Sifting through the Yankees’ backup options at first base

Yahoo: Players asked to kick A-Rod out of MLBPA
Yankees to sign Masahiro Tanaka

The Yankees came into this offseason with a lot of needs. They needed to upgrade their lineup, their rotation, and their bullpen, so pretty much entire team. The offense was addressed weeks ago and the team is working on the pitching staff at the moment — only 55 hours or so left in Masahiro Tanaka‘s signing period! — but there is still more work to be done. There never isn’t a move to be made, really.

One spot we haven’t discussed this winter is Mark Teixeira‘s backup at first base. That position is a low priority in the grand scheme of things and that was especially true this offseason. There were so many other and more important things to worry about first. Now that we’re getting closer to Spring Training and Teixeira says his wrist is still stiff — probably not that uncommon less than seven months out from surgery, but still not ideal — we should probably sit down to think about this a bit.

Russ Canzler is the obvious in-house option. The Yankees signed him to a minor league deal a few weeks ago and his best position is first base, so he’s a logical option. I expect him to start the year with Triple-A Scranton, though winning a bench spot in camp isn’t completely out of the question. After that there’s … uh … Kelly Johnson? He has a total of 18 innings (across three games) at the position in his career, all last year with the Rays. Not exactly a ton of experience.

That’s pretty much it as a far as internal options. Playing Brian McCann at first every once in a while seems like a good idea but he’s never played the position during his professional career. I can’t help but think back to Gary Sheffield in 2006, when the Yankees stuck him at first and he looked completely lost. Like he’d never picked up a glove in his life. First base is the easiest position on the field but that doesn’t mean it isn’t tough to learn, especially on the fly. This applies to guys like Carlos Beltran, Alfonso Soriano, and even Derek Jeter as well.

As far as options outside the organization, the list of available free agent first baseman is pretty small right now. From MLBTR:

First Basemen

Jeff Baker (33)
Yuniesky Betancourt (32)
Casey Kotchman (31)
Kendrys Morales (30)
Carlos Pena (36)
Chad Tracy (34)
Ty Wigginton (36)

Betancourt and Wigginton are both terrible and not worth roster spots, Tracy and Kotchman have both been awful in three of the last four years, and Pena is pretty much toast at this point. Baker would be a fine pickup given his ability to pound lefties and play all over the field, plus the Yankees have interest in signing him, so that’s cool. He could backup Teixeira.

At this point Morales would be a long-term solution, as in Teixeira’s wrist acts up and he needs to miss a big chunk of the season again. Otherwise what would the Yankees do with him? They already have about five guys slated to spend a bunch of time at DH next year and adding another — Morales has played 214 games at DH and only 59 at first the last two years — doesn’t make sense at all. They have nowhere to play him. If Tex hurts his wrist again and misses a bunch of time, sure, Morales would be a fit. But that’s the only situation in which he makes sense for the current roster.

There is one other free agent out there who would fit the roster as a backup first baseman, but he’s hiding away under another position. Here, look:

Third Basemen

Michael Young (37)

Sneaky. The Yankees had interest in Young earlier this winter but Ken Rosenthal says he’s been mulling retirement so he can spend more time with his family. Luring a player away from retirements feels like something right out of the Yankees’ roster building playbook, so we can’t rule him out just yet. Young has played a bunch of first (and third base) in recent years and his bat wasn’t terrible last season (102 wRC+), though I’m not sure how much gas is left in that tank at age 37. Just a year ago he hit to a 79 wRC+, remember.

I think that, if the season started today, Johnson would be the backup first baseman whenever Teixeira needs a day off almost by default. That last open bench spot figures to go to a second/third base capable infielder like Scott Sizemore or Eduardo Nunez, not a lumbering guy like Canzler. That could always change but right now it seems unlikely. If Teixeira suffers a setback in camp and has to miss the start of the season, I think the Yankees would do what they did last year and wait to see who gets released in March. Scrounging the scrap heap for a first baseman in Spring Training is not ideal, but given the current roster construction, that’s probably what it’ll come to if Teixeira gets hurt. Until then, Johnson seems to be the guy.

Yahoo: Players asked to kick A-Rod out of MLBPA
Yankees to sign Masahiro Tanaka
  • go

    where’s all the comments ? something else going on ?

  • Kosmo

    at this point Teixeira remains a huge question mark. Signing Morales would require a major shift in the “current roster construction“ yet the Yanks can ill afford losing Tex for any length of time.
    It seems to me the Yanks need more than just a backup at 1st, they need someone who can play on an everyday basis without much of a falloff in production.
    Although I like Baker he´s not an everyday player.
    If Morales came on board NY would probably be forced to trade Gardner.

  • Crosetti32
  • Monterowasdinero

    The Mariners are going to be working out Montero at 1B in Spring Training as they have 2 excellent catchers ahead of him. A nice, inexpensive fit for us yet again, with ARod’s righty power gone….

    • Jim Is A (Bored) Peckerhead


  • Jersey Joe

    I don’t see the harm in signing Pena to a minor league deal. He still plays great defense, and his bat wouldn’t be as bad as last year in Yankee Stadium. Canzler could be effective, but he hasn’t proven himself. Having Pena as depth would be a good move.

    • Eselquetodolosabe

      I concur on signing Peña. Great defense, though he’s worsened offensively over the last couple of years. He’d be a buy low MiLB signing, with the possibility of contributing to the ML club. Who knows, stick this guy in a protectioned line-up, with little pressure, and you just might capture lightning.

  • BJ

    How about Ronnier Mustelier? We’ve been shifting him all around trying to find him a position so that we can get his bat into the lineup. I say we put him on the roster as a utility guy backup, he can play the corner infield positions passably, and has apparently been working out as an OF too.

  • Bill

    Get Storen, Zachary Walters and Tyler Moore from Nationals. Send them Flores, Nunez, Romine, Huff and Betances. Let Storen be set- up for Robertson. Moore is back up for Tex at 1B. Walters starts in minors, but at some point during the season will be up as a RH hitting 3B/SS. Let Nats sign Balfour. This five for three trade opens up a spot on the 40 man roster for Tanaka and allows you a spot to add a minor leaguer to the 40 man if they impress in Spring training. Continue to look to move Ichiro, Moore can be your “5th OF” as we’ll as your back up 1B.

  • BK2ATL

    What’s Kendry Morales estimated to go for? Prior to that freak ankle injury, he was a really good 1B for the Angels, both offensively and defensively. He’s only 30 and was a pretty good switch-hitter. I would make a run at him on a 1 yr deal.

  • Eric

    Worth noting that Jeff Baker would also be the best option starting against LHP at 3B or 2B, given the present roster construction.

  • Eric

    Worth noting that Jeff Baker would also be the best option starting against LHP at 3B or 2B, given the present roster construction.

    • Jersey Joe

      His defense leaves much to be desired at 2B/3B; if those are his primary positions for the season, I don’t think the Yankees are interested.

  • 42yankee

    The Idiot Yankees let the best man as back-up for 1st by degrading him with a MINIOR League contract offer, so he went to the Astros. The front office mus have S— for brains, as Mark played a decent 1st and hit the ball out of the park. I guess the Yanks don’t want HR power, as they must think will win 30-35 games for them!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Maybe the Yanks don’t have to worry unless Tex hits off the tee. How does one get a horrible injury hitting off a Tee??????

  • 42yankee

    OOPS, I MEAN aw what difference Reynolds will be playing n the majors for another team….

  • BrahNick

    I like the idea of Michael Young a lot. Tex can use a back up, and I’m sure Brian Roberts is gonna go down with an injury at some point this season, which means we will need Johnson to cover 2nd. All we would need Young to do is hit for a decent average which he’s done all throughout his career, at the bottom of the lineup.