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Why the Ruckus over Raul?

George Steinbrenner and the Yankees seem to be up to their old tricks once again. The Yankees, who have consistently made a mockery of baseball’s economic system over the last few years, are trying to buy their way to another world championship. This time around, sensing a serious threat from the Red Sox, the Yankees have “upgraded” their squad by dealing a double-A pitcher to the lowly Blue Jays for Raul Mondesi.

On the surface, the trade seems awfully lopsided. The Blue Jays, obviously trying to pick up some cash, dealt the right fielder and his mammoth salary for a mere minor leaguer. And on top of that, the Yankees only have to pay around half of Mondesi’s salary. Mondesi is a five-tool player, and the Yankees have been mixing and matching right fielders all year, with little success. Just last week, Enrique Wilson displayed some World Series-calibur defense in right... Little League World Series calibur to be specific.

Honestly, though, I’m not exactly envious of the Yankees in this situation. In my book, Mondesi has to be one of the most overrated, overpaid players in the game. I may be a little biased – he was drafted unintentionally in my fantasy league (I missed the draft), and after underachieving early in the season, he has been getting more bench time than Mark Madsen. But hear me out on this one anyway. I just might be right.

First off, have you ever heard such clamor around a position player batting .226 at the all-star break? There have to be several American League pitchers hitting over .226 at this point. It’s not like this should come as a huge shock – Mondesi is only a .278 career hitter with a .307 on base percentage. The media, while overwhelmingly in praise of Mondesi, have even pointed out that the ambiguously-playing duo of Shane Spencer and John Vanderwal has a batting average 40 points higher and more RBI. Admittedly, Spencer and Vanderwal had a little better lineup around them than Mondesi, but one key fact remains: we’re talking about Shane Spencer and John Vanderwal!

The next argument in favor of Mondesi is the added power he will bring to the Yankee lineup. Mondesi has solid, but certainly not spectacular, home run numbers, totaling 15 this year and 229 for his career. These numbers are comparable to Fred McGriff, except without the Tom Emanski defensive drills endorsement. (Fred's a good player, don't get me wrong. But people weren't exactly rioting in the streets of Chicago when they picked up the Crime Dog.) Basically, this is nothing to write home about.

It’s not like the Yankees are in desperate need of home runs this year anyway – they’re putting home runs nearly at a record-setting pace at this point anyway. Spencer and Vanderwal have combined for a mere eight home runs, but even over the course of a season, this is only a 14 or 15 home run increase.

Mondesi has not exactly been a model teammate, either. He’s had his share of confrontations with managers and he has been known to enjoy himself a bit much off the field.

This may all change when he finds himself in a winning situation, and in general, chemistry isn’t vitally important in baseball. I won’t argue that Mondesi has always been a solid defensive player with an impressive arm. He led the league in outfield assists last year and his three assists this year have undoubtedly been driven down because runners are more hesitant about running on him (although I will not rank his arm up there with Ichiro, Andruw Jones, or Vlad Guerrero). His speed and defense are certainly an upgrade from Spencer and Vanderwal.

The point, however, is not that the Mondesi is going to hurt the Yankees. The fact is, this trade is simply not going to do much of anything to the Yankees. He just doesn’t bring that much to the table. If the Yankees were World Series quality before the trade, they still are (and losing a double-A prospect is effectively negligible when the Yankees can buy him back if he makes it big). If the Red Sox were the better team before the trade (this is up for debate), then they still are.

I could be wrong. This trade could turn out to spark the Yankees to run away with the division title and win another World title. And hey, if it doesn’t work out, the Yankees only lose, what? Another few million dollars? Nothing for George to write home about.

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