Scouting The Free Agent Market: Jeff Baker

Unlike Igawa, Yankees did their homework before going all in on Tanaka
Sanchez makes Baseball Prospectus' top 101 prospects list

The Yankees are said to be done with their offseason “heavy lifting” following the Masahiro Tanaka signing, but there is still some roster fine-tuning to be done. More than fine-tuning, really. The infield and bench are glaring needs and the final open position player spot figures to address both. The team is said to be leaning towards someone like Eduardo Nunez, Scott Sizemore, or Dean Anna for that spot at the moment.

Aside from Stephen Drew, who may or may not interest the Yankees, the free agent infield market is thin. Michael Young and Placido Polanco are among the biggest name players still available, but New York doesn’t need another player casual fans will recognize. They need someone who can actually produce. The best available option might be someone who is more of a utility man than a full-time guy: the right-handed hitting Jeff Baker. The Yankees showed interest in him last month and they’ve been connected to him at various points in the past. He appears to be a great fit for that last roster spot, at least on paper, but what does he really bring to the table? Let’s look.

The Pros

  • The 32-year-old Baker punishes left-handed pitching. He hit .314/.407/.667 (186 wRC+) against southpaws last season and .287/.342/.496 (124 wRC+) against them over the last three years. All but two of his 18 homers since 2011 have come against lefties.
  • Baker hits the ball to all fields and has power the other way against left-handers (spray chart). He does the most damage when pulling the ball like everyone else, but has power to right and that fits well with Yankee Stadium.
  • Since breaking into the league, Baker has played every position other than shortstop, center field, pitcher, and catcher. He has plenty of experience on the infield and enough in the corner outfield to be more than an emergency fill-in.
  • This is easy to overlook, but Baker knows how to remain productive as a bench player (he has played more than 100 games just once in parts of nine big league seasons). A lot of guys struggle initially when moved into a part-time role. It can be a tough adjustment to make.

The Cons

  • Baker is a pure platoon player. He mustered a weak .204/.250/.286 (41 wRC+) batting line against righties last summer and over the last three seasons, it’s a .213/.251/.298 (45 wRC+) line. Don’t kid yourself: this is a straight platoon player who is completely unusable against same-side pitchers.
  • The various defensive metrics says Baker is a below-average gloveman pretty much everywhere. He’s versatile but not an asset in the field. It has been a few years since he played more than ten games at second or third as well.
  • Injuries have been an issue. Baker suffered a thumb sprain during a high-five last year and missed a month (true story), and he’s also had groin (2011), hand (2009), and elbow (2009) problems over the years.
  • Baker won’t give you anything on the bases. He has gone 13-for-14 in stolen base attempts in his career, but he’s never stolen more than four bags in a season and over the last three years he’s taken the extra-base (first-to-third on a single, etc.) just 25% of the time, well below the 40% league average.

There hasn’t been much interest in Baker this winter despite his obvious usefulness as a right-handed platoon bat. The Rangers want him back according to Gerry Fraley and of course the Yankees have interest, but that’s pretty much it. The Giants checked in earlier this offseason but Andy Baggarly says the two sides stopped talking in December. Baker signed a minor league deal with Texas late last January and he might have to do something similar this winter.

The Yankees could really use a no doubt everday infielder regardless of position. Derek Jeter is going to need to spend time at DH given his age and myriad of leg injuries, plus we all know Brian Roberts is very unlikely to make it through the season healthy. With Mark Teixeira‘s wrist still stiff, Kelly Johnson is the team’s only question-free infielder. Baker wouldn’t improve that situation any, but he would given them a legitimate starting option against southpaws and an awesome pinch-hitter for lefty relievers. He’s a useful but limited player when used properly. Nothing more than that.

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Unlike Igawa, Yankees did their homework before going all in on Tanaka
Sanchez makes Baseball Prospectus' top 101 prospects list
  • dars

    What is Cashman waiting fo?. This should be a guy that they can sign for %1.5 M. Go get him!

  • jim

    This is the guy they need to start against lefties and late inning pinch hits against tough left handed pitching. He is also a good. Option for a double switch during Inter-league games

  • Farewell Mo

    2 questions.

    1. Will his defense at 3rd and/or 2nd negate what he brings to the plate against lefties.

    2. Would the Yankees be better off with someone who can play at least part of the time against righties considering the fragile status of Roberts and uncertainty as to whether or not Johnson can handle the position.

    He would seem to have value playing 2nd or 3rd against lefties if he’s not to bad defensively.

    • Havok9120

      Regarding number two, who would that other player be? Isn’t part of the point thaat there really aren’t any complete infielders left out there besides Drew so we need to look for some role players to make up for it?

      • Farewell Mo

        If you’re only gonna use him exclusively against LHP, Baker seems to be your guy.

        If you think you might need him to play occassionally against RHP either due to injury or ineffectiveness from Roberts or Johnson, Michael Young might be a better option if he’d be willing to come to NY with that kind of role.

        • The Great Gonzo

          I am not sure Micheal Young is better at this point in his career. Also, he’d be alot more expensive and would likely not come over on a MiLB deal.

          • Farewell Mo

            Agree he’s not coming on a MiLB deal though what could be expect to get, $2 million on a 1 year deal?

    • mitch

      I don’t think they’d need him at 2nd. I see him more as a corner infielder and outfielder.

  • Havok9120

    Sign me up.

    Then get Drew when his price drops.

  • Yankeefan91

    Sign Baker 1 year 2 million and Sign Jimenez 3 years 45 and ill be extremely happy.

    • The Great Gonzo

      Baker shouldn’t get anything guaranteed. Sorry, nope.

      • vicki

        he’ll get a modest mlb deal. a year ago the rangers gave him 1.75mm, and when he wasn’t rehabbing his high-five injury he was productive for him.

  • Mantle28

    He could be this years Marcus Thames or Andruw Jones. Sign him now, he could be really valuable

  • Yanks20

    How many roster spots are we giving to infielders? We can’t have both Drew and Baker unless you are cutting Ryan

    • Farewell Mo

      If you sign Drew, it would be pretty easy to say sayonara to Ryan.

      • gageagainstthemachine

        After they just inked him to a two-year deal? I’m guessing he’s not getting a DFA and who’s going to trade for a two-year deal on a guy who can’t hit. Better yet, why did the Yankees give him that deal?! They’d have the same problem on their hands, but with the addition of giving up a player to actually get him. Sorry. I don’t see it happening. But then again, what the heck do I know. Probably nothing…

        • mitch

          I think it’s very unlikely they’d DFA Ryan, and they’re not even allowed to trade him yet.

          If they did add Drew i think it would be as a full time 3B…not a guy who bounces around and occasionally backs up Jeter

      • greg

        they gave him 3 years, hes not going anywhere

      • AJ

        There is no way they cut Ryan who they signed to a 2 year deal over Nunez. Nunez is as good as gone if they bring in Drew.

    • mitch

      I don’t see it happening, but i think it’s possible. Baker and Kelly Johnson can both play the outfield. Add them to Gardner, Ellsbury, Soriano, and Beltran and you really don’t have a need for a guy like Ichiro or Almonte.

      • D$1184

        Rather have Almonte getting ABs every day in Scranton than riding the pine in the Bronx. This isn’t some Bubba Crosby-like hang-on that they are keeping around because he can kinda do a few things well but nothing great. The kid’s still just 24 years old (24.5, if you want to be technical). Give him a chance to play.

    • D$1184

      1. McCann
      2. Cervelli
      3. Tex
      4. Johnson
      5. Roberts
      6. Jeter
      7. Ryan
      8. Drew
      9. Gardner
      10. Ellsbury
      11. Soriano
      12. Beltran
      13. Ichiro
      14. Nova
      15. Sabathia
      16. Kuroda
      17. Phelps
      18. Warren
      19. Robertson
      20. Kelley
      21. Thornton
      22. Claiborne
      23. Tanaka
      24. Baker

      1 spot left, for Cesar Cabral (if you want the second lefty) or Dellin Betances (who has a minor league option remaining).

      • D$1184

        Cut Eduardo Nunez (I don’t expect much crying over that). When Brian Roberts gets hurt, whenever that is, that opens up a spot for the other bullpen option. With Johnson, Ryan, Baker and Drew on board, that’s more than enough to cover second and third.

        • D$1184

          Could also send Ichiro backing and use Johnson/Baker to back-up left/right, with Gardner hypothetically sliding back to center to spell Ellsbury now and then. I’m not sure how much difference there would be defensively, going from Ichiro to Johnson/Baker.

        • RetroRob

          No reason to cut Nunez. He has an option left and has one key skill, speed. Send him to AAA in case needed.

      • The Great Gonzo

        My laziness wants to know… is this speculation or is this who we currently have on the projected Major League Roster? In other words, did you pull this out of your ass or are you doing legit research?

        • D$1184

          Mix of both. I started putting this together in the beginning of the off-season. I have a word document with everyone on both the projected 25 man and also on the 40 man roster. As the Yankees have added (Thornton, Tanaka) and subtracted (Huff) players, I’ve adjusted it accordingly. I know Cabral is on the 40 man and seeing how Girardi kind of auditioned him last September when Logan was shut down, it wouldn’t shock me to see him be carried on the 25 man especially when you can consider that Thornton is strictly a LOOGY, according to his splits. I believe all the other new people (Roberts, Johnson) have guaranteed major league deals. There is some flexibility with minor league options on the pitching side (Phelps, Betances, Cabral) but there were also holes that needed to be filled by somebody and they were the best of the current options.

      • Size Matters

        How about that Tanaka guy? He seemed to be missing.

      • nycsportzfan

        Thats a really good team. I’d have a competition between Vidal Nuno, Ceaser Cabral, Dellin Betances, and Matt Daley.

        Not much talk on here about Matt Daley, but he was good for us in a albeit limited role. He deserves a fair shake also. And other then that, i really like the team you assembled. Without seeing the competiton unfold, outta the 5 I named, i’d take Dellin Betances.

      • nycsportzfan

        Also, i’d like to add i’d be all for the Yanks inking Luis Ayala to a deal before the yr starts. If that happened, then there woulden’t be much of a camp comp, but injuries are always possible.

  • D$1184

    “Kelly Johnson is the only issue free infielder the Yankees have”–I love how Mike didn’t even acknowledge the existence of Eduardo Nunez. Not that he would ever be defined as “issue free” but he didn’t even get a mention under the “we know he won’t be make it through the season injury free”.

    • The Great Gonzo

      Is he not an issue because he’s got options left and can be sent on the Dean Anna Express to Scranton?

    • mitch

      I think it’s understood by now that Nuney’s issue is that he stinks

      • Mandy Stankiewicz

        My last hopes for both Nunez and Betances is they get regular/consistent reps in one position at AAA this year (Dellin just started pitching out of the pen last year, and Nunez has been bounced around the infield and RF).

      • nycsportzfan

        I disagree. Hes got a place in the bigs offensively and he did shown some improvement defensively as the yr went on. I believe a solid yr of AB’s, he could be a 280 10 60 25SB type player.

        From July 31st to the end of the season last yr, he had 162AB’s, and hit 290BA 3hr 18rbi 10BB 18K 10doub 6SB 0CS. I mean, the guy is a sub that can play multiple positons, and makes some spectacular plays to go with really bad ones, and has a lively bat with nice linedrive stroke, and hes pretty darn good on the base paths. I think hes shown he can help.

  • Delbert Grady

    I’m very pro Baker signing. I like that we can move him around the corners and throw him at 2b if need be. I also know our manager is in love with matchups, so it makes sense to have someone who kills lefties in the lineup over guys who don’t. It’d be nice to know when we face Price, Lester, Doubront we’re going to take it to them with a stacked lineup.

    I also think if you can fit both Baker and Drew at the expense of Nunez, do it. I’m done waiting for Nunez. I’d rather have a deep team with flexibility in the infield than hope this is the year Nunez puts it together. He is what he is and it’s not worth clinging to in my opinion.

  • JobaTheHeat62

    how can you have that big of a platoon split…its seriously like a 600 point difference in ops lol

    • lightSABR

      Exactly what I’m wondering. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a split that extreme before.

  • AllyinCt

    I’ve been hoping for a while that the Yanks sign Baker. He’s inexpensive, provides flexibility, and hits lefties. Even Drew doesn’t hit well against lefties. I think that he would be a big asset for N.Y. As we’ve seen with the injuries last year, position flexibility can be very useful.

    • Jarak

      Baker should get grabbed. Nunez to Scranton is fine by me with either Anna or Scott Sizemore thrown in the mix. Girardi usually goes w 6 in the pen and 5 on the bench. Seems a lot of people are putting 7 in the pen for some reason