Sierra Returns To New York

In a deal announced early Friday, the Yankees traded minor-league outfielder Marcus Thames to the Texas Rangers for OF/DH Ruben Sierra. Thames was batting .278 with two homeruns and 28 RBI in 52 games for the Columbus Clippers so far this year. Sierra – who was also a Yankee briefly in the 1995-96 seasons – was hitting .263 with three homers and 12 RBI in 43 games for Texas.

Thames made a name for himself by hitting a homerun on the first pitch of his first major league at bat against four-time Cy Young award winner Randy Johnson. That season, Thames batted .231 in 13 at bats. Trade rumors had been swirling around Thames for the last few days, as the Yankees were looking to add a left-handed bat to their lineup with the absences of Nick Johnson and Bernie Williams. The Yankees finally settled on the switch-hitting Sierra, who has played in the majors for 17 seasons.

With that, looks into the Pros and Cons regarding the Yankees' latest deal.


* Sierra just isn't that good anymore. He hasn't had an OPS over .800 in a full season since 1991. He posted an OPS of .883 in 2001 with Texas, but in just 94 games. Once upon a time, Sierra was a good player. He finished second in the MVP voting way back in 1991, when he hit .307 with 25 homeruns. But that was then, and since that '91 season Sierra hasn't posted a .300 batting average.

* Sierra is not, and never really has been, a good outfielder. He is almost strictly a designated hitter at this point in his career, with an occasional start in left field. This might cause havoc for the Yankees, who already have a crowded DH spot with Todd Zeile, Bubba Trammell, and eventually Nick Johnson all looking for at bats.

* The Yankees signed Sierra looking for a left-handed bat, but Sierra actually hits better from the right side of the plate. He has more power from the left side, but he can't hit for average there.

* Marcus Thames is a good prospect. He isn't a future superstar like former teammate Alfonso Soriano, but he has the chance to become a serviceable major league player. Thames holds several minor league records, most from his time with AA Norwich where he led the 2000 Gators in literally every offensive statistic except for stolen bases. In 2003, the 26-year old was driving in runs at a decent clip and with a respectable batting average in AAA.

* If Thames is such a good prospect, the Yankees should have looked into dealing him for a good relief pitcher rather than an extraneous hitter. The Yankee offense is fine, or it will be when everyone gets healthy. But Steve Karsay is out for the season, leaving a gaping hole in the bullpen that is just begging to be filled for the rest of the year. When Bernie Williams and Nick Johnson return, where does Sierra play? He can't pitch, that's for sure.

* The Yankees originally acquired Sierra back in 1995. In '96 when Joe Torre took over the managerial duties, Sierra and Torre reportedly did not see eye to eye. Sierra was quoted called Torre a "liar" in reference to how Torre had described Sierra's role on the team. This prompted the Yankees to trade Sierra to Detroit for Cecil Fielder, who helped the Yanks win the '96 World Series. Why would Sierra and Torre get along any better this time around? Especially considering that Sierra's playing time will still be significantly less than he would probably like.


- Although Sierra is fragile and will platoon with Todd Zeile at DH, Ruben did play more games in the field last season (60 to 52). Furthermore, Sierra holds a career .970 fielding percentage and had only a single error in 91 chances last year (.989). His body is not the same as it was 5 or 10 years ago, but how much worse could he be than the current Yankee arms in the outfield?

- Sierra has played in a long career for many different clubs. Having been traded multiple times since he entered the majors in 1986, Sierra should be able to adjust quickly. The accomplishments that he has collected over 17 seasons include 4 All-Star roster spots and a 2nd place finish in MVP voting. With a successful, albeit injury-shortened year in 1991, Sierra proved once again that age can be overcome (see Barry Bonds, Edgar Martinez, etc.). As a switch-hitter, he should provide ample power from the left side for the Yankees, with his current OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) of .781 against righties vs. .716 for southpaws. Unlike other aging switch-hitters (see Roberto Alomar), Sierra's ability to maintain solid hitting from both sides of the plate should prove to be helpful as not only a hitting upgrade, but a tutor for Jorge Posada as well.

- Sierra's $600,000 price tag was an important component to the typically spend-free nature of the organization, under $450,000 of which the Yankees will pay. The ball club has always sought to improve their team before the rest of the pack, as evidenced with deals made over the past three seasons (Neagle/2000, Witasick/2001, Mondesi/2002), and Ruben Sierra is no different. Every season the team makes the necessary moves to compete in the playoffs, and while Sierra is not Barry Bonds, he's still an immediate and cheap addition to the current squad.

- In mentioning Ruben Sierra's name so much, I have practically forgotten about the Yankees poor play, as of late, haven't you? Pulling the trigger on a little move like this has clearly drawn attention away from the Red Sox and Blue Jays turning on the heat in the rear-view mirror. In New York, diverting the eyes of both the media and the fans produce a positive effect on the mentality of the players, which is ultimately what matters. This deal gives the Yankees a couple more weeks before either this trade goes even further under the microscope, or the gap will have widened division lead in the American League East.

- The other side to this trade is Marcus Thames, who while setting numerous records at Norwich (AA, previously affiliated) in 2001, has failed to produce as much as initially hoped this year at Columbus (AAA). Thames was touted as valuable trade bait after his single brilliant season in the minors, but at that point many scouts were merely projecting him to a .270-.280 hitter with good power and acceptable on-base percentage. If those were the projections two years ago, they can't be any higher now, and the Yankees made the correct move in cutting bait sooner rather than later. Thames may have helped somewhere down the road, but a career playoff OPS of .888 (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) in 11 games is more important to a club that is a near-lock (if not a virtual-lock) to enter the postseason for the 10th consecutive season.

With that said, this deal may not have been necessary for the Yankees to make, but there's no debating the instantaneous improvement of the team with the addition of Ruben Sierra.

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