Nov
08

Finding A Caddy For Alex Rodriguez

By

When the Yankees signed Alex Rodriguez to a ten-year contract following the 2007 season, one of the points often raised in his favor was his durability. Alex had played in at least 146 games and batted at least 638 times in every season but one from 1996 through 2007. Sure, ten years was much too long and the deal was likely to look ugly before its conclusion, but at least Alex could be counted on to play every day. However, starting with a quad strain that caused him to play in just 138 contests in 2008, our preconceived notions about Alex’s health began to fall apart and their lack of logic was exposed.

When it comes to players on the wrong side of 30, injury problems can often crop up suddenly and linger for years, and Alex has proven to be no exception. In the four seasons since signing that contract in 2008, Alex has played in 138, 124, 137, and 99 games respectively, and has spent much of his “healthy” time battling various nagging ailments. It is fair to expect Alex to miss 25+ games per season moving forward, as he is not getting any younger and has a chronic issue with his hip that crops up every so often.

Being that Alex has become injury prone but remains an important part of the Yankees offense, it would behoove Joe Girardi to treat him very gingerly in 2012. He should be given frequent days off, and should occasionally be used as the DH to keep his bat in the lineup while allowing him to avoid the rigors of playing defense. This plan requires the Yankees to have a caddy on hand for Alex, someone who can be counted on to provide 50 games or so of adequate performance with the stick and to avoid total embarrassment with the leather. There are a number of players who loosely fit this description, so let’s take a quick look at them, RAB style:

Eric Chavez

Pros: He is a strong defensive third baseman, and he showed flashes of his old self at the plate in 2011. If clutch ability is your thing, he came through in some big spots for the Yankees last season.
Cons: Eric finished with a 79 wRC+, as his hot start was overshadowed by a very weak finish to the season with the lumber. Chavez cannot be counted upon to stay healthy, so you end up needing a caddy for your caddy. When Eduardo Nunez is that player and is throwing the ball all over the yard, you have a problem.

Wilson Betemit

Pros: Betemit can hit, with a 107 wRC+ for his career, and he does it as a switch hitter.
Cons: Switch-hitting is not quite as valuable as it first seems when his 79 wRC+ as a RHB is considered. Furthermore, while he can technically stand with a glove at all of the infield spots, he is not good at any of them, and third base may be his worst position.

Ty Wigginton

Pros: Wigginton is a league average hitter who can provide solid power off the bench. He has experience at every defensive position except CF and C.
Cons: Hitting for power is about all he can do with the bat, and he is poor defensively no matter the position. Also, he’s not a free agent, so the Yankees would have to swing a trade with the Rockies to get him.

Mark DeRosa

Pros: DeRosa, when healthy, is a league average hitter who can actually do a decent job in the infield and the outfield.
Cons: DeRosa has been hurt for most of the last two seasons, and when he did make it onto the field in 2011, it seemed that his power had abandoned him at a gas station somewhere between St. Louis and San Francisco.

Casey Blake

Pros: Blake is one of the more consistent hitters on this list, with a 105 wRC+ for his career and no season under 95 wRC+ since 2004. He is a solid defensive 3rd baseman, and has had success in right field as well.
Cons: The usually durable Blake battled a number of injuries in 2011, and was limited to 63 games played. He will turn 39 during the 2012 season.

Jamey Carroll

Pros: Carroll gets on base, with a very solid .356 OBP for his career. He is a good infielder and can fake the outfield as well.
Cons: Carroll has little power, which probably makes him more of a utility infielder and a redundancy with Eduardo Nunez on board.

Jerry Hairston Jr.

Pros: Hairston is wildly inconsistent with the bat, but when he is on, he makes a good backup infielder who can field a number of positions.
Cons: Much like Carroll, Jerry is more of a utility infielder type. The Yankees believe they already have their Hairston in Eduardo Nunez. They need to find the 2012 version of 2009 Eric Hinske, and Hairston just does not fit the mold.

Carlos Guillen

Pros: When healthy, he is a switch hitter who can hit both righties and lefties, with a particular aptitude for hitting right-handed pitching.
Cons: He has not been healthy since 2007, and is weak defensively at every infield position. Much like Chavez was coming into 2011, Guillen is a total wild card and is not someone who can be relied upon to stay on the field.

Martin Prado

Pros: Prado is quite easily the best hitter on this list, with a wRC+ of 117 or more in 3 of the last 4 seasons. He is also a very solid defensive third baseman.
Cons: Prado had a rough 2011, dealing with nagging injuries that resulted in a 85 wRC+. More importantly, he is not a free agent, but the Braves have made it known that they would like to shed his salary and have made him available.

Conclusion: Most of these candidates are fairly similar in terms of overall value, and the one player who is likely a cut above (Prado) is not a free agent. The Yankees could stay inside the organization and go with Brandon Laird, which would likely be the cheapest move, but he has yet to hit well above AA and is not great defensively. Brian Cashman might find himself in an Eduardo Nunez-induced coma if Laird flops and Rodriguez subsequently hits the DL.

Among the free agents, Casey Blake seems to be the safest bet to perform adequately offensively and defensively, as he should provide strong defense at third and could contribute close to league-average offense as well. That said, there are certainly sound arguments against signing a 38 year old who spent much of 2011 injured, and a reasonable case could be made for any of the listed players. Brian Cashman has a large group of candidates to sift through, and hopefully he finds one who can allow Joe Girardi to feel comfortable resting A-Rod on a regular basis.

Categories : Bench, Hot Stove League

79 Comments»

  1. Suddenly your preconceived notions fall apart and their lack of logic is exposed.

  2. BJ says:

    When I read the title of this article, I thought it was going to be about some obscure clause in A-Rod’s contract stipulating that the Yankees needed to help him improve his golf game.

  3. “so you end up needing a caddy for your caddy. When Eduardo Nunez is that player and is throwing the ball all over the yard, you have a problem”

    Do you though? There are people out there who believe Nunez could be a starting SS (not me). Having a player like that as your third string 3B seems like a fine option.

    • Moshe Mandel says:

      I’m really not comfortable with his defense at 3rd. And I guess my point is that Chavez is injury prone enough that Nunez is really going to end up as the 2nd string, much like he did this season. If they bring someone else in who can stay healthy and keep Nunez as the utility guy and 3rd string third baseman, that would be ideal.

      • BJ says:

        I like the idea of signing Blake. He’s had a long track record of durability prior to 2011, and he’s looking for a chance to prove himself again, a la Russell Martin.

        • Moshe Mandel says:

          Ditto. I do think (as Mike Axisa noted to me) that he could also be a disaster, as he is an older player who spent a lot of time injured last year, and could end up being DFA’d. But comparing him to the field, I think he’s the most likely to provide value simply because he can catch the ball. Even if he loses 10% of his offense, that is still as good as what they got from Chavez.

      • I guess it depends on how long you’d expect Chavez to last before he gets hurt.

        All I’m saying is the caddy doesn’t necessarily need to be an iron man because, to me, even though Nunez getting a lot of playing time would be bad, I just dont see it as a nightmare scenario.

        • And to be clear, I’m not advocating that Nunez be the caddy. I’m saying I’m ok with him being the caddy to the caddy…

          Are we all confused yet?

        • Moshe Mandel says:

          That’s fair. Maybe I’m just being scared off by all of the sloppy defense he played this year. Usually, players of Eduardo’s ilk (utility types) can field, and it is offense that is the problem.

          • Scout says:

            My impression of Nunez is that he played better, including his fielding, when he saw semi-regular duty. To put it another way, he may be more useful when A-Rod misses significant time with an injury than as a once- or twice-a-week caddy.

            • Midland TX says:

              I agree. The kid fielded 5 different positions last year, playing very sporadically, and he turned 24 in June. He has 118 games at the AAA level and 142 in the bigs. I would much rather gamble on his defense improving than on Casey Blake getting any younger or healthier.

      • Ted Nelson says:

        I’m all for getting depth and Nunez’s throwing was a big problem last season, but I think he’s fine as a 2nd string 3B. I don’t expect total consistency, but I do expect an improvement.

    • Yazman says:

      I agree.

      Let Nunez caddy and focus on pitching. Reconsider if there’s a more serious injury.

  4. Brett Lowe says:

    Didn’t Laird win a gold glove for his defense at 3rd base this year? Not that a gold glove means much, especially at MLB level.

    • Moshe Mandel says:

      He does not have a great defensive reputation, although Mike tells me that he has improved. Listen, if he can play solid defense and hit as not-terribly as Chavez did last season, I would be ok with the Yankees going in that direction. I’m just not sure he can pull that off.

      • Scout says:

        But this is an internal, minimum-cost option, with very little downside. You can always pick up utility infielders over the course of a season. If Laird falters,another solution can be found.

        • Moshe Mandel says:

          That’s fair, although I will note that they had this issue in 2011 and did not go out and add someone. I guess my lack of faith in Nunez’ defense at 3rd makes me wary about ending up with him playing there everyday for a month. But I can see why you think it is prudent to just go with the internal options.

  5. viridiana says:

    A-Rod, i fear, is ghoing to be an increasingly big problem as time goes by. He should be OK for the next 1-3 years. But inevitably, with six long years to go, he will be a burden. I would rather think of releasing him at some point than of tolerating fdeteriorating performance of taking ABs from Montero.

    But there is an optimistic way to look at tthings. A-Rod’s string of lingeringh injuries seems very much in the pattern of other post-PEd careers. Giambi, Bonds, Ortiz, to name a few, all went through such periods. All recovered to some degreee.

    • viridiana says:

      Sorry– inadverrtently hit S3end button before finishing post:

      Would simply add that other suspected PED users also went thru periods of mysteriously show-healing injuries but eventually recovered their health and performed again at fairly high levels (though not quite where they were earlier in careers).

      So hopefully A-Rod will get thru htis and have another good stretch. But at some point he will becomee a burden, perhaps forcing Yanks to unthinkable step of releasing a $25 million a year player.

  6. MattG says:

    I think your caddy for Chavez is Laird. I am comfortable with those two, and from what I’ve read, Chavez would like to come back.

    “[He] should occasionally be used as the DH to keep his bat in the lineup while allowing him to avoid the rigors of playing defense.”

    This, I disagree with. The ‘half-a-day-off’ thing doesn’t work. Full days-off work. When the difference is between an Alex Rodriguez that needs a day-off, and a 22-year old Montero, just give Alex the whole day.

    • Moshe Mandel says:

      Yeah, I can get on board with that. I was thinking that when Montero acts as the backup catcher, Alex can DH on those days, but it depends on whether Alex finds half days off useful at all.

    • steve (different one) says:

      How do you know the “half days off” don’t work? Serious question, has this been proven somewhere?

      • MattG says:

        Not proven, but concluded or theorized, but I don’t have any links. I would think there is not a whole lot of sample data to prove anything, and studies would be ripe with issues, as players take days off to nurse injuries and what not.

        Mostly, this is just an opinion to which I subscribe, because it just makes a lot of sense. Batting is still somewhat rigorous, and being in the line-up is still being in the game, so there is no mental break. A day-off, I conclude, is way more valuable.

        • Ted Nelson says:

          Montero may or may not C some games, so someone has to DH there. Even at DH he’s probably not playing 162 games. Depending on the rest of the roster it’s possible A-Rod is the guy to DH.

          And with zero evidence why state as a fact that DHing does or does not reduce injury risk? Especially when different injuries may be aggravated and heal differently?

  7. Kosmo says:

    Laird has played all of 150 games at the AAA level. SSS ? He can also play 1B and I think a little OF if called upon. Unless he´s traded he´ll get more than a fair shot to make the team out of ST . Chavez is just about the most brittle player since Moises Alou but if he decides not to retire as he´s hinted at, he´d be my first choice to caddy for Arod.

    • Moshe Mandel says:

      Yeah, I’m not saying Laird can’t do it, just that he hasn’t shown that he can yet. It’s certainly possible that he makes the team and settles in with the bat.

      • Jose M. Vazquez.. says:

        How many at bats and how many games did Laird play in the big leagues that we can judge him as being able or unable to do the job?

        • Moshe Mandel says:

          Not enough. But the question is whether they can count on him to do it and bypass the free agent market. Considering that all of these guys should come pretty cheaply, I don’t see why they can’t bring one in AND give Laird a chance to prove himself, first at AAA and then in the majors if he has success.

          • Johnny O says:

            Why not start the season with Nunez/Laird? If that’s a disaster we can make a trade in June. Some of the guys on the above list will probably be available then anyway.

            • Plank says:

              I would say the reason not to do that is because you can be put in a position where you have to trade away talent in order to shore up your bench. Mark Melancon for Lance Berkman is an example.

              Granted, Melancon is no great loss, but still. Serviceable relievers making the minimum don’t grow on trees.

              • mbonzo says:

                Trading Mark Melancon landed Berkman, but plenty of other factors led to that decision. Melancon produced a 1.669 WHIP for Scranton in 2010. His major league numbers closely mirrored those minor league stats. For a 25 year old reliever, the team evaluated he couldn’t pitch in the AL East. I doubt his success in 2011 was missed by Cashman and company. Trading for utility players is one of this office’s best characteristics.

                • Plank says:

                  Certainly Melancon lost much of his luster, but treating him as a lotto ticket and looking at his production in Houston makes it clear that it was a very lopsided trade. 74.1 very good innings is much better than what the Yankees got.

                  If the Yankees had found a decent bat off the bench in the offseason, they wouldn’t have been in that position.

                  Lotto tickets usually don’t pay off, but sometimes they do. If you give them all away, you’ll never win.

              • Jumpin' Jack Swisher says:

                Mark Melancon for Lance Berkman is not an example. Melancon did not look good in an, admittedly, small MLB sample, but then also began to slip in AAA. Berkman became available, it was unclear whether he’d ever be more than a middle relief arm, voila. It was a good trade and one you’d imagine the team would do over again.

                Serviceable relievers making the minimum don’t grow on trees, but they’re also next to impossible to predict from one year to another.

                • Plank says:

                  My point is that if you are forced to give all of your potential middle relievers away, you will never have any making the minimum.

                  4/5 times you won’t get burned by a trade like that, but if you consistently make trades like that you will consistently get burned.

  8. DanR says:

    Brett, You are correct. Brandon Laird won the minor league gold glove at third base. I think if Chavez doesn’t come back the Yankees should use him to back up third and first, while using Nunez to back up short and second. I know Nunez needs to work on his throwing, but I like the idea of using young guys as the back ups.

  9. the golden thong says:

    What about Clint Barmes? Excellent glove and solid against LHP.

  10. UYF1950 says:

    Stick with Chavez if he decides not to retire.

  11. infernoscurse says:

    you forgot to add trading for David Wright

  12. Rich in NJ says:

    I think they should look to acquire a top 3B/SS prospect who is currently at AA or AAA, with the idea that he can spell Jeter and A-Rod as they decline (eventually taking over for one, and who can play some OF if both are able to play at a high level longer than envisioned). Laird, Nunez, or a Chavez type if veteran can fill the void in the short-term, when there is less likely to be a huge role to play, because if there is, there probably aren’t any great options.

    • Soriano Is A Liar says:

      Who’s going to trade them that guy though? I like the idea, but most other teams are only going to part with a top prospect for an established player. Plus there’s only a few prospects out there that fit that description, true SS prospects are so rare.

      • Rich in NJ says:

        (to vin as well)

        One reason Cash has given for accumulating catching and (purportedly) top pitching prospects is that because there are a dearth of them they would be in demand, and as a result, they could trade them for other assets.

        So I would hope that at some point they could convert quality redundant depth to fill other needs, like the right side of the infield.

    • vin says:

      Who can the Yankees realistically trade from their big league roster to acquire a “top 3b/ss prospect?” Prospect for prospect trades are very rare in baseball. Look at Brett Lawrie, for example. He was traded for a near-top of the rotation starter with 2 years of team control left. That would be like trading Hughes, but only if he hadn’t completely bottomed-out the last year and a half.

  13. nsalem says:

    Before this year Nunez had only played 17 games at 3b in the minors and 6 of the them were in 2006 and it wouldn’t be a reach to attribute the two glaring mental errors of not covering bunts at 3rd ( I think both times they were strong factors in Yankee loses) to lack of experience something which experience can correct. I maybe wrong but I think his throwing problems significantly subsided over the last two months of the year. I don’t think it would be the end of the world to have him start the season with him as A-Rod’s back up (as well as Jeter and Cano’s and also as a 3rd string right fielder. If he proves to be not to be up the task a suitable addition can be found in July. With Montero on the team it looks like we will have to start the season with 3 catchers. Nunez’ versatility can help cover a depth issue that carrying 3 catchers may cause.

  14. Mark L says:

    A trade for either Callaspo or Maicer Izturis should also be considered. Switch-hitting is an asset, as is their defensive versatility.

    Out of the FAs, I would actually prefer a defensive stalwart like Kouzmanoff to Blake and his fading bat/health.

  15. YANKZ1FAN says:

    Give Chato Vazquez a chance to spell ARod at third and Tex at first!! He has earned it. And he has just as much power as ARod. No one on that list comes close. Oh, and Chato is leading the Carribbean leagues in Rbis hitting .444 with runners in scoring position. He is very playable at third. He wont make the incredible plays, but he has a great arm and steady glove.

    • Moshe Mandel says:

      I was under the impression that he is not really playable at 3rd, and that his bat would be exposed on the MLB level. From the way the Yankees have treated him, it seems that they feel similarly.

      • steve (different one) says:

        He’s not “playable at 3B”, let alone “very playable”. While I love the enthusiasm, I don’t think you are getting an objective scouting report…

  16. Jesse says:

    I say give Laird a shot. He’s a good defender and can play first and third. He’s also got some pop in his bat as well, but the OBP needs to go up, his .288 OBP in AAA this year just doesn’t cut it.

  17. BK2ATL says:

    I’ll go with Chavez, as we know what he can do here. Nunez is the backup SS, 2B and 3B. If A-Rod or Chavez hit the DL, we call up Laird and/or Adams (if he’s back).

    Our bench should be as simple as re-signing Andruw Jones (OF/1B/DH), Chavez (3B/DH), Nunez (SS/2B/3B/OF), and maybe Cervelli (C/1B/IF).

    No major money, nor longer than 1 year deals needed here. If incentives based on health marks need to be included for Chavez, great.

  18. Mike HC says:

    Seems like Nunez and Laird should be good enough to fill in for ARod for short bursts. Of course, if there is a longer term injury, it will be more comforting to have a veteran on the bench to handle the long term duties. This is obviously a 25th man on the roster type thing, so it is not a big deal either way.

    Prado I don’t put in that category, because he is a legitimate player. I doubt we are willing to give enough up to get him considering the role he would play on the team.

    • Moshe Mandel says:

      Yeah, my feeling about Prado is that if he is the guy, you could use him regularly as a pinch hitter, to spell the corner outfielders, as well as the caddy. If he bounces back to 2008-2010 levels, that’s a bat you want in your lineup.

      • Mike HC says:

        Agreed. I’m a fan of Prado. I think he will most likely bounce back next year, and would certainly add some great value even as our first guy off the bench. If the Yanks can somehow snag him without giving up a legitimate prospect, I would love that.

        I also think it would open up the possibility of trading Swisher throughout the season if the opportunity presents itself to get a prospect the Yanks really like. I’m not against signing Swisher longer term, but I certainly don’t think it is an obvious either.

  19. Matt DiBari says:

    I still have Wilson Betemit nightmares from the last time we tried that experiment. Girardi regularly used him as a defensive replacement and pinch runner.

  20. Jose M. Vazquez.. says:

    Thanks. I saw it again and I am still very impressed with his athleticism and physique he still reminds me of Bo Jackson batting and running.

  21. Jumpin' Jack Swisher says:

    Literally any one of the guys mentioned would be fine as Alex’s backup. I think having BOTH a corner backup AND Nunez would be in the team’s best interest for versatility.

    I think that, if Laird profiles as anything near an average MLB player, his best use is as trade bait. You’re not going to need a starting 3B for a long time to come in NYC, Alex’s advancing years or not.

  22. cranky says:

    Chavez would be the best choice of the group–by far–but he needs to make the decision to play in 2012.
    Second choice would be Betemit. He’s OK defensively and has become a better hitter over the past two years.
    Blake and DeRosa are big risks because of age and injury.
    And if A-Rod is out, and you’ve got a tough lefty pitching, and you don’t want to start Betemit because of concerns about his RH bat, you could give Russell Martin a start at 3B and he’d be OK.

  23. TomG says:

    Laird won a minor league gold glove and was rated best defensive 3B in Yankees system by BA in 2011. It’s time to put away the 2009 scouting report, folks. Yanks are crazy if they look outside the system for a backup 3b when they have the perfect candidate in Laird.

    • Monteroisdinero says:

      Wasn’t Nunez (who I like) a minor league gold glover too (at SS)? Laird is slow as molasses which usually means poor range which isn’t a great thing when your SS is Derek Jeter. Laird has good hands and a decent bat but, unlike other Scranton Yankees I have irrationally championed (Montero, Golson, Nova, Nunez), I’m not a big fan.

  24. TomG says:

    Gold Glove, Nunez? Really? I mean… really? Let me think about that… no. The fact that the Gold Gloves only came back to the minor leagues in 2011 makes that impossible.

    http://web.minorleaguebaseball.com /news/article.jsp?ymd=20110518&content_id=19226170&fext=.jsp&vkey=pr_milb

    In addition, Laird was voted best glove at 3b in the Yanks system by BA and I’m guessing they know their stuff better than someone named Monteroisdinero who thinks Eduardo Nunez won a gold glove. No offense.

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