More than anything else, I think the Yankees have learned the value of depth in the last seven or eight years. Back in the mid-aughts they were a star-laden but top-heavy club that lacked viable alternatives in Triple-A, which is why they wound up scrambling for guys like Tim Redding and Shawn Chacon and Mark Bellhorn and Matt Lawton. Now when someone gets hurt or loses their job, there’s a Jayson Nix or Chris Dickerson or David Phelps or Cody Eppley stashed in Triple-A. Those depth pieces are very important in today’s game.
The Yankees have built themselves some very solid benches these last two years, mostly by luring in veteran free agents looking at their last chance at a ring on one-year deals. Some work out better (Eric Chavez) than others (Randy Winn). This offseason the Yankees have to focus a little more on the infield backup plans since Derek Jeter is coming off a major ankle injury and Alex Rodriguez is perpetual break-down candidate. Nix and Eduardo Nunez are serviceable bench pieces, but former Angel and free agent Maicer Izturis fits the utility infielder mold a little more perfectly, making him a potential target for New York.
- The offensive standard for utility infielders is pretty low, and Izturis is actually a bit better than most with a .264/.327/.360 (93 wRC+) batting line over the last three years. He’s also a true switch-hitter, with a 93 wRC+ against righties and a 95 wRC+ against lefties since 2010.
- Izturis is a contact machine who excels at putting the bat on the ball. He owns a 12.4% strikeout rate and an 89.0% contact rate over the last three years, the latter of which ranks 13th among the 230 hitters with at least 1,000 plate appearances. Ichiro Suzuki has a 90.2% contact rate during that time, for some perspective.
- Most contact guys are hackers because they can get the bat on almost anything, but Izturis does offer some patience. His walk rate (7.8% in 2012 and 7.5% from 2010-2012) is below the league average but still pretty good for a utility player, and his 3.92 pitches per plate appearances is actually very strong. That’s Mark Teixeira/Dustin Pedroia territory.
- Izturis has stolen double-digit bases in three of the last five years (nine in another) and he’s taken the extra base 45% of the time these last three years. Hooray base-running.
- Izturis is a true utility infielder with tons of experience at the three non-first base infield positions. The various defensive metrics rate his defense at each position anywhere from average to well-above for his career.
- Izturis had his worst offensive season since 2005 this year, hitting just .256/.320/.315 (82 wRC+). He also did nothing against left-handed pitchers, posting a .231/.259/.244 (41 wRC+) batting line against them.
- You’re not getting any power here. He’s hit a grand total of 34 homers in over 2,900 career plate appearances, and only once has he gone deep more than five times in a single season. Doubles and triples aren’t all that common either, hence the career .108 ISO (.096 last three years).
- The various defensive stats say Izturis’ glovework at shortstop and third base took a big step back this year, but insert the usual sample size/one year of data disclaimer here. It’s not insane to suggest he’s lost a step at age 32, however.
Unsurprisingly, the Angels did not make Izturis a qualifying offer and it won’t require forfeiting a draft pick to sign him. I do think it’ll take a multi-year contract however, especially with the general lack of quality middle infield options on the market. His ability to play shortstop, get the bat on the ball, and create a little havoc on the bases might be just enough for an infield-challenged team to consider him a starter. Izturis certainly wouldn’t be a starter for the Yankees, not without an injury.
Jeter will be coming off the ankle injury next season and it’s impossible to know how it will affect him at this point. He could come back as good as new, or he might come back with reduced range and the need to get off his feet twice a week. Nunez is the team’s only other viable shortstop option at the upper levels (in terms of someone who could play the position for weeks at a time), but his defense is a detriment to the club. Izturis would give the Yankees a true backup infielder, solidify the defense, and free things up for Nunez to be traded at some point. He’s a fit for a New York, but it is a question of price and his willingness to take a lesser role when starting jobs may be available.