Regardless of whether Alex Rodriguez’s record 211-game suspension is upheld or overturned, the Yankees have a question mark at third base heading into next season. His continued injury problems can not be ignored. If A-Rod doesn’t miss a bunch of games due to suspension, he’ll miss them due to injury. That has been the case since 2008 and it would be foolish to think 2014 will be any different.
The free agent market for third baseman is okay at best, with either Juan Uribe or Jhonny Peralta headlining a crop that includes Kevin Youkilis, Mark Reynolds, and Michael Young. Peralta is coming off his Biogenesis suspension and Uribe just had a career year at age 34, so everyone comes with questions. The trade market is another option, with Chase Headley being the big name. Others available via trade may include Will Middlebrooks, Trevor Plouffe, David Freese, and former World Series MVP Pablo Sandoval.
Over the weekend, Nick Cafardo reported the Giants will “probably listen to anyone who had interest” in the 27-year-old Sandoval, which I suppose is true of every player. There appears to be a little more something to this, however, considering the one they call Kung Fu Panda is falling/has fallen out of favor with San Francisco because of his weight issues. The team has tried pretty much everything. Add in speculation they may move Buster Posey out from the behind the plate to protect him from injury and wear-and-tear — third base is an oh so natural fit — and Sandoval could very well be on the block. Is he a fit for the Yankees? Let’s break it down.
- Sandoval is a true switch-hitter who is better against right-handed pitchers (122 wRC+ in 2013 and 136 since 2011) but still playable against lefties (98 wRC+ in 2013 and 100 since 2011). He’s also a remarkably consistent low strikeout hitter. Here, look at this graph. Couldn’t possibly be any more consistent.
- Despite his reputation as a free swinger, Sandoval actually draws a fair amount of walks. His 8.0% walk rate this year is almost exactly league average, and over the last three years it’s 7.8%. No one will mistake him for Nick Johnson, but he’s not exactly Adam Jones when it comes to walks either.
- Sandoval is a surprisingly solid defender at the hot corner. His three-year defensive stats at third (+5 DRS, +9.5 UZR, +0.8 FRAA, +6 Total Zone) range anywhere from average to above-average, plus he has experience at first base and came up through the minors as a catcher. That ship has sailed though, he’s an emergency third catcher at best.
- Thanks to San Francisco’s recent success, Sandoval has plenty of big game and postseason experience. He didn’t play all that much during their 2010 title run but he was a monster in 2012, hitting .364/.386/.712 with six homers in 16 playoff games. That includes three homers in Game One of the World Series (two off Justin Verlander), a performance that led to him being named MVP.
- Sandoval is under contract for an affordable $8.25M next season and will qualify for free agency next winter. He will not chew up a big chunk of payroll either next year or several years down the line.
- The elephant in the room is Sandoval’s ongoing weight and conditioning problems. He is listed at 5-foot-11 and 240 lbs. on the team’s official site but has shown up to camp closer to 280 lbs. a few times now. The Giants have tried everything to help him get his weight under control, including publicly threatening to send him to the minors if he didn’t get in shape this past summer. It’s worth noting Sandoval came to Spring Training noticeably slimmer in 2011 and went on to have the best season of his career (149 wRC+ and 5.5 fWAR).
- Sandoval is not the most durable player in the world, playing in only 366 of 486 possible games the last three years. He has had hamate surgery on both wrists (right in 2011, left in 2012) and has also been on the DL with a hamstring strain (2012) and a foot strain (2013). There was speculation the foot problem was due to his weight, which is completely plausible. Sandoval also missed time in Spring Training this year because of bone chips in his elbow.
- Even though he’s still an above-average hitter, Sandoval’s performance is trending downward. His average has gone from .315 to .283 to .278 these last three years, his ISO from .237 to .164 to .139, and his HR/FB% from 16.0% to 9.5% to 8.3%. Overall, he’s gone from a 149 wRC+ in 2011 to 117 in 2012 and 115 in 2013. Like I said, still above average, but trending in the wrong direction.
- You aren’t getting anything out of Sandoval on the bases. He is 11-for-23 (48%) in stolen base attempts in his career (3-for-8 since 2011) and over the last three years, he’s taken the extra-base (first-to-third on a single, etc.) just 29% of the time. The league average is around 40%.
I think the fit for the Yankees is pretty obvious. By acquiring Sandoval, they’d be getting a legitimate switch-hitter with power — he averages 20 homers per 162 games played, which is pretty impressive in massive AT&T Park — who can step in and bat in the middle of the order. They’d also get a solid defender at a hard-to-fill position and (gasp!) get younger. If they can’t get his weight under control and Sandoval stinks, they wouldn’t be stuck with him long-term. If he’s great, they could re-sign him or recoup a draft pick next winter.
Plenty of guys similar to Sandoval have been traded one year prior to free agency in recent years, giving us decent amount of comparables for a potential trade package. Among them are Kendrys Morales (one year of a starting pitcher), Shin-Soo Choo (a back of a top 100 list prospect and three years of an iffy outfielder), Carlos Quentin (two good prospects), and Josh Willingham (two good prospects). None are perfect matches but they get us in the ballpark, I think. Two quality pieces seem like the minimum, unless you’re giving up an established big leaguer.
Of course, the real question here is what do the Giants want? Even after re-signing Tim Lincecum, they still need to replace Barry Zito and Ryan Vogelsong. A starting left fielder or even a new third baseman could be on the docket. GM Brian Sabean isn’t one to make MLB player-for-prospect trades either. The Yankees shouldn’t give up Ivan Nova for one year of a player like Sandoval, but maybe the Giants particularly like David Phelps, Adam Warren, or Vidal Nuno. Building a package around one of those guys plus a second piece (Preston Claiborne? Zoilo Almonte? Eduardo Nunez!) would work for me. I doubt that would be enough though. Either way, if San Francisco makes Sandoval available, the Yankees should definitely inquire.