Yankees fans might remember the Brian Roberts in the video above, but that’s not the Brian Roberts the Yankees signed today. According to Jon Morosi and Ken Rosenthal, the Yankees have agreed to a one-year deal with Roberts, worth $2 million plus incentives. That’s a relatively low-risk deal, giving them a potentially serviceable player without the commitment required to sign Omar Infante*. But in order for this to work, the Yankees need to spend in a few more areas.
*I’ve seen a lot of people asking why the Yankees didn’t match or trump the Cardinals’ offer for Mark Ellis. Who’s to even say the Yankees even knew the Cardinals made Ellis an offer? The Cardinals are the class of MLB right now. If I were the 37-year-old Ellis and the Cardinals offered me $5 or so million, I might take it without looking elsewhere.
An infield consisting of Mark Teixeira plus some rotation that includes Roberts, Derek Jeter, Brendan Ryan, and Kelly Johnson just isn’t going to get the job done. Given his injury history it’s doubtful Roberts can play an everyday role. Limited to part-time duty, the Yanks would need someone else to cover reps at second. If that’s Johnson, they’ll need someone to cover reps at third. Adding Eduardo Nunez to this rotation does little to bolster it, so outside help is still necessary.
When word broke last night, Rosenthal said that a Roberts signing doesn’t mean the end of the Yankees’ infield pursuit. They could still add Mark Reynolds, he says, a player who seems to fit in that he provides right-handed power and can play third base — though “play” is a relative term here. His defense at third has always been suspect, and that’s not likely to get better as he ages. But in the short-term, the Yankees could do a lot worse.
The wild card here is Alex Rodriguez. Asked to guess, I still think he gets a 50-game suspension, which would give the Yankees another decent option in that infield rotation. Then again, A-Rod hasn’t exactly been a bastion of durability in the last few years. Joe Girardi will have to manage both him and Roberts carefully in order to keep them on the field (and A-Rod not clogging the DH slot). If A-Rod is suspended, the Yankees absolutely should look into other options. Rosenthal mentions Mariners 2B Dustin Ackley, though he’s another reclamation project. The options do seem thin at this point.
If the Yankees are going to get by with low-cost fliers in the infield, they have to spend elsewhere in order to fortify other weaknesses. If they sign two relief pitchers — Joaquin Benoit and Jesse Crain would work — and also Masahiro Tanaka, they could be in decent shape. In other words, spending money to fill three of four needed positions, while taking a flier on the other, isn’t such a bad deal. But with the flier coming first, we have to hope that they do spend the money on those other needs.
As for Roberts himself, it’s difficult to expect much at this point. At 36 years old, and with his injury slate, he’s not going to come close to his numbers from his late 20s. Even if you give him a break and don’t count his first games back from a hamstring injury last year, he still hit only .253/.321/.404 in his final 252 PA. That’s probably better than what the Yanks would get from in-house options Dean Anna, Jose Pirela, and Corban Joseph. It might also be better than Omar Infante. But it’s not a given that Roberts can reproduce these numbers. Even if he can, it won’t be over 600 PA. His replacement could drag down the second base situation.
It’s hard not to feel bad for Roberts at this point. From 2007 through 2009 he played in 470 of 486 possible games, producing a 114 OPS+ and stealing 120 bags. In 2010 he missed 91 games with an abdominal strain. The next year he suffered a concussion that he says he didn’t truly recover from until some time in late 2012. Even when he came back in mid-2012, before he underwent surgery to repair his hip labrum, he says he didn’t feel 100 percent. Even when he did feel like himself in 2013, he tore a hamstring tendon, requiring surgery that caused him to miss 79 games.
Perhaps Roberts can make it through 400 PA this season without issue. We’ve seen it before. But to count on it is not sound strategy. If this move makes them more comfortable spending money on two relievers and a starter, it could work. They’ll need another cost-effective infield move to make it work, but it still could work. But by itself, this move still leaves the Yanks wanting.