Although patching the major roster holes (right field, catcher, two rotation spots) are the team’s primary concern this offseason, there are other parts of the roster that could be upgraded. The Yankees are reportedly seeking an upgrade over Jayson Nix, which to them means someone who can play 100 games between shortstop and third base next year. Given Derek Jeter’s ankle injury and Alex Rodriguez’s perpetual status as a breakdown candidate, having a quality utility infielder is a pretty good idea.
Unfortunately good bench help is really hard to find, especially on the middle infield. The free agent market has nothing to offer beyond multi-position guys Marco Scutaro and Jeff Keppinger, who will get paid like starters and guaranteed more playing time by other teams this winter. The Yankees will likely have to turn to the trade market to find an upgrade over Nix, but again these guys are not easy to find. Infield depth is a scarce thing these days.
The Twins, however, have a number of young middle infielders on their 40-man roster and one old guy: 38-year-old Jamey Carroll. They signed the veteran utility man to a two-year deal last offseason with the idea of making him their regular shortstop, but he wound up bouncing all around the infield as other players got hurt or didn’t perform. By the end of this season, kids like Pedro Florimon, Brian Dozier, and Eduardo Escobar were playing regularly. Minnesota figures to continue rebuilding next year, which could mean their veteran infielder may be available. Let’s break his game down…
- Despite his age, the right-handed hitting Carroll has been what amounts to a league average hitter over the last three seasons: .282/.359/.334 (98 wRC+) in over 1,500 plate appearances. He’s especially adept and hitting lefties, tagging them for a .315/.384/.396 (121 wRC+) since 2010.
- Carroll is a contact machine from the right side. Over the last three years he’s struck out in 12.8% of his plate appearances (12.1% this year), far better than the league average. His 90.7% contact rate since 2010 is the 13th highest in baseball, so he doesn’t swing and miss at all.
- In addition to all that contact, you’re also going to get some walks. Carroll has walked in 10.3% of his plate appearances since 2010, including 9.7% this year. He’s also averaged 4.23 pitches per plate appearance during that time, which is Nick Swisher and Joe Mauer territory. Gives his walk and contact rates, Carroll isn’t an easy at-bat.
- Although he’s not a speedster, Carroll has gone 31-for-40 (78%) in stolen base attempts over the last three years. He’s also only been on the DL once since 2005, and that was when a pitch broke his left hand in 2009.
- Carroll has a ton of experience at the three non-first base infield spots, and I mean recently as well. He’s spent a lot of time at second, short, and third for the Dodgers and Twins in recent years, and the various metrics rate him as average or better in each spot. Carroll has played some corner outfield in the past, but I wouldn’t expect him to do it now.
- The Twins signed Carroll to a two-year contract worth $6.5M last winter, so he’s owed $3.75M next season. The deal also includes a $2M club option ($250k) for 2014, which is reasonable.
- Carroll has zero power. He hit a homer in early-September this year that was his first since 2009, so that .052 ISO since 2010 is no accident. Add in the fact that his ground ball rate has been climbing in recent years (typical for older players) and he’s even less likely to hit for power going forward.
- Carroll also can’t hit righties. This year he managed just a .240/.318/.269 (68 wRC+) line against same-side pitchers, and over the last three seasons it’s been a .269/.349/.310 (89 wRC+) line. That’s a problem.
- Despite the solid stolen base totals, Carroll has only taken the extra base 42% of the time over the last three years and 39% of the time over the last two years. That’s below-average.
- Per the terms of his contract, Carroll’s club option becomes a player option if he records at least 401 plate appearances next season. It’s never good for the team when the player controls his own contractual destiny, especially with the 2014 payroll plan looming.
Because he’s short (5-foot-11 and 175 lbs.) and white and runs hard and handles the bat well, Carroll has earned the “gritty” and “gamer” tags. His game has also drawn comparisons to David Eckstein’s, though Carroll draws more walks and is better defensively, especially on the left side of the infield. More importantly, he’s proven throughout his career that he can be productive both as a true reserve player off the bench and in a starting capacity. That’s not easy to do and it seems to be what the Yankees are looking for.
Carroll is a unique player in that he has utility infield skills but receives a starter’s playing time and salary. Only a handful of those guys exist and even fewer of them get traded. The Rockies swapped an up-and-down arm (Clayton Mortensen) for Scutaro last offseason, which is probably our best trade reference. The Twins are reportedly seeking pitching help after finishing the season with an MLB-worst 4.66 FIP (4.77 ERA), but I don’t know. Adam Warren? Brett Marshall? Mikey O’Brien? Would one of them work? Is it too much to give up? The answer is maybe across the board. Carroll fits what the Yankees are looking for as a utility guy who can legitimately play 100+ games and not be a zero with the bat though, and as an added bonus he brings plenty of patience and some much-needed contact skills.