This experiment makes a lot of sense. I'm not saying it will pan out. Just that it's worth trying on for size at the opening of the season to see how A. Boone responds to the shift. Here's why:
1. Unless Boone cedes 3B, then Branyan and Larson are left in limbo on the bench. Could be that's where they belong. But both exhibited flashes of power and timely hitting in their short stints with the Reds last season. If either one of them can handle 3B defensively, we stand to gain by having their bats in the lineup. We did rank 20th among all ML teams last season in runs scored (709) and 19th in RBI (with 678). We need to improve upon those totals in 2003 if we're going to hope to move up in the standings.
2. Let's say the experiment flops, and we discover neither Larson or Branyan can handle the hot corner. No big deal. A. Boone returns to his old position and we move on to Plan B. But perhaps that Plan B could still involve Larson or Branyan -- say Larson in LF or Branyan at 1B. We might discover, for instance, that we want their offense (if one or both can deliver 30-plus dingers), but that we need to limit exposure to their defensive deficiencies. We won't know that unless these two get some more playing time. I'd sure hate to deal off Larson prematurely, only to see him go elsewhere and flourish like Konerko. We screwed up there, and shouldn't repeat that same mistake twice. And even if we end up dealing Larson before 2003 runs its course, why not beef up his trade value first?
3. This buys us some time to see what we've got in Lopez, our new young SS of the future, without placing undue pressures and expectations upon him. Why lock him into a 2B regimen when we might need him sooner than we think at SS (depending on how Larkin's aging bod holds up to the wear and tear of yet another season)? If Lopez gets 200-250 ABs this season, that's no crying shame. That's a pretty reasonable amount of playing time to break in a prospect.
4. We know Larson and Branyan will face defensive challenges wherever they play, but we've seen enough of A. Boone at 3B to know he's not Gold Glove caliber at the position. Yes, he's speedy and athletic and has quick reflexes, but he's also prone to throwing errors, lapses in his concentration and a certain streakiness that may or may not be due to injuries. Who knows how a move to 2B will impact his defense? He did seem to rise to the occasion playing SS in 2002. And just maybe, 2B will suit his strengths (speed, range), while masking one of his shortfalls (the pesky, bad throws).
5. By my calculations, the Reds are an average team defensively. We ranked a poor 23rd among all ML teams in total number of errors last season (120), but on the flip side, our fielders were 5th in assists (1,774) and 4th in Total Chances (6,255), suggesting they were aggressively stretching to make key plays. Better that than a lumbering squad like the 2002 Mets that committed 144 errors in far fewer opportunities. The upshot: We have valid reason to be concerned about our defense, but no cause to be sounding the alarms and striking the panic buttons just yet.
6. If we really want to improve the defense, the answer doesn't really lie in the choice of fielders, but who we insert into the rotation. We need a KO specialist or two among our starting pitchers. Which teams had the fewest Total Chances on defense in 2002? Minnesota, Anaheim, the Yankees, Seattle, Arizona and both Chicago squads. A disproportionate number of those teams made the play-offs. Their rotations were simply a much higher quality than ours. As a small-market team, we can't hope to upgrade our rotation significantly unless we're innovative in how we compose our offense -- maximizing whatever resources we have, and, yes, cutting corners where necessary. Flexibility is a must. Trying out A. Boone at 2B fits that game plan. It might not work, but if it doesn't, the damage ought to be fairly easy to repair.