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.
- 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.
- 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.