The Yankees Search For An Infielder

Though the research put forth by Jeff Sullivan today on teams following the loss of a six-win player wasn’t extremely damning — teams letting stars go didn’t even lose two wins more than teams that chose to retain their stars — it’s hard to see the Yankees as having done much more than tread water this offseason. For all the good that signing Jacoby Ellsbury and Brian McCann did, going from Robinson Cano to Brian Roberts and Kelly Johnson shot a hole in their infield. And now, with unclear remaining resources and a third baseman fighting to play in 2014, it looks like the Yankees are still an infielder short of a full deck. What available infielder could help the team the most?

It is possible that they don’t need *much* more, and that’s why teams losing stars don’t usually fall off the face of the earth. You can spread that money around elsewhere. For about the same as Cano cost, the Yankees got Jacoby Ellsbury and Brian McCann. By pushing Brett Gardner to left and Vernon Wells into a bench role, Ellsbury probably represents a two-win upgrade in center. McCann replaces Chris Stewart and therefore probably adds two-plus wins over the 23rd-ranked production the Yankees got out of their catchers last year. With Cano projected for over five wins and Roberts and Johnson combining for maybe two wins, you could argue that the Yankees have actually improved already.

But that ignores the rest of the roster. The starting rotation now features David Phelps and Michael Pineda on the depth chart at four and five, and last year they got almost four wins from those slots. The projection systems are split on Phelps — particularly his ability to suppress the long ball — but with Pineda’s injury history, it’s hard to bank on four wins from those two pitchers. So remaining resources may head to the starting pitching market, and maybe even Masahiro Tanaka.

What resources remain for the Yankees to spend used to be a rare question, but it’s more common these days. At one point, it was a stated goal that the team would cut down to $189 million to avoid luxury tax ramifications. But that was before the team missed the playoffs for the second time in 19 years. Right now their luxury tax eligible payroll stands at $218 million according to excellent work by Mike Axisa. A season-long suspension for Alex Rodriguez would knock that down to $184.5, giving them four million or so to play with — but Hal Steinbrenner may be softening his stance against adding more.

So let’s impose two situations. One in which the next infielder added needs to have no impact on the luxury tax. With a trade of Ichiro Suzuki — rumored to be on the block currently — that infielder could cost as much as ten million dollars next year, provided Rodriguez is suspended. But that’s only if the team buying Ichiro pays his entire salary or has that sort of infielder lying around.

The other situation has no restrictions on the luxury tax. News from the Rodriguez fiasco or the lack of a trade market for Ichiro may paint the Yankees into this corner anyway.

First, which infielders could help if the team skimps? Ideally, they could play third base, but Kelly Johnson does give them some flexibility. It’s tempting to look Michael Young‘s way, since he was above-average with the stick last year, but his eroding defense has become such an issue that it’s robbed him of most of his value. He’s never once been a positive with the glove at third, but it’s been since 2011 since he was even passable. But there is rumored interest there, and at least one projection system is more upbeat about his defense in 2014, and his capacity to be above replacement.

If defense is more a priority, an Eric Chavez reunion might make sense. The Diamondbacks are supposedly concentrating on re-signing him, but he made three million dollars in a season that saw his defense slip further than it ever had before. A slight regression to his career mean, even at 36, could make him a bargain at anything under four million… which they could do without an Ichiro trade.

Closer to the bottom of the barrel, you have your Wilson Betemit and Mark Reynolds types, but neither is really passable at third for any long stretch of time at this point. The Yanks kicked the tires on Kevin Youkilis and were lucky that didn’t send him to the DL — but Youkilis told them he wants to play on the west coast.

The non-tender market is a tough place to shop, but there might be a name the Yankees should consider. Justin Turner isn’t a great defender, but he might be a better defender than anyone else on this list. He should be cheap. He fits the profile of past successful non-tender pickups in that he was above replacement level last year and is capable of playing many different positions. At the plate, he’s nothing special, but he makes contact and has shown a modicum of power in the past. He’s right-handed, in case the Bombers are more worried about Kelly Johnson‘s left-handedness than they should be. And he’d be cheap.

But those names aren’t really the stuff Yankee fan dreams are made of. If the team decides to blow right on past that $189 number, some options open up. They could sign Stephen Drew and ask Derek Jeter very politely if he would consider playing third base. That, with a Tanaka signing, would be the best solution money can buy at this point.

If they are willing to take on other team’s bad contracts, the name that jumps to mind is Brandon Phillips. Since the Yankees are on his no-trade clause, Phillips is asking for more money if the Reds trade him into pinstripes. If the Yankees give the player what he’s asking for, and take on all of the contract, it might not take Brett Gardner to get a deal done.

At four years and $50 million, plus whatever Phillips wants added, that’s a steep price tag in terms of years if not dollars, plus the added loss of future tax dollars as they head past $189 million this year. The Braves are trying to unload the $26.4 million left on Dan Uggla‘s contract over the next two years. Even though his season last year was… not pretty, Uggla showed his customary power and came within a hair of the league average for on-base percentage at second base. His contact rate on pitches outside the zone dropped — and that’s to be expected of a 33-year-old — but so did his contact rate inside the zone. Much was made of his corrective eye surgery during the season, and his playing time suffered on his return. Maybe a little more recovery time after that surgery will allow Uggla to at least hit balls in the zone better.

If Uggla is truly less than a two-win player next year, the Braves might have to throw in $10 million to make the deal work. If they put that ten million against the first year, Uggla could cost as little as four million dollars in 2014 and actually fit a $189 million plan for this season. With today’s signing of Matt Thornton, they would still need to jettison Ichiro, but they’d only need to save two or three million to make it work.

The nice thing about the Dan Uggla Plan is that the Yankees can do it now and stay below the $189 million number, assuming an A-Rod suspension lasts the year. Adding Uggla and inviting Justin Turner to camp could give the Yankees two wins at third base (by pushing some of the talent around the infield) in 2014, and that was a position at which New York failed to produce a win last season. If the Yankees want to stick to their budget, you may see this sort of solution in the Bronx next year, and it’s not necessarily a terrible thing.




Print This Post



Graphs: Baseball, Roto, Beer, brats (OK, no graphs for that...yet), repeat. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris.


40 Responses to “The Yankees Search For An Infielder”

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
  1. Metsox says:

    What to make of reports that Turner wasn’t re-signed by the Mets due to lack of hustle?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Kenz says:

      More for being a utility infielder with no power, no walks, and so-so defensive numbers, who will be getting a raise in arbitration. Not sure how big an issue hustle is compared to these.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  2. Anon says:

    You hinted at it but Kelly Johnson has a slight reverse platoon split, hitting lefties better than righties even though he hits LH. When I read about the Roberts signing, I assumed it was a platoon situation but JOhnson hits lefties a little better and Roberts hits righties quite a bit better so they could be running out 2 LH hitting 2B in a platoon which is amusing. Actually I’m not sure why they signed Roberts – Johnson is quite a better against lefties, only a little worse against righties and while Roberts’ defense probably was better at some time in the past, that has to be a wash now given the age differences and Roberts’ injury history

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  3. Kris says:

    Sounds like they sure could use ARod next year…

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  4. Preston says:

    The best news for Yankee fans would be A-Rod getting 50 games or less. A-Rod and Roberts might not be what they once were, but when healthy they could be better than league average and Kelly Johnson is a pretty awesome plan B if/when they get hurt. I also think getting Dean Anna was a solid pick up and could be useful for their infield problems.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  5. Scott says:

    Alberto Callaspo for JR Murphy.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  6. AK7007 says:

    “If they put that ten million against the first year, Uggla could cost as little as four million dollars in 2014 and actually fit a $189 million plan for this season.”

    I’m not sure that’s actually how things work as far as calculating luxury tax goes. The tax is calculated by average annual value, not “I only paid the guy $3 million this year to get under, but his salary shoots up to $13 million next year when I shed other big contracts.” Instead, for tax purposes, the theoretical player (or just Uggla) I just described counts as $8 million each year. At least, that’s how I understand things to be from reading Dave’s post about the Jeter extension. And I’m not sure how having other teams pick up part of the tab complicates things.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • BJsworld says:

      That was my understanding as well.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Eno Sarris says:

      My understanding is that it’s AAV minus what the old team pays in that specific year. Alfonso Soriano is paid 18 mill real life bucks this year, but the AAV is only 17 million, and the Cubs are paying 13 million, so his cap hit is four million. But the AAV is calculated before the money from other teams comes in. So Uggla would be less than 13, and then if the Braves agreed to pay 10 in 2014 and nothing in 2015 (something I think they’d take), then the Yanks would get under for one year, and between Uggla, Roberts and Johnson, find a way to get two okay infielders.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Natman says:

        Correct. The soft luxury tax can be apportioned for a single year to allow for more spending in 2014. And Eno is correct in citing Soriano as an example. A simple google search will reveal the answer.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Steve Holt!! says:

        Would the Commish allow that?? He has to sign off if that much money changes hands…

        Vote -1 Vote +1

  7. Ryan says:

    Dean Anna can be serviceable, he needs to get a shot.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Preston says:

      Right now 2b, SS, and 3b for the Yankees are Brian Roberts, Derek Jeter and Kelly Johnson, his only competition in the Yankee system are Eduardo Nunez and Corban Joseph, he’s going to get an extended look at the MLB level at some point in 2014.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • tz says:

      He’s projected to be about a league-average player, both offensively and defensively.

      I’m going to date myself yet again, but based on his minor-league record he could be a Jody Reed type 2B making the league minimum.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  8. walt526 says:

    I believe that AK7007 is correct with respect to luxury tax being based on AAV of guaranteed money. So the Braves would have to pick up nearly all of Uggla’s contract and the Yankees would have to determine that an essentially free Uggla was worth a flyer… I’m pretty sure that the Braves won’t do the former and I’m even skeptical that the Yankees are inclined to do the latter.

    Another problem that the Yankees face is that their offense faces a sub-.270 blackhole in the infield who answers to the name Brendan Ryan if Jeter doesn’t return to being something close to a fulltime player and they need to work Nix into a major piece of the 2B/3B rotation. I suppose Turner would represent a small upgrade from Nunez as a spare part, but he’s a huge defensive liability everywhere (then again, so is Nunez).

    Roberts is an interesting pickup, but I’m not sure that adding another relatively expensive*, injury-prone infielder really helps the Yankees that much.

    *-expensive in the sense that $2M represents about half the room under the luxury tax threshold the Yankees would get if A-Rod’s year-long suspension is upheld.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  9. MikeS says:

    I bet they could pry Gordon Beckham away from the White Sox. In fact, if Rick Hahn read this, I bet he called them before he finished the article.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  10. spmccaul says:

    Dan Uggla is a downgrade from Johnson/Roberts. Cashman knows, he’ll stay away.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Tom B says:

      This. No reason whatsoever to play Uggla over Johnson/Roberts/Nunez/Paperbags/Plastic Solo cups or a 3 legged donkey.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Eno Sarris says:

        Except not talking about second base necessarily. What are you doing about third base? Johnson can play over there, and depending on Roberts seems like a bad idea. They need another infielder.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

        • Tom B says:

          Still not putting Uggla there? I’m not really sure. Jeff Baker seems like a much better option than anyone has mentioned so far.

          Vote -1 Vote +1

  11. Tom B says:

    Axisa’s numbers are kind of wrong, assuming a huge amount of arb money and $13mil in bonuses that neither Arod nor Jeter will be collecting. There is little reason to believe A-Rod’s suspension is getting reduced at all… especially all the way down to 50 games.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Peter R says:

      I think in Mikes article it says he works with the worse case scenario (for the Yankees) with arbs and bonuses.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Eno Sarris says:

        I think you have to work that way if you’re a team, because you need to know what will happen in the worst case scenario. Of course, if the A-rod thing works out the way you’re sure it’ll happen, that brings them down to $184.5, with the possibility of not hitting $6m in Jeter bonuses. But the arb stuff is generally settled, it’s easier to predict arb raises.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Hank says:

      There is also some question on how the ARod # would work if he were suspended.

      His AAV is 27.5, but he’s being paid 26mil. So it’s possible that the Yankees simply get a 26mil credit off the 27.5 mil and not the full 27.5 mil (and then you can eliminate the 6mil HR bonus)

      Meaning even if he’s suspended all year he may still have a 1.5mil luxury tax hit and not a $0 impact. Seems minor but if they are still moving toward 189mil, it matters.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Simon says:

      I think it’s pretty likely that the A-Rod suspension will be reduced significantly, given the precedents for people who behave badly after being caught using PEDS (Melky, Braun) and the lack of any clear rationale in choosing 211 games as a penalty.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  12. KS says:

    As an O’s fan, I have the following observations:

    Wilson Betemit and Mark Reynolds are not passable MLB third basemen for ANY length of time, which means I hope and pray the Yankees sign both of them.

    What makes you think Jeter would (1) even consider moving to third base and (2) be any good there if he did?

    And finally, much as it pains me to say it, having had the pleasure of watching Brian Roberts throughout his career, I fear his playing days will soon be ending. At the least, his days as an everyday player are surely over. The thing that stood out with Roberts when he was good was his ability to rack up lots of doubles, and steal bases. He’s not stealing bases anymore. And it was clear last season that his ability to drive the ball into the gaps has left, and I doubt it’s coming back. He’s now an average defensive second baseman who’s a significantly below average hitter with little power. Not a good formula for prolonging one’s career.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Eno Sarris says:

      I agree about Roberts, which is why I was trying to get them another infielder. I don’t think the Jeter thing is going to happen, that’s why I only spent a sentence on it. But, I do think generally okay shortstop are better at third base, especially when it’s not the arm that’s the problem, and it’s more the range.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • tz says:

        I’ve always felt that Jeter’s combination of defensive skills would have best been served by moving to third base, which he could have graciously done when the Yankees acquired ARod

        Vote -1 Vote +1

        • AC of DC says:

          Yeah, that latter point was the commentary at the time (or even that Jeter should move to 2B), and one naturally recognizes that from a clinical perspective, it made and makes sense. At the same time, I understand the human/personnel elements inherent in such a maneuver, and can appreciate the difficulty of effectively managing a collection not of number-producing items on a spreadsheet, but of real people, some of whom doubtless have delicate egos, and how present and future players might view the way you run operations.

          It’s easy for us to be cavalier about subordinating the disparate concerns of individuals to the ideals of team victory (and I am not suggesting the above commenter did so, but rather am broadening the point), but one does learn that the truth tends to be a little trickier, ’cause people are funny creatures.

          Vote -1 Vote +1

        • Preston says:

          Brian Cashman said at the time that he thought Jeter would age better at SS than Alex would due to Alex’s size. That is an observation that has come true. As bad as immobile as Jeter has been at SS, he’s no worse than he was 10 years ago and Alex is significantly worse. While it seemed silly at the time because Alex was the superior defender, in the long run it was the correct decision.

          Vote -1 Vote +1

        • Simon says:

          Except it was very likely wrong for a number of years, and the fact that A-Rod has aged worse many years later when neither of them should be playing short for a major league team doesn’t really change that.

          Vote -1 Vote +1

        • Preston says:

          I’m sorry, but the numbers haven’t fit the popular narrative from 2004. Derek Jeter wasn’t that bad at SS from 2004-2008 he posted a UZR 150 of -8.4 and Alex wasn’t that good at 3b posting a UZR 150 of -3.3, and this is forgetting that Jeter posted an above average defensive season in 2009 while Alex had to sit out for a torn labrum. Maybe Alex breaks down much earlier if he’s forced to play the more demanding position. In hindsight I doubt the Yankees regret anything about the move.

          Vote -1 Vote +1

  13. JACKIE ZEE says:

    Nick Franklin. For Ichiro.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  14. Anonymous says:

    If I’m the Yankees manager wouldn’t “ask” Derek Jeter to play third. I would make him play third. Even Jeter has to admit that he is not the player he used to be, which was an average defensive shortstop. Then again, much of his value at his age would drop significantly if he moved to third base.

    Vote -1 Vote +1