The trade deadline is just three days away, and Alex Rodriguez’s broken hand has given the Yankees a clear need for help at third base. Marco Scutaro, Ryan Roberts, and Omar Infante have all been dealt already and apparently Ty Wigginton is off limits since Placido Polanco is hurt. The infield pickin’s are slim, but not barren.
Once again we’re going to turn our attention to a non-contender for potential help, this time the Chicago Cubs. They’re looking to move significant pieces like Ryan Dempster, Matt Garza, and Alfonso Soriano, but the best fit for the Yankees may be complementary player Jeff Baker. The 31-year-old utility man is have a solid season (105 wRC+) as the team’s right-handed bat off the bench, but when you’re as deep into a rebuild as the Cubbies, no player is untouchable. Let’s see if he’s a fit for the Yankees….
- Baker can hit a little, with a 108 wRC+ against lefties and a 101 wRC+ against righties this season. Since the start of 2010, he’s tagged lefties to the tune of a 129 wRC+ with a .186 ISO and a measly 14.1% strikeout rate.
- He’s versatile, having spent lots of time at first, second, third, and in right field during his career. Second base doesn’t happen too often these days, but Baker can play there in a pinch.
- A rental player scheduled to become a free agent after the season, Baker is making $1.375M this season. That’s roughly $525k the rest of the way. He also has a minor league option remaining, though at his service time level he can refuse the assignment so it doesn’t really matter.
- Baker’s a strict platoon guy. He has nice numbers against righties this year, but since the start of 2010 it’s just a 23 wRC+ with a 34.2% strikeout rate. The breaking ball away gives him fits.
- Despite all that versatility, Baker is a considered a below average defender at every position he plays by the various defensive metrics. Much like Wigginton, he’s a first baseman who plays other positions because his manager tells him to.
- Baker hasn’t been the most durable player in the world — he visited the DL twice with groin strains last year and missed more than two months with a hand issue in 2009. He’s been healthy this year though.
The Yankees aren’t necessarily looking at an upgrade over Eric Chavez or Jayson Nix, at this point they’re seeking an upgrade over Ramiro Pena as the extra infielder. That might be Brandon Laird or Eduardo Nunez, but Baker also makes some sense as a lefty masher who can fake multiple positions. Adding marginal wins means very little to New York at this point given their nine-game lead in the division, but the goal really isn’t to improve the team’s chances of winning. It’s to keep Chavez healthy and limit his exposure — so he can be a pinch-hitting weapon in the postseason — while still having a competent player at the hot corner.
Scutaro was traded just last night for an okay infield prospect, and that gives us some kind of reference point for a trade package. The Cubs insist on pitching in any move though, so perhaps a second or third tier arm like Mikey O’Brien or Shane Greene gets it done. If it doesn’t, then acquiring Baker probably isn’t worth the effort. He’s a nice role player for platoon situations but nothing more.