Set in stone: Left side of the infieldBy
If you take a look at the Yankees roster and then read through all the rumors that have surfaced this off-season, you might come to realize that nearly no position is set in stone. They’ll seek a new first baseman; Robinson Cano could be traded; the outfield is anything but set; Jorge Posada might not be able to handle the rigors of catching. While the entire roster won’t be made over in the off-season, a number of things could change.
Except third base and shortstop, of course. Sure, the Yanks could move A-Rod to first base, but I think there’s a better chance you see Derek Jeter make that move. Which is to say, slim to none. The left side of the infield is the only sure thing the Yanks have on the offensive/defensive side of things. It would make sense for them to build around Jeter and A-Rod, since they’re the ones not going anywhere.
With Jeter, you have a shortstop with limited range defensively, and a guy who can consistently hit for average and take his share of bases on balls offensively. He’s a perfect fit in the two-hole, and can hit leadoff if you need him to.
With A-Rod, you have a true superstar, a guy who can hit for power, average, and take walks with the best of them. He’s the consummate cleanup hitter, though there’s no harm putting him in the three hold, allowing him to set the table. He plays average defense, as Dave Pinto notes in his Probabilistic Model of Range, which is fine for a guy who puts up gawdy offensive numbers.
On the whole, the left side of the Yankees infield is well above average offensively, but below average defensively. So how do you build a team based on this? It’s clearly not an easy question to answer. Plenty of factors go into team building, even if you don’t have a solid foundation like Jeter and A-Rod.
We can, though, look at what Jeter and A-Rod don’t have and look to add those parts.
Speed. Neither man is slow. Jeter seems to have lost a step as far as stealing second goes, but that’s no huge loss. Alex is one of the better baserunners in the game, and he can swipe second when need be. However, the Yanks could use a burner out there — so long, of course, as he’s able to do his job and get on base. Willy Taveras might be fast, but he can’t utilize that speed to the fullest because he’s not on base often enough (though if you combined his OBP from 2007 with his steals from 2008, you have a real threat). Brett Gardner is the hopeful answer here.
Slick glovework. If the left side of the infield is below average, the team would do well to field a quality right side. Robinson Cano has an excellent glove, though we’ve seen mental lapses take away some of his luster. Mark Teixeira is one of the better glovemen at first base in the league. He and Cano could comprise an above average right side. It won’t make up for the left side, but it will make it more bearable.
Pitch selectivity. Jeter and A-Rod aren’t guys who swing at everything, but they’re not the most selective hitters in the league. A-Rod saw 3.88 pitches per plate appearance in 08, and Jeter saw 3.72. Those are fine numbers, but the Yanks were led by Bobby Abreu (4.29), Jason Giambi (ditto), and Johnny Damon (4.10). Two of those guys likely won’t be back next year. The Yanks need one or two players who can take a ton of pitches and work their way on base via the walk. Abreu actually isn’t the worst in this regard, as he has decent speed on the basepaths.
This isn’t a complete list by any means, just a few things I thought of off the top of my head. What else do Jeter and A-Rod lack which the team should be looking for this off-season?