Yankees 2004 Outlook, Part 1

With the offseason well under way, some changes are likely going to be made to the Yankees in the next few months. While the 2003 season is a nice memory, it's time to start looking forward to next season. With that, I bring you the Yankees 2004 Outlook. Part one will deal with the infielders.

Aaron Boone:
When the Yanks traded for Boone, they made a commitment that said two things: a) they were done with Drew Henson and b) Boone is their third baseman for the forseeable future. Boone isn't a free agent this year, and the Yankees could definitely do worse than him. If he tightens up his mechanics – his swing is downright ugly – and relaxes at the plate more, he'll get better with time. In 2004, Boone could possibly shift to second base if the Yankees trade Alfonso Soriano or move him to the outfield. If he shows he can hit in Spring Training, he could also be moved higher in the order. Boone would make a decent number-two hitter behind a leadoff-hitting Jeter.
Projected Stats: .270 BA-18 HR-60 RBI-70 R-20 SB

John Flaherty:
Flaherty doesn't have a contract for 2004 and has already filed for free agency. The Yankees have had a revolving door at the backup catcher slot since Jorge Posada took over the starting job in 1998. Those catchers have included Joe Girardi, Chris Turner, Todd Greene, Chris Widger and Alberto Castillo. Flaherty is a much better player than all of them (save maybe Girardi), and the Yankees should throw him a one-year deal and bring him back next season.
Projected Stats:* .250 BA-4 HR-20 RBI-20 R-0 SB

Jason Giambi:
Giambi's not going anywhere for a while as he is signed through 2008 with a contract that is all but untradeable, but one place he might be heading is the surgeon's table. Giambi's knee problems grew steadily worse as the season progressed and he could need surgery this offseason to correct it. If the knee can't return to 100%, Giambi will probably see more at bats at DH next season. The problem is that Giambi hit just .220 and his OPS dropped over 200 points when he didn't play the field in 2003.
Projected Stats: .300 BA-40 HR-110 RBI-90 R-2 SB

Derek Jeter: Jeter looks to be one of the few Yankee position players to not have to change much for 2004. His power numbers were down this season, but that was mostly due to the injury and if he comes back healthy next season, he should return to his former numbers. He also stopped his downward trend in OPS by besting his 2002 mark by almost 50 points. Jeter might need surgery on his shoulder and thumb, but the probability is low. If someone on the Yankee coaching staff wakes up and realizes that Jeter is the best person on the team to bat leadoff, then he should see time there. Expect a full healthy season from the Yankee Captain in '04.
Projected Stats: .320 BA-15 HR-70 RBI-100 R-30 SB

Nick Johnson:
Injuries will be the deciding factor throughout Johnson's career, and not just his own. If Jason Giambi's knee injury becomes debilitating, Johnson will become a permanent fixture at first base for the Yanks. His own injuries will also be a key factor in how the 25-year old's future looks. With various hand problems slowing him down so far, Johnson will need to stay healthy for a full year if he wants to make the jump to "star" status. He's got the tools and the ability to be an All-Star as soon as '04 and possibly even an MVP candidate someday, but he's going to have stay in the lineup.
Projected Stats: .300 BA-25 HR-85 RBI-80 R-5 SB

Jorge Posada:
Posada is not going anywhere for a long while. The Yankees have him locked up until 2006 with an option for 2007, and it's safe to say that he'll be their starting catcher until Dioner Navarro is ready to play (if the Yanks don't trade him that is). Posada's 2003 season was no fluke and he should be expected to put up similar numbers next season. He may not be able to match the 30 homeruns, but 25 to go with around 100 RBI will be enough to convince people that Posada deserves to be mentioned among Mike Piazza and Ivan Rodriguez for this generation's best-hitting catcher.
Projected Stats: .275 BA-27 HR-95 RBI-80 R-0 SB

Alfonso Soriano:
Soriano might be capable of putting up close to or more than 40 homeruns every year, but he's never going to be able to hit .300 if he doesn't fix his strike zone command. In 2004, the Yankees are going to need to move him out of the leadoff spot. His .338 OBP, while good, isn't what you want in a leadoff hitter. Derek Jeter would be a better candidate for the slot, while Soriano would be more suited to hit somewhere between second and fifth. There has also been a ton of talk about moving Soriano to the outfield. While I don't see this as a viable option right this moment, if the Yankees bring in someone capable of playing a good second base, then Soriano should be moved to center or right field, where his speed and athleticism will be put to better use.
Projected Stats: .280 BA-36 HR-100 RBI-100 R-40 SB

Enrique Wilson:
Wilson doesn't have a contract for 2004 with the Yankees, and I wouldn't expect to see him back after watching him play defense in the postseason. If the Yanks do re-sign him, it'll be for the league minimum, but there are better utility players to be had out there. The Yankees could also look to their own organization, where Erick Almonte could turn into a decent utility guy. The youngster can play shortstop and third base and in a pinch he could man second.
Projected Stats:* .240 BA-3 HR-15 RBI-20 R-2 SB

*Stats are assuming they return in 2004

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