My friends think of me as a baseball mad scientist sometimes. Maybe that’s just how I think of myself. Or maybe I’m simply mad, and there’s nothing scientific about it. Regardless, I come up with some pretty extreme theories related to baseball tactics or strategies. You can determine the theories I espouse the most by how far into the back of their heads my friends’ eyeballs roll when you mention them. Popular tactics include a total ban on bunting or stealing, deployment of relievers based on descending quality (best reliever in the 7th, second best in the 8th, etc.) and an absolute lack of regard for a player’s defensive ability.
It is that last tactical preference that applies directly to the forthcoming proposal. Since the release of the inauspicious news about Alex Rodriguez’s hip, my thoughts have inevitably turned to figuring out just who in the heck is going to play third base for the Yankees if Rodriguez’s injury persists. I asked this of a friend yesterday while walking home, and the responding text message said only “Ransom?” Cody Ransom, he of the insane vertical leap, is the Yankees’ probable utility infielder. His career line of .251/.348/.432 isn’t all that bad, but that came in only 214 career PAs. Ransom is also 33 years old, so even if that number is indicative of his true ability (which it isn’t), he’s probably declining anyway. If Rodriguez is out for several months, 300 PAs of Ransom would be disastrous for the Yankees’ postseason chances.
The prospect of this happening got me thinking about alternatives, and my mind’s eye shifted slowly towards the Yankees’ new first-baseman, Mark Teixeira. Within a minute, I decided that the Yankees should take a long and hard look at shifting Teixeira to third base for the duration of Rodriguez’s absence. They need not commit to it, or force it if it clearly isn’t going to work. But at the very least, they need to examine all potential solutions, and this one isn’t nearly as ridiculous as you might think.
It really comes down to a simple choice for the Yankees. They can have 300 PAs of .290/.390/.550 hitting at first base with very good defense and 300 PAs of .230/.300/.350 hitting with bad defense at third base. Or they can have 300 PAs of .250/.350/.450 at first base with below-average defense, and 300 PAs of .290/.390/.550 at third base with probably terrible defense. The first scenario would occur if the Yankees kept Teixeira at first base and Ransom at third for the duration of Rodriguez’s injury. The second happens is they put Nick Swisher at first and Teixeira at third during the same time span. Teixeira has a tiny bit of experience playing third base, having played 15 games there for the Texas Rangers in 2003. Six years is probably enough time, however, to make that experience virtually negligible. Thinking about shifting Teixeira to third base is really just an act of faith based on his remarkable athletic ability and work-ethic.
I am not an unreasonable man. If the Yankees were to act on my potentially harebrained suggestion, I would make some concessions to the difficulty of Teixeira’s task. For example, a better defender should play third base on days that Chien-Ming Wang and Andy Pettitte are pitching, because of their general inability to strike anyone out. When CC Sabathia, AJ Burnett, and Joba Chamberlain are pitching, however, hitters put the ball into play less often, making Teixeira’s presence at third somewhat less of an issue. Late-game defensive substitutions at third would also be a no-brainer.
The point is that the Yankees owe it to themselves, the fans, and sheer rationality to consider moving Teixeira to third base. If they give him a third-baseman’s glove in Spring Training, watch him field grounders, and decide that it would be an unmitigated disaster, then that’s fine. But they should give him a glove and see what he can do, no matter what. Someone much smarter than I am can probably quantify which combination of offense and defense is more valuable: Teixeira (1B) and Ransom (3B), or Swisher (1B) and Teixeira (3B). I bet the answer is much closer than most people think.