Phillie rumors started in the Fall of 2003. Too frail, they cried. Again, I have to ask, huh? Before his knee injury, Boone was a model of health, and regularly played a full season. In fact, in 2002 he played in all 162 games, and last year while splitting a season with the Reds and Yanks, he still managed to find time to play in 160 games.

Clearly, health issues were not an excuse, although reasonable caution should be the order after his torn ligament. Yet the reports were all positive about his recovery, and I thought a thorough examination by Phillie doctors might at least be a sensible possibility.

Then came the argument most difficult to dispute, because of the popularity of numbers. Many proponents of OBP (on base percentage) were almost aghast at the thought of bringing in a player with such a mediocre OBP. And, frankly, I know that there is some correlation between a player's on base percentage and his value to the team.

Nevertheless, I thought that an infielder with the versatility to play third, short or second, the power to hit 24 home runs and knock in 95 runs, and the speed to steal over 20 bases was certainly someone more than mediocre. I still do. I believe Boone would have been, and still would be a good fit with the Phils.

Many readers are no doubt asking themselves why is the Aaron Boone story resurfacing in another Connect the Dots article? What makes this story so newsworthy and why now? The answer is that several events have taken place over the course of the past five days, which makes this story worth watching.

The first story occurred last Wednesday, May 5, when word came that the Los Angeles Dodgers were more than a little interested in signing Boone to play second base for them. This was a fascinating irony, as the Dodgers current GM is none other than Billy Beane protégé, Paul Depodesta. He had been an eyewitness to the daily philosophical beliefs of Beane, and by most accounts, agreed with them.

Yet, rather than dismiss an Aaron Boone for his un-Beane like mediocre OBP, Depodestra feels that Boone would make a great fit with the Dodgers. His thoughts are that you grab a solid player wherever you can, and here is a great opportunity. Depodesta also mentioned that interest in Boone was strong, and that possibly up to 20 teams had inquired about the infielder. He also confirmed that Boone is healing well, and should be playing in early August.

The second story occurred on Friday night, May 7, when regular middle infielder Placido Polanco landed back on the disabled list with a recurrence of his leg injury. Unbeknownst to Phillie fans everywhere, the injury had never truly healed, which means this mishap is now approaching nine months and counting. To say that this injury may become chronic is no small understatement.

No problem claimed the naysayers; we still have Utley to play second base. And, I agree 100% as I am among his biggest supporters. In fact, I think Utley is a better hitter than Polonco, even when he is healthy. Yet, a tiny voice inside my head continues to whisper that Bell will be next to join the ranks of an ever lengthening injury list, and then what do the Phils do?

Does anyone think that Tomas Perez or Shawn Wooten is capable of playing on a nightly basis? Are the Phils ready to risk their playoff lives to the daily lineup that contains Perez or Wooten? Probably not. The fact is that Perez and Wooten are fine role players, and assets to a strong Phillie bench.

However, their value lessens with each day that they must play regularly, as their flaws become exposed. Not so, Boone, who is not only skilled at three infield positions, has power and speed, but also has valuable World Series experience. If the Phils do not deem this important, then why did they make a point of stressing that World Series experience upon announcing the signing of Wooten last December?

Here are the facts as I see them. This Phillie team is strong, deep, powerful and dangerous. They have five solid starting pitchers, a strong middle of the order lineup, and a solid bench and bullpen. Yet they are vulnerable to injury, and not deep in infield depth. If Polanco's injury remains chronic, and if Bell continues to suffer more than his share of aches and pains, then what move do the Phils make?

Do they look to their Triple A farm club at Scranton? Not likely, considering that Utley was really the only infielder ready for prime time, and he has already replaced Polanco on the roster. How about Lou Collier, who had solid spring training with the Phils? Again, Collier is a Perez-Wooten type, valuable in a pinch, but not likely to hold up on a daily basis.

Who else is a phone call away? Anderson Machado. Pablo Ozuna. Brian Hitchcox. Names that hardly evoke the kind of confidence necessary to wind your way through a ten game road trip during the Dog Days of August. Or, you could try and bring in Aaron Boone.

It will no longer be as easy as it might have been in March. Boone is healthier now, and the market has changed. Teams like the Dodgers, Yankees, Cubs and Giants may well be a middle infielder away from a playoff birth. They may think that Boone is just that middle infielder.

Teams like the Mariners, Astros and Braves are all in the market for an upgrade at third base. Boone may be just that upgrade to push them to the top of their divisions.

Or, the Boone-Phillie connection could come into play. GM Ed Wade may just realize how fragile his infield is, and decide that a two-year deal, with the first year heavily laden with incentives, is the way to go. The naysayers feel this is throwing good money at a bad player. They think baseball is awash with players of the talents of an Aaron Boone. They say that the Phils are fine just as constructed.

I say that opportunities to acquire a player of the versatile skills of an Aaron Boone are few and far between. He is a free agent, available for nothing but a contract. No players to be traded, no draft choices to be surrendered. He is a Boone, and in Philadelphia that still means something.

The 2004 Phils are built to win this year. They are a veteran team with a small window of opportunity to win with this group of players. I say that Aaron Boone gives this group a better chance to win. I say that Wade will look like a genius if he signs Boone and then both Bell and Polanco end up injured and unable to play.

I say it's a long shot, as the naysayers will probably have their way. Yet championships were won not by the naysayers but by the teams daring enough to make the extra move when all logic dictated otherwise.

Proactive should be the name of the game… and Boone is the proactive move to make. Let us hope the Phils are one of the 20 teams involved in the hunt… be it Boone or Bust.

Columnist's Note: Please send any comments or suggestions to connectthedots@earthlink.net and I will respond. Thanks! Allen Ariza aka CD from the Left Coast

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