If you were the GM of the Tigers, and two winters ago you could have signed Prince Fielder to a two-year, $76 million contract, would you have? Paying him $38 million annually sounds steep, but getting him for only his age-28 and age-29 seasons mitigates that inflated salary. It’s a deal that Fielder never would have signed, but it’s the deal that the Tigers got. I imagine they’re happy with the way that turned out.
What the Tigers essentially did was walk away when they had the opportunity. Signing him two off-seasons ago was a play for the short-term. Detroit had just made the World Series and felt they weren’t far from a victory. While they did make the Series last year, and the ALCS this year, it became apparent that their roster had some weaknesses. The landscape changed, so Detroit acted while it had the opportunity.
The Yankees now have an opportunity to walk away from an enormous contract. They won’t get back a player, as the Tigers got with Ian Kinsler, other than whoever they can take with a low-30s draft pick, so the situations aren’t directly comparable. What they would gain is significant financial flexibility, something they apparently desire. While it might hurt, especially in 2014, Tyler Kepner of the NY Times argues that letting Robinson Cano walk is the right move.
The risks of long-term contracts for players already in their 30s is well documented. The Yankees need look no further than their own organization six years ago, when they signed Alex Rodriguez to a 10-year contract. In Rodriguez the Yankees see how injuries and performance decline can hamper even a generational talent. Cano, even as one of the league’s premier hitters, doesn’t quite reach A-Rod‘s level. So why sign him to a contract that could similarly cripple the organization?
Kepner’s argument centers on this kind of risk aversion. In discussing a 7-year, $161 million contract for Cano, Kepner says, “That kind of deal has put the Yankees in their present state — decaying and injury-prone — and the team needs to break the cycle.” The problem is that there isn’t any player, or even group of players, currently available that can help the Yankees as much as Cano. Even if the last three years of a seven-year deal are well below what his salary warrants, the Yankees still need Cano in those first four seasons.
Yes, but what about the Cardinals, who lost Albert Pujols and have done quite well without him? Kepner cites this case, noting that the Cardinals went on to sign Carlos Beltran and hand out a few extensions on the path to two playoff berths and a World Series appearance. While it sounds nice, it completely ignores the organizational differences between the Cardinals and the Yankees. For starters, Pujols wasn’t even the best hitter on the Cardinals in 2011; Lance Berkman and Matt Holiday each put up better numbers. They also had Allen Craig, who had broken out in 2011 and was ready for a regular gig. That’s not even bringing their robust farm system into the equation.
The Yankees have none of these things. Alfonso Soriano is solid, and Mark Teixeira could come back to produce next season, but even if both have fine years the Yanks still aren’t nearly as deep as the Cardinals. There is no Yadier Molina, there is no Allen Craig, there’s no Matt Adams and Matt Carpenter. There is, hopefully, an Adam Wainwright in CC Sabathia, but there’s no Lance Lynn, Joe Kelly, or Shelby Miller. If the Yankees plan to contend in 2014 they need to do it with a heavy top-end. That’s not going to work without Cano.
What about punting 2014? That’s not a strategy that really pays off in baseball. The Astros are trying it now, and even then it’s going to take them several more years to get even a little feedback on their experiment. Getting a draft pick for Robbie is nice, and getting a higher draft pick next year would be nice as well. But are those two picks going to turn around the organization? Doubtful. Even if they do, it will take years and years for that process to play out. Does anyone have that kind of patience?
The alternative is using the $23 or so million for Cano and spreading it to a few other players. Kepner lists the possibilities, and we’re familiar with all the names. But it’s not as though the Yankees can take Cano’s salary and somehow turn it into two high-end free agents. Brian McCann will cost between $15 and $18 million himself. Shin-Soo Choo might cost even more. Perhaps savings from Cano, plus the other money the team has available, can turn into three free agents. But none of them will be as good as Cano.
Therein lies the choice. Do you bring in the superstar, understanding that he’s your only superstar, or do you spread the wealth a bit? People love to cite how the Red Sox spread the wealth last winter, but fail to mention that they already had a superstar on board in David Ortiz and a damn good first mate in Dustin Pedroia. Again, the Yankees don’t have that. They can’t replicate what the Cardinals or Red Sox did, because their franchise is in a completely different position right now.
The biggest risk with Cano, or any other long-term contract, lies in the later years. Given how he’s performed in the last few years, it’s difficult to imagine Cano declining much, if at all, in the next year or so. If he can manage a graceful decline (anything but guaranteed), the last three to four years of a seven- or eight-year contract will be the ones that hurt. This is actually good news for the Yankees. In year-five of a potential Cano deal, they have zero dollars in current obligations. In year-four they have just $26 million.
In other words, this isn’t some situation where they hand out $700 million in five-plus-year contracts within the span of two off-seasons. They’ve done a good job of limiting obligations in the last few years, and given their lack of future payroll the effort is starting to show. Adding Cano now will hurt if they sign a bunch of five- and six-year deals in the next two off-seasons. Given the market, I don’t think it will come to that.
As Mike has noted, frequently, this off-season, even if the Yanks add Cano, Carlos Beltran or Jhonny Peralta, and Masahiro Tanaka, they still might not contend in 2014. But even if they’re going to struggle again next year, they still have needs in 2015 and beyond. Letting Cano go stands directly in opposition to those future goals.
Just because some other teams played the market a certain way doesn’t mean the Yankees should follow suit. They’re in a different position than those teams. Given their current roster, and the fruits on the farm, Cano become an essential piece to not only potential contention in 2014, but also 2015 and beyond. Letting him walk, especially at seven years and $161 million, a deal he’ll almost certainly exceed, because other teams did something similar, would be foolish. The Yankees need Cano just as much as Cano needs the Yankees.
Six questions and six answers this week. Remember to use the Submit A Tip in the sidebar to send us whatever, whenever.
Several people asked: What about Jeff Niemann?
Niemann, 30, elected free agency earlier this week after the Rays outrighted him off their 40-man roster. He did not pitch at all this year and has been limited to one game since May 2012 due to a series of shoulder problems, most notably surgery to repair damage to his labrum and rotator cuff. Niemann’s had a lot of injury problems over the years, most dealing with his shoulder. That’s always scary.
Before the injury, the 6-foot-9, 285 lb. right-hander managed a 3.08 ERA (3.09 FIP) in 38 innings last season. He put up a 4.06 ERA (4.13 FIP) in 135.1 innings in 2011 while missing time with a back problem. Niemann never lived up to hype associated with being the fourth overall pick in the country (2004), but he was a rock solid mid-rotation guy who showed steady improvement — particularly when it came to getting strikeouts and ground balls — before this last round of injury problems.
Niemann had his surgery in April and it came with a 9-12 month recovery time. He recently told Bill Chastain that things are going well but a second half return is the most likely scenario while adding that he might not sign until he can get back on a mound and clubs can see him throw. I definitely have interest in Niemann since he’s reasonably young and has AL East/pennant race experience, but obviously the medicals need to check out. If he’s willing to take a minor league contract, absolutely. Go for it. If he wants something guaranteed right away … eh, that might be pushing it. Some team could cave and given him that 40-man spot, I suppose.
Dustin asks: Two recently DFA’d players to pick up on waivers if they fall to the Yanks: Tony Sipp and Felipe Paulino. Thoughts?
The 30-year-old Sipp was taken off the roster by the Diamondbacks earlier this week and he has the right to elect free agency, but he hasn’t done so yet. He pitched to a 4.78 ERA (4.88 FIP) in 37.2 innings in 2013 overall but we’re talking about a lefty specialist, overall numbers don’t tell the whole story. Sipp was hit hard by same-side hitters this past season (.378 wOBA and 6.05 FIP) but was much more effective from 2011-2012 (.288 wOBA and 4.16 FIP). If he wants to take a minor league deal and compete for a bullpen spot with Cesar Cabral and David Huff in camp, sure.
Paulino, 30, is in the same boat as Niemann. He already elected free agency but hasn’t pitched since June 2012 due to Tommy John and shoulder surgery, the latter of which is expected to sideline him until the second half of next year. Before that he was showing steady improvement, with a 1.67 ERA (3.25 FIP) in 37.2 innings in 2012 and a 4.46 ERA (3.69 FIP) in 139.1 innings in 2011. Niemann has a longer track record of success but I think these two are in the same exact situation. If the medicals check out and Paulino is willing to take a minor league contract, then let’s do it. If he wants something guaranteed, let someone else give him the 40-man spot.
Travis asks: Would a swap of Dellin Betances and Conor Gillaspie of the White Sox make sense for both sides? They love their large-framed pitchers and the Yankees have a need for a left-handed 3B/1B.
I think that’s fair value. Both Betances and Gillespie are former top prospects who are out of minor league options and have yet to really establish themselves at the big league level. The 26-year-old Gillaspie did play fairly regularly for the ChiSox this past season, hitting .245/.305/.390 (85 wRC+) with 13 homers in 452 plate appearances. His defense at the hot corner was a tick below-average. The Yankees would be banking on Yankee Stadium’s short right field porch boosting his numbers. I do think that trade makes sense for both teams and it’s worth noting the White Sox have shown interest in Betances before. Do they still like him? That’s the question.
Dave asks: Let’s say A-Rod gets suspended for all of 2014 and prior to the 2015 season, the Yankees buyout his remaining contract in a single $61M lump sum. How does that amount affect the luxury tax?
From what I have read, the Collective Bargaining Agreement does not address buyouts for a situation like this. I think it would be treated as a new contract, however. Essentially a one-year, $61M contract. If that’s the case, I think the Yankees would simply release him and pay the $61M over the next three years instead. I think a more likely buyout scenario is paying that $61M over six years (with interest) instead of three, doubling the term. The luxury tax hit would be recalculated in that situation but it’s not as simple as average annual value because the Yankees have already paid some amount of tax on that contract. The tax hit would be lowered, I’m just not sure how much. The most important thing to remember is A-Rod has no reason to take a penny less than what’s owed to him, it’s extremely unlikely he’ll agree to a buyout that makes all or part of that $61M disappear. He’ll make the Yankees release him before agreeing to take less money. That’s what I would do.
Nick asks: Nick Cafardo recently reported that Grady Sizemore was getting a lot of attention and that he should be ready for Spring Training. Now I know he shouldn’t be counted on for anything but don’t you think he’d be a good buy low candidate?
Did you know that Sizemore is 31 years old already? He’s not all that young anymore. That really snuck up on me. He hasn’t played in a game since September 2011 and when he did play, he kinda stunk (94 wRC+ in 2011, 81 wRC+ from 2010-2011). His list of injuries is so very long — left elbow inflammation and debridement (2009), sports hernia (2009), left knee microfracture surgery (2010), another sports hernia (2011), arthroscopic right knee surgery (2011), lower back surgery (2012), right knee microfracture surgery (2012) — that he’s basically the Eric Chavez of outfielders. If Sizemore is cool with taking a minor league deal and showing what he can do in Spring Training, by all means, bring him in. Maybe he has a 2012 Chavez year in him. My expectations are zero though.
Niq asks: Can you remind me what happens if the Yankees sign multiple free agents who received and turned down qualifying offers? Do they lose multiple picks? If not, doesn’t that make it easier to sign multiple top free agents? Thanks.
Oh yes, you will absolutely lose multiple picks for signing multiple qualified free agents. Under the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, teams can forfeit the picks they receive as compensation for losing their own qualified free agents as well. It didn’t used to work like that. So if the Yankees get a supplemental first round pick for Curtis Granderson signing elsewhere but sign two qualified free agents, they would lose their first rounder and the compensation pick for Granderson. If it’s feasible, I think you’re better off doing all your shopping in one offseason and losing two or three picks at once (like the Yankees did during the 2008-2009 offseason) than signing one big free agent each winter and forfeiting your first rounder every summer.
It’s one thing for idiot fans like me to sit back and say the Yankees haven’t gotten enough out of their farm system in recent years. It’s another for the team itself to acknowledge that. In August, Hal Steinbrenner called a staff meeting to look into their development system and figure out why the farm was unable to provide help during an injury-riddled 2013 season. The system was examined over a several week stretch and while no major personnel changes were made, the Yankees did opt to make some procedural changes. They admitted things weren’t going right and did something to correct it.
The Yankees had eight players come up from the farm system to make their Major League debut this season and the best of the bunch was LHP Vidal Nuno at 0.7 bWAR. He appeared in five games and threw 20 innings before a groin injured ended his year in early-June. The other seven players — IF David Adams, OF Zoilo Almonte, C J.R. Murphy, IF Corban Joseph, RHP Preston Claiborne, RHP Brett Marshall, and LHP Cesar Cabral — totaled 0.1 bWAR in 150 combined games. C Austin Romine (-0.7 bWAR) spent most of the year in the big leagues and failed to establish himself. The most productive player to come out of the system this year was swingman RHP Adam Warren, who racked up 1.2 bWAR in 77 innings. Needless to say, the Yankees didn’t get much help from within this past season.
As always, there are a number of reasons why things went wrong in the farm system. It’s never just one thing. Here are the three biggest in my opinion, and for reference, I’m including my preseason ranking of each player in parentheses.
Might as well start with the inevitable. Injuries are completely unavoidable; they are point of the game and they’re never going away. At least not anytime soon, who knows what will happen a hundred years down the line. The Yankees came into 2013 knowing LHP Manny Banuelos (#6 preseason prospect) would miss the season following Tommy John surgery in October, but they were dealt another pitching blow in Spring Training when RHP Ty Hensley (8) needed surgery to pair both hips. Just like that, the team’s top prospect from a year ago and their most recent first round pick were lost for the season before Opening Day.
Also lost to injury were RHP Mark Montgomery (10), who was limited to 45.1 innings due to shoulder and back problems. If he had stayed healthy, there’s a chance he would have been in the big leagues instead of Claiborne for much of the summer. OF Tyler Austin missed several weeks with a bone bruise in his wrist. 2B Angelo Gumbs (9) missed a month with a finger problem and had his season end in mid-August due to an unknown injury. RHP Jose Ramirez (12) missed the start of the season due to fatigue and was shut down in late-July with an oblique issue. 2B Corban Joseph (20, shoulder), RHP Nick Goody (21, Tommy John), and LHP Matt Tracy (22, hip) all had some kind of surgery while OF Ravel Santana (28) never made it onto the field because of a broken arm and lingering ankle problems.
Not that my rankings are definitive, but that’s nine of the team’s top 30 prospects — including four of the top ten and five of the top 12 — who missed considerable time in 2013. Two of New York’s three best pitching prospects did not throw a single pitch this summer while two of their closest to MLB arms were limited to 119 combined innings and zero after August 10th. That’s a lot of missed development time. Guys can’t get better if they’re not on the field. Injuries really ripped through the organization this year.
In addition to the health problems, the Yankees had a number of their best prospects not perform up to expectations. OF Mason Williams (2) followed up a 125 wRC+ in 2012 with an 87 wRC+ in 2013. Austin went from a 163 wRC+ to a 103 wRC+. OF Ramon Flores (5), who I was very high on coming into the year, put up a 104 wRC+ this summer after managing a 126 wRC+ a year ago. That’s three of the team’s top five prospects right there. Three of five failing to live up to expectations.
Others like RHP Brett Marshall (13) and OF Melky Mesa (26) did not force the issue after starting the year in Triple-A. Marshall pitched to a 5.13 ERA (4.62 FIP) in 138.2 innings while Mesa managed a 106 wRC+ with a 33.7% strikeout rate before being released. SS Austin Aune (14), who received a nearly double-slot $1M bonus as the team’s second round pick in 2012, posted a 46 wRC+ with a 43.6% strikeout rate (!) in Rookie Ball this year. I get that he’s inexperienced because his split his high school time between baseball and football, but my goodness. Gumbs and Montgomery didn’t perform well when healthy either. That’s a lot of important prospects — important in the sense that they were either ranked highly or knocked on the door at Triple-A — having down seasons.
Having a bad year really stinks but it does not doom a prospect. Countless guys have rebounded from subpar minor league seasons and went on to be successful, like Robinson Cano (.695 OPS in 2003) or Ivan Nova (4.98 ERA in 2007). Back-to-back bad years is a problem and at least somewhat of an indication they aren’t developing as expected. Back-to-back bad years in which the second year is worst than the first is an enormous red flag and what happened to 3B Dante Bichette Jr. (27). After putting up a 84 wRC+ with a 18.0% strikeout rate with Low-A Charleston in 2012, he hit to an 82 wRC+ with a 24.5% strikeout rate at the same level in 2013. That’s a major problem and a big reason why the kid is a borderline (and that’s being kind) non-prospect two years after being the 51st overall pick in the country.
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Not everything went wrong in the farm system this year, of course. C Gary Sanchez (1) and OF Slade Heathcott (4) both had very good years while RHP Jose Campos (7) rebounded very well after missing most of last season with an elbow problem. Murphy (15) took a huge step forward — he led all minor league catchers with 105 games caught, according to Josh Norris — and RHP Dellin Betances (23) finally found success after moving into the bullpen. The team’s draft haul in June was outstanding as well. Overall, however, the farm system took a hit this past season and the Yankees don’t have any impact prospects knocked on the big league door. It’s a problem both this winter (no good trade chips) and when planning for the roster down the road.
MLBPA executive director Michael Weiner has passed away following a battle with inoperable brain cancer. He was 51. Weiner, who grew up in Paterson, N.J., replaced Donald Fehr in 2009 and had been with the union since 1988. He was incredibly bright and an extraordinary leader, and he continued to work hard for the players even after being diagnosed last August. Condolences to his family and friends. · (12) ·
The thing that stuck with me the most from All-Star Media Day this year was how deceptively big Mike Trout is. He’s listed at 6-foot-2 and 230 lbs. on the Angels’ official site and while that doesn’t sound all that big, it’s pretty staggering when you stand next to him. That makes his athleticism and quickness so mind-boggling. It’s amazing a dude that size can move like that. I know this isn’t Yankees related or anything, but who doesn’t like watching the best player in baseball doing best player in baseball things? Enjoy the video.
Anyway, here is tonight’s open thread. The Thursday NFL Game is the Saints and Falcons, plus the Rangers and Devils are playing as well. Talk about anything and everything right here. Go nuts.
7:26pm: According to T.J. Quinn, the two sides have until December 11th to put together summary briefs and respond by the 21st. Only then will Horowitz get busy with his ruling. So yeah, throw that whole 25 days thing right out the window.
6:40pm: Via Ken Davidoff: The appeal hearing for Alex Rodriguez’s record 211-game suspension concluded today. Arbitrator Frederic Horowitz now has 25 days to hand down a ruling, meaning the latest it can arrive is Monday, December 16th. That said, this whole thing hasn’t gone according to the schedule outlined in the Join Drug Agreement. The ruling could come down later. Either way, Horowitz can uphold, overturn, or reduce the suspension. · (26) ·
Thursday: The Yankees do indeed have legitimate interest in Nathan, according to Mark Feinsand. They are going to focus on more pressing needs (rotation, offense in general) first before circling back around for big money bullpen help, however.
Sunday: Via Andy McCullough: The Yankees have “had contact” with free agent right-hander Joe Nathan. They are seeking a late-inning reliever to pair with David Robertson in the wake of Mariano Rivera’s retirement, and they’ve already shown interest in free agent Grant Balfour as well. It figures they would at least touch base with the market’s top available closer at some point.
Nathan, who turns 39 on Friday, pitched to a 1.39 ERA and 2.26 FIP in 64.2 innings for the Rangers this season while going 43-for-46 in save chances. Following a slight hiccup in 2011, he’s rebounded to be his usual self following Tommy John surgery in 2010. Nathan is probably going to get a pricey two of three-year contract this winter (Tigers?) and that doesn’t really fit into New York’s budget. As with Javier Lopez, it’s good they did their due diligence, but money might be an obstacle. · (33) ·
Coming into this past season, it was obvious the Yankees needed to add some young, impact talent to the organization. They had none at the big league level and very little in the minors following a down year in the farm system. When Baseball America published their list of the team’s top ten prospects over the winter, it was hard to ignore that six of the ten missed at least a month due to injury in 2012 while two others were still way down in Rookie Ball.
The Yankees had a chance to add talent this summer during the annual amateur draft in June, which is true of every year. This draft was different though — New York had two extra picks after Rafael Soriano and Nick Swisher declined qualifying offers and signed with other teams as free agents. Add in their own first rounder and New York owned three of the first 33 selections. It was the first time they held even two of the first 33 picks since 1978. The opportunity to give the farm system a real shot in the arm was there, and, at this point, it appears the Yankees nailed it.
Three First Round Talents
Having three first round picks — it was really one first rounder and two supplemental first round picks, but whatever — doesn’t automatically mean you’ll get three first round talents. Let’s not kid ourselves here; the Yankees have made some questionable high picks in recent years and grabbing the best available talent was not a given. Rather than go off the board for a player they liked more than the consensus, scouting director Damon Oppenheimer & Co. went big and grabbed arguably the three best players on the board with each pick.
The first of the three was Notre Dame 3B Eric Jagielo, who was the club’s natural first rounder at #26 overall. He signed quickly for a straight slot $1.84M bonus and hit .264/.376/.451 (~152 wRC+) during his 221 plate appearance pro debut. Jagielo is a polished hitter and a good defender at a hard-to-fill position who should climb the ladder very quickly. The second pick was Fresno State OF Aaron Judge (#32), a monstrous (listed at 6-foot-7 and 255 lbs.) slugger with as much raw power as anyone in the draft. He took an above slot $1.8M bonus the day before the signing deadline. California HS LHP Ian Clarkin (#33), a power southpaw with an out-pitch curveball, was the third of the three first rounders.
In a normal year, landing one of those guys with a first round pick would have been a coup for the Yankees. Being able to draft all three — and being willing to exceed the draft pool to sign them, as they did by signing Judge to an over-slot bonus at the last minute — is a major win for a farm system in need of impact talent. All three of these guys are not going to work out, the odds are strongly against it because prospects are made to break hearts, but the more high-end talent they have, they better. These three first rounders were incredibly important given the state of the organization and the Yankees nailed ‘em.
Middle Infield Depth
The Yankees have been blessed with Robinson Cano and (especially) Derek Jeter for a long time, making it pretty easy to overlook just rare quality middle infielders are these days. I’m not even talking about stars, above-average guys are very hard and rather expensive to acquire. New York drafted two true middle infielders in the top four rounds in 2B Gosuke Katoh (2nd round) and SS Tyler Wade (4), both out of California high schools. Both play above-average defense at their positions and Katoh is just a strong arm away from being a shortstop. They both performed well in their pro debuts: Katoh managed 171 wRC+ (12.6 BB%) in 215 plate appearances while Wade had a 137 wRC+ (16.0 BB%) in 213 plate appearances. The performance is nice but the most important this is that both guys have the defensive chops to stay up the middle while also projecting to be something more than zeroes at the plate. These were two very strong picks after the first round.
Under Oppenheimer, the Yankees have used the middle and late rounds to draft power arms who could someday help out of the bullpen. With the new spending restrictions and Collective Bargaining Agreement all but eliminating the ability to give big money to players who fall due to bonus concerns, there’s not much more you can do late in the draft. Dig up some hard-throwers for the bullpen and focus on positions players with that one high-end tool. Not much more is available.
This summer’s crop of hard-throwers includes Texas JuCo RHP David Palladino (5), LSU RHP Nick Rumbelow (7), San Diego State RHP Phil Walby (12), and Oklahoma Christian RHP Cale Coshow (13). All four guys offer mid-90s heat while Palladino has good enough secondary pitches to start. Sam Houston State LHP Caleb Smith (14) has shown 94-95 in short outings. The Yankees have had trouble developing players overall the last few years, but they generally go a great job of unearthing these power arms and getting them far enough up the ladder that they at least serve as trade bait, if nothing else. These five guys are the newest members of the pipeline.
Late Round Gambles
The big money late-round picks don’t really exist anymore, but there is always going to be talent that slips into the late rounds. Not every “signability” guy will cost seven figures. New York paid over-slot for Georgia HS OF Dustin Fowler (18) and Missouri HS 3B Drew Bridges (20) after saving pool money by taking cheap college seniors in rounds six through ten. Fowler is the better prospect as an athletic outfielder with speed and a sweet lefty swing, but Bridges has some power potential and a knack for getting the fat part of the bat on the ball from the left side.
I think the Yankees had their best draft in several years this summer and that’s not only because of the extra first round picks, though those certainly helped. I’m talking about the quality of the players they landed with their picks. The added impact guys at the top of the draft, some important middle infield depth after that, and a lot of interesting late-round guys who could play roles down the road. This was a super important draft for New York and they did a bang-up job in my opinion.
Thanks to all the injuries, the Yankees went through a small army of infielders this past season. They went internal with Jayson Nix, Eduardo Nunez, David Adams, and Corban Joseph before going outside the organization for guys like Alberto Gonzalez, Chris Nelson, Luis Cruz, Brent Lillibridge, and Reid Brignac. Seven different players started a game at shortstop for New York in 2013 while ten (ten!) started a game at third. Eventually Brendan Ryan and Mark Reynolds helped stabilize things.
All four infield spots are a question mark right now for various reasons. Mark Teixeira and Derek Jeter are returning from major injury, Robinson Cano is a free agent, and Alex Rodriguez may or may not be suspended. Nunez, Nix, and (to a lesser extent) Adams played fairly regularly last season and failed to impress, at least impress enough to solidify their standing as viable infield options should the need arise in 2014. Adding infield depth will be a priority this offseason and so far it’s the only area the team has addressed.
Since re-signing Derek Jeter to a new one-year contract, the Yankees have reportedly agreed to re-sign Ryan and acquired Dean Anna in a minor trade. Ryan won’t hit at all but his defense is among the best in the game and allows him to be a net positive if playing everyday. He’s not great, mind you, but you can run him out there on a regular basis and get some return. The 26-year-old Anna is a lefty bat with little power but quite a bit of on-base ability, plus he’s capable at the two middle infield positions. With all due respect to Ben Paullus, the Single-A reliever who went to the Padres in the deal, Anna cost basically nothing.
To me, bringing back Ryan and adding Anna for depth is an indication the Yankees have either grown tired of Nunez or will non-tender Jayson Nix prior to next month’s deadline. Maybe both. Nix is projected to earn $1.4M through arbitration next year and although I think he’s perfectly fine as a rarely used backup infielder, that is a bit pricey for what he brings to the table. Maybe he’d be worth keeping at that price in a luxury tax-free world. Nunez has been in the big leagues for parts of four seasons now and he hasn’t hit (86 wRC+) or shown any real improvement defensively. There’s only so much patience you have have with someone who projects to be an okay player but not a star if things go right.
Nunez appears to have a minor league option remaining and can go to Triple-A Scranton next season, so the Yankees won’t have to worry about finding a spot for him. I doubt he would fetch much in a trade anyway. The club has him, Ryan, and Anna to serve as depth behind Jeter at the moment, though the obvious caveat is that the offseason is still very young. Nix could return on a minor league deal (I would like that very much, actually) but you couldn’t blame him if he sought out another team that offers more of an opportunity if he is non-tendered. As a veteran guy who’s been in the show a while, Ryan sits atop the utility infielder depth chart and will open the year on the bench if the Cap’n is healthy enough to play shortstop. Anna and Nunez are behind him.
Regardless of what happens to A-Rod, the Yankees have to bring in a capable third baseman because he’s going to miss time one way or another next season, either through suspension or injury. That still has to be done. Middle infield depth was another priority this winter given the uncertainty surrounding Jeter following his self-proclaimed nightmare season, and early on they’ve addressed that with the Ryan and Anna moves. Nix became expandable and so did Nunez, but there’s no sense in dumping him until absolutely necessary since he’ll earn something close to the minimum and can go to Triple-A. The Yankees have a lot of business to take of this winter, but they’ve already made a series of moves to upgrade the utility infielder spot and add middle infield depth.