Scouting The Free Agent Market: Mark Ellis

Yankees acquire Kyle Haynes to complete Chris Stewart trade
2013 Winter Meetings Day Three Open Thread

For the first time in a long time, the Yankees are looking for a second baseman. Well, they’re looking for an infielder. Kelly Johnson‘s flexibility allows them to look for someone to man either second or third depending how the market shakes out. Omar Infante makes a lot of sense since he’s versatile and can play either spot, but Buster Olney says he’s seeking more than $8M annually on a long-term deal. That’s crazy even by today’s standards.

The rest of the infield market is pretty crummy — the Yankees really did a good job by signing Johnson early and at that price, the more I think about it and look at the alternatives — but one player who stands out as a potential fit is veteran second baseman Mark Ellis. The 36-year-old was the token non-star player in the Dodgers’ lineup this past season after spending the majority of his career with the Athletics, and now he’s a free agent. Does he fit with the Yankees? Let’s find out.

The Pros

  • Offensively, Ellis is a contact-oriented guys who hits to all fields (spray chart). He hit .270 (.310 BABIP) this past season with a 15.4% strikeout rate and an 86.5% contact rate. Over the last two years with the Dodgers, Ellis has hit .263 (.303 BABIP) with a 15.3% strikeout rate and an 87.3% contract rate. That’s the 26th highest contact rate among the 190 players to bat at least 800 times since 2012.
  • Ellis, a right-handed hitter, does pound southpaws. He put up a .282/.331/.412 (112 wRC+) line against them in 2013 and a .302/.354/.457 (128 wRC+) line against them from 2012-2013. That includes a tiny 12.7% strikeout rate.
  • In the field is where Ellis earns his money. He’s a standout defensive second baseman who has graded out very well according to the various stats: +23 UZR, +39 DRS, +9 FRAA, and +28 Total Zone over the last three seasons. His defensive spray chart shows just many balls he can get to. Pretty cool.
  • The Dodgers did not tender Ellis a qualifying offer, so it won’t cost the Yankees or any other team a draft pick to sign him.

The Cons

  • Ellis has no power at all. He has hit 25 homers total over the last four years (1,955 plate appearances) and over the last two years he has a measly .093 ISO. As his batted ball distance graph shows, he simply doesn’t hit the ball very far. There’s no reason to think Yankee Stadium will help his power output in a meaningful way.
  • Right-handed pitchers eat him right up. Ellis hit only .265/.319/.325 (83 wRC+) against righties in 2013 and .247/.316/.312 (80 wRC+) against them while with the Dodgers over the last two seasons. He’s just a platoon hitter on a light side of the platoon.
  • Ellis doesn’t provide much on the bases. He’s stolen nine bags in ten tries (hooray efficiency!) over the last two years while taking the extra base (first-to-third on a single, etc.) just 36% of the time. That’s a few ticks below the 40% league average.
  • Ellis may be slick with the glove but he has close to zero versatility. He has played a total 147.2 innings at positions other than second base in his career. That is broken down into 20.2 innings at first (14.2 since 2006), 63.2 innings at short (none since 2005), and 63.1 innings at third (0.1 since 2002).
  • Injuries are a problem. Ellis has been on the DL at least once every year since 2008 and in eight of the last ten seasons. His list of injuries include a torn labrum (2004), broken thumb (2006), another torn labrum (2008), calf strain (2009), hamstring strain (2010 and 2011), acute compartment syndrome surgery on his left leg (2012), and a quad strain (2013). Ellis has played in 130+ games just once since 2007 and twice since 2003.

The Cardinals and Rays are among the clubs pursuing Ellis according to Susan Slusser and Ken Rosenthal, so if nothing else, it’s reassuring to know some smart clubs are looking at him. He’s basically the second base version of Brendan Ryan, only a bit more useful with the bat, especially against lefties. A Ryan-Ellis middle infield would be the team’s best defensive double play combination in a long time, which would be very useful if they acquire an extreme ground-baller like Justin Masterson. That seems unlikely at this point, however.

Ellis made $5.25M in 2013 and the Dodgers elected to pay him a $1M buyout rather than exercise his $5.75M club option a few weeks ago. I can’t imagine he will get a multi-year contract at this point of his career — I said that two years ago, but then Los Angeles gave him two guaranteed years, so what do I know — and a deal similar to Johnson’s seems reasonable. One year and $3M or so. Infante is asking for a ton of money — he looks like a classic case of a guy who had a career year offensively at just the right time, no? — and the trade market is mostly barren, meaning Ellis may be the best realistic option. He’d bat ninth, catch everything hit his way, do some damage against lefties, and be eminently replaceable if someone better comes along.

Yankees acquire Kyle Haynes to complete Chris Stewart trade
2013 Winter Meetings Day Three Open Thread
  • BTG

    I would rather have one year of Ellis at 3-4 million than Infante on a multi-year deal at 8 per year.

    • JAG

      Agree. We can worry about longer-term later. For now, Ellis looks like a solid option.

    • Wolfgang’s Fault

      Think Brian Roberts gives you more pop from both sides of the plate, & he’s finally healthy again. I’m leaning Roberts, but would accept Ellis over 4 years & $40M buckaroos for Intante. Of course, I’m somewhat intrigued by Zelous Wheeler at 3B and Dean Anna at 2b. If either or both of these two get a real chance in ST & take advantage, & Kelly Johnson is your super sub, totally different look Yankee team. Would love to see both Wheeler & Anna become relevant NY Yankees in ’14. I think Kahnle sticks w/the Rockies all year which would mean he’s gone for good.

      Anyone know what the rules are regarding the minor league Rule 5 guys? Do they have to make the rosters of the big-league teams selecting them for the entire year for those teams to keep them, or failing that, do the Yankees get them back? Really hate losing Kahnle & Ravel Santana, & don’t even know enough about the other three, but losing them without knowing what they are yet hurts even more I think.

  • Andrew J.

    How depressing. Suddenly the bucks being paid Cano don’t seem like that much after all, or at least an issue of being overpaid 6-7 years from now.

    • Havok9120


  • Curious

    According to that batted ball distance graph he reaaaally got a hold of that one to center.

  • mick taylor

    how about brian roberts on a cheap 1 or 2 year deal

    • nycsportzfan

      Corey Hart got a 1yr deal worth 5million after 270 30 83 rbi season. So you would think Brian ROberts would be able to be had even cheaper then that on a 1yr deal. Another words, it’d be worth it, and then you can focus on Mark Reynolds and nothing but pitching the rest of the way. It’d be worth checking in on, i think. Mark Ellis also makes sense, as he can hit the ball outta the park, and is Right handed, which is needed in this lineup.

      • Jorge Steinbrenner

        Roberts AND Reynolds. Joy.

      • qwerty

        I’m surprised the Rays did automatically jump on the Corey Hart train. Friedman does great with development and trades, but his FA signings or lack thereof are highly questionable.

    • Get Phelps Up (looking for a new name)

      Did we not use the DL enough last year?

      • Wolfgang’s Fault

        Roberts is healthy — really!

  • LarryM Fl

    The Yankees will have other needs down the road besides second base. So to sign Ellis on a one year contract is not the way I would go. Heck, I would play Mr. Scissor hands in a platoon with Johnson, even cheaper. Plus scissor hands may develop into a second baseman.

    My choice is Infante. 8 million per for three years seems OK. We do pay on past performances. Cano would be 72 million for three years. There is no comparison offensively but 48 million better is a little bit of a stretch IMHO.

    Marco Scutaro in his middle 30’s earned about 7 million for two years. So, its not too much of a stretch.

    • Jorge Steinbrenner (the rarely spoken-of sibling)

      I’m with you. The risk with Infante is his living up to the contract, not age or whether he can remain on the field.

  • King of Fruitless Hypotheticals

    Johnson-Ryan-Ellis could at least keep 2B manned against lefties and righties as well as fill 3B and SS. All in all not a horrible deal if we can land Tanaka and another legit SP.

    Of course…are we under 189 at this point?

  • LarryM Fl

    I always liked him. He does get his bat on the ball but he is off the field often.

    • LarryM Fl

      This a response to mick taylor.

      • Wolfgang’s Fault

        Roberts was finally healthy during the 2nd half of ’13, & finished w/some pop — 5 dingers in the final month. Nothing’s happened since to suggest he’s still nursing any injuries. Quality dude & solid pro. Would be very happy to see him playing for the bombers in ’14.

  • camilo

    I just say cash sticks with nuñez giving replacement level production at 3rd, unless he ninjas some unfortunate gm. Not how you are supposed to make decisions, but soon, this will be a complete offense of mercenaries.. No more recognizable players could put a schism in some of the fanbase

    y’all probably have been over this ad nauseam, but how long does arod get suspended for? If any? 0, 50, 100 or 211

  • Dicka24

    I’d go with Ellis > Infante. Save the coin for what will likely be somewhat similar production. An Ellis/Johnson type of platoon scenario makes sense. It would keep both guys fresh, and afford each a more favorable match-up at the plate.

    How about Brian Roberts? Switch hitter, AL East vet, mid 30’s, should be had on the cheap, etc. Lots of risk, but if we’re talking Ellis, who isn’t exactly an ironman himself, shouldn’t Roberts be a consideration? Just throwing that out there for discussions sake.

    • Wolfgang’s Fault

      Yes on Roberts for all the things you point to. I think he’s finally healthy again. Hey, sign him unless he fails his physical.

  • Grover

    I’m guessing Cashman is attempting to acquire pitching and a major league ready cost controlled second baseman in trade discussions. I would rather they sign Brian Roberts or Ellis on a one year deal than Infante for three if Ninja Cashman is unsuccessful.

  • Jorge Steinbrenner (the rarely spoken-of sibling)

    Oh, for fuck’s sake. This is depressing.

    I’m honestly not blinking an eye at the thought of giving Omar Infante 4/32 right now. I need help.

  • mike

    Only issue here is there is no 3B to be had on the roster…..its crazy to use up 1/6th of the roster on SS and utility guys without having a 3B anywhere to be seen – and while Johnson can stand at 3B, he cannot be considered a regular.

    as much as Infante will not ( likely) live up to his contract, he might be the best option for the next few years until Arod is resolved, as he can at least pretend 3B and be a solid 2B should Arod come back and share a light platoon with Johnson.

    • Jorge Steinbrenner (the rarely spoken-of sibling)

      I can’t see this team spending so much on other positions and settling for Kelly Johnson at either position.

    • Wolfgang’s Fault

      They signed 3b minor leaguer Zelous Wheeler a few weeks back & he has some pop but no real big league experience. Maybe he surprises come ST & changes the equation? Can Ronnie Mustelier be considered as having an outside shot at competing for 3b in a pinch? I know Kevin Youkilis has said he wants to play on the west coast & is as popular as the clap w/much of the yankee fan base, but if he’s still available come February & there’s still a need & he’s healthy, I’d consider him on a one year incentive laden (# games played) deal.

  • hey now

    His swing reminds me a lot of Chris Stewart’s.


  • Bill

    Ellis and Johnson could be a nice little platoon at 2nd base, rather see the 1 year deal for Ellis and have that situation then 3 or 4 of infante

  • There’s the Door

    Ellis is a solid piece. But it feels like NYY may have signed their last free agent. I think they think that with a smart trade or two, they’ll have a serviceable 87-win team that’s under the “cap” if Alex’s suspension holds up. Hal would consider that a fine outcome. People should prepare themselves for Johnson to see 500 AB’s at 2nd (which might not so bad).

    BTW, Yanks should have been in on Corey Hart before they signed Ellsbury. Hart’s a straight-out baller in the O’Neal mold with good power and better defense than some think. He’s healthy, will play the outfield, and was very, very well-priced.

    • Jorge Steinbrenner (the rarely spoken-of sibling)

      Disagree on all of this.

  • Farewell Mo

    It’d be tough to go with Ryan and Ellis at 2nd and SS since you’ll be getting minimal offense out of both positions also considering they’re likely to get less than league average production out of 3rd base as well.

    I’d be fine with Ellis but then I’d like to see them sign Drew for SS and move Jeter to 3rd base. Otherwise, if they can get Infante on a 3 year deal, that’s the better move IMO.

  • qwerty

    If the Cardinals and Rays are looking at Ellis then so should the yankees. If you don’t know what you’re doing then it’s best to look over the shoulder of someone smarter than you and copy whatever they are doing.