Baseball Prospectus published their annual organizational rankings today and, best of all, you don’t need a subscription to read the piece. The entire thing is free. The Twins, led by elite prospects OF Byron Buxton and 3B Miguel Sano, sit at the top of the list and are followed by the Cubs and Pirates. The Angels predictably sit in the basement.
The Yankees rank 23rd and the write-up says they “have talent in the minors—which helps separate them from the poorer systems in baseball—but down years from key prospects caused the system to yo-yo from middle of the pack to the bottom third … In a talented yet schizophrenic system, all it takes is a return to form from some of the more heralded names on the farm and the Yankees will shoot back up the org rankings.” That sums it up pretty well, no? · (60) ·
It has been an easy to overlook part of their game, but the Yankees have been one of the most prolific base-stealing teams in baseball over the last decade. They’ve swiped 100+ bases in seven of the last eight seasons and their 1,117 steals since 2004 are the fourth most in the game. No one thinks of the Yankees as a base-stealing team but they’ve been among the best in recent years.
Of course, there is more to base-running than bulk stolen base totals. A lot more, really. Advancing on a ground ball, scoring from first on a double, going first-to-third on a single, all of that is important as well. Players don’t even need to be fast to be good base-runners, though speed sure does help. Between the incumbents and the players brought in over the winter, New York has a number of guys who can make plays on the bases if not flat-out cause chaos.
When the Yankees signed Ellsbury to that massive $153M contract back in December, they added arguably the best base-runner in the world to their roster. He led baseball with 52 steals last year and was only caught four (!) times, a 93% success rate that was easily the best among players who attempted at least 25 steals. Ellsbury has one 70 steal season (2009) and two other 50+ steal seasons (2008, 2013) to his credit. His career success rate is 84%, well above the current break-even point of 66-68%.
Over the last three seasons, Ellsbury has taken the extra base (first-to-third on a single, etc.) 49% of the time, which again is well above the 39-40% league-average. It’s worth noting that he took the extra base only 42% of the time last season, his lowest rate in five years. That doesn’t necessarily mean Ellsbury is slowing down or anything like that, we’re talking about a sample of 74 extra-base opportunities. The difference between 42% and 49% is five extra bases, that’s all. Ellsbury just turned 30 in September and there is little reason to think he will be anything but a base-running monster in 2014. If he stays healthy, 40+ steals and tons of extra bases taken feels like a lock.
I know I’m not the only one who was disappointed in Gardner’s stolen base total last summer. After stealing 96 bases (81% success rate) during his previous two healthy seasons from 2010-11, he dropped down to only 24 steals (75% success rate) in 2013. My hypothesis is that because their offense was so weak, the Yankees gave Gardner the red light a bunch of times last year in an effort to make sure there were runners on base for Robinson Cano. Maybe I’m crazy, who knows.
Gardner’s rate of taking the extra base is very similar to Ellsbury’s: 45% in 2013 and 48% from 2011-13. I think the thing that has kept both guys from being truly elite extra-base takers like Mike Trout (career 61%) has been their ballparks. Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park are small parks, so the outfielders can play a little shallower and get to balls hit in front of them a little quicker. It doesn’t take much to stop a guy from taking those extra 90 feet on a base hit.
Anyway, Gardner turned 30 about two weeks before Ellsbury, so he’s still relatively young and should continue to be a threat on the bases in 2014. Hopefully he gets back to being a 40+ steal guy because that’s when he’s at his best. Only once in their history have the Yankees had two 40+ stolen base players in one season (Steve Sax and Roberto Kelly in 1990), but Gardner and Ellsbury have a very real chance of doing it this summer.
Man, remember how exciting Soriano was when he first came up? He was this wiry little guy who hit for power and ran like the wind, hitting 95 homers and stealing 119 bases from 2001-03, his three full years with the Yankees. That was a baseball lifetime ago and 40+ steals are a thing of the past, but Soriano can still do some damage on the bases.
After swiping a total of 22 bases from 2009-12, Soriano rebounded to steal 18 bags last season, including eight in 58 games with New York. He wasn’t terribly efficient though, getting caught nine times total and four times in pinstripes. That 67% success rate is right on the break-even point. Soriano has also taken the extra base 38% of the time the last three years (41% in 2013), so he’s basically league average in that regard.
I’m not exactly sure what we can expect from the 38-year-old Soriano on the bases this coming season. Could he steal 10-15 bases with a 67% success rate while taking the extra base a league average amount of time? That seems very possible but I’m not sure he could do much better without a huge contract year push. I’d bet against one at his age. Soriano isn’t a Gardner/Ellsbury level base-runner, but he can steal the occasional bag and score from first on the occasional double.
Ichiro, 40, stole 20 bases in 24 attempts last year, second most on the team behind Gardner. His bulk stolen base total has gradually declined over the years but he remains highly efficient, with an 83% success rate both last year and over the last three years. He took the extra base 38% of the time last season and 40% over the last three seasons, so more or less league average.
The additions of Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran have pushed Ichiro into a fifth outfielder’s role, but he should still get plenty of chances to have an impact on the bases as a pinch-runner/spot starter. He keeps himself in phenomenal shape and even though he has clearly lost a step over the years, Ichiro is still a smart base-runner who picks his spots well. I think experience can be very valuable for a bench player and when it comes to running the bases in the late innings of a close game, few would be a better option than Ichiro. Running the bases is something he still does very well, it’s just a question of how often he’ll get to do it.
In the past, the Yankees could always count on their captain for stolen bases and smart base-running decisions, but following last season’s leg injury filled nightmare, it’s unclear if he’ll be of any value on the bases in 2014. Even when he was healthy in 2012, Jeter only stole nine base (in 13 attempts) while taking the extra base 38% of the time. What will he be able to do on the heels of a twice-fractured ankle and various leg muscle problems? The smart money is on not much.
It would be awesome is Jeter got back to being a threat on the bases this summer, but that should be the very least of his and the team’s concerns. He should focus on staying healthy and being productive at the plate, first and foremost. Those are the most important things in his final season. Any base-running value Jeter gives the team this year is icing on the cake. It just isn’t much of a priority at this point of his career.
* * *
Kelly Johnson has stolen 37 bases over the last three years but he only went 7-for-11 (64%) last season, and he took the extra base at a well-below-average 29% over the last three years. He might steal 10-15 bases this summer, but his history suggests he won’t be all that efficient on the bases. Beltran’s knees don’t allow him to run much anymore but Eduardo Nunez is always good for double-digit steals, even as a part-timer, and he took the extra bag at a league average rate from 2011-13.
Gardner and Ellsbury will clearly be the stars of the Yankees’ base-running show this season, and they have some nice support in Ichiro, Soriano, Nunez, and maybe Jeter. It feels like a foregone conclusion that they’ll again top 100+ stolen bases as a team this year and they should improve on their overall extra-base taken rate, which was the second worst in the game at only 35% last year.
The Yankees are reportedly done signing Major League free agents, but that doesn’t mean trades for established big leaguers are off the table. According to George King, the team will monitor second baseman Rickie Weeks, who could lose his starting job with the Brewers to youngster Scooter Gennett these next few weeks.
Weeks, 31, was limited to 104 games last season by a severe hamstring injury that required season-ending surgery in August. The 23-year-old Gennett took his spot in the lineup and hit .324/.356/.479 (131 wRC+) with six homers in 230 plate appearances down the stretch. Weeks has hit .222/.320/.384 (94 wRC+) with 31 homers and 23 steals these last two years, a far cry from his 2009-11 peak.
The Brewers would presumably love to shed Weeks and the $11M they owe him this season. This is not another Vernon Wells situation though; the elder Weeks brother has not been a total disaster the last two years. Below-average, yes, but not a Wellsian disaster. Trading a prospect and picking up that $11M tab would be tough to swallow with Stephen Drew still unsigned, but he is a name to keep in the back of your mind.
In other news, King says the White Sox are seeking catching help and had a scout on hand for yesterday’s game against Florida State. Frankie Cervelli, John Ryan Murphy, and Gary Sanchez all played in the game. “There has been no dialogue … I wouldn’t comment on interest,” said Brian Cashman when asked about a potential deal with Chicago.
The Yankees are prioritizing infield and bullpen help this spring, to no one’s surprise. The ChiSox could offer perennial disappointment Gordon Beckham or free agent flop Jeff Keppinger, who New York showed some interest in at the trade deadline last year, according to King. The 33-year-old hit .253/.283/.317 (60 wRC+) last summer and is owed $9.5M through 2015. Beckham, 27, managed a .267/.322/.372 (88 wRC+) line last year, his best season since 2009. He’s owed $4.175M this year and is under team control in 2015 as well.
Beckham was much more interesting a year or two ago, when he on the right side of 25 and still had some of that top prospect shine. We now have nearly 2,500 big league plate appearances saying this guy is a below-average Major League hitter and there have been no signs of improvement in recent years. As badly as they need infield help, I think the Yankees have to be careful not to overrate their catching depth. It can disappear in a hurry.
I swear, coming up with a half-decent title for these “thoughts” posts is tougher than writing up the thoughts themselves most of the time. Anyway, the Yankees open the Grapefruit League portion of their Spring Training schedule later today, so here are some scattered thoughts for the meantime.
1. The Brett Gardner extension is making it much tougher for me to get on board with the Jacoby Ellsbury signing. I wasn’t a fan of the Ellsbury deal the day it was signed and I’ve tried to warm up to in recent weeks, but a similar player getting one-third of the money isn’t helping matters. The Yankees stunk offensively last year because they didn’t have enough power or high on-base guys. Ellsbury doesn’t help correct either problem all that much. Shin-Soo Choo would have in a big way. The Yankees did offer a Choo a huge contract (even after signing Ellsbury) and he turned them down, so at least they tried to sign him, but man an Alfonso Soriano/Carlos Beltran-Gardner-Choo outfield looks so much better than a Gardner-Ellsbury-Soriano/Beltran outfield to me.
2. Know how the Yankees always seem to get burned whenever they play an infield shift? For years they’ve had a knack for shifting infielders to the wrong place at the wrong time. We only had anecdotal evidence and that doesn’t mean all that much, but that is no longer the case. Jeff Zimmerman at the Hardball Times ran some numbers and figured out how successful each team was at shifting last season. When the Yankees had a normal infield alignment, the opposing team’s BABIP was .307. When the Yankees played some kind of shift, the opposing team’s BABIP was .325. So yeah, a batted ball was more likely to go for a hit against New York when they played the shift than when they didn’t. This is only one year of data (326 balls in play), so we can’t read too much into it, but at least now we know the team’s penchant for getting burned while trying to shift was a real thing in 2013. I wonder how much of that is due to a lack of rangy infielders than actual positioning.
3. One player I’m going to be paying extra special attention to these next few weeks is Scott Sizemore. Mostly, I want see how he’s moving around following back-to-back torn left ACLs. I think he has the best of chance of being a league average player — league average players are really valuable! — among the guys competing for the final bench spot (Dean Anna, Eduardo Nunez, etc.) but he has to make the team first, and that means he has to show the knee is healthy enough to move quickly in the field and on the bases. Sizemore had a real nice half-season with the Athletics two years ago (118 wRC+ and 11 HR) and if he can come remotely close to doing that over a full season, it’ll be a enormous boost. Coming back from two lost seasons will be tough though.
4. Joe Girardi confirmed the other day that both David Phelps and Adam Warren will make the team in some capacity, which isn’t all that surprising. It does confirm there are three open bullpen spots at the most though, and that assumes Michael Pineda and Vidal Nuno will start the year with Triple-A Scranton rather than in the bullpen. If I had to put money on it today, I would bet on Preston Claiborne, Dellin Betances, and Cesar Cabral getting those last three spots. But still, there are five weeks worth of exhibition games left and lots can change. Part of me is very interested to see what Jose Ramirez and Manny Banuelos can do in short relief stints and I’m sure we’ll see those two (and others) at some point this summer. History says the bullpen on Opening Day and the bullpen in September will look very different.
5. Who is your pick for the annual “random player has a huge Spring Training and people will say he should make the team” storyline? Previous storyliners include Jon Weber (1.032 OPS in 2010) and Jorge Vazquez (1.209 OPS in 2011). Looking at the list of non-roster invitees, I’ll go with Antoan Richardson, the speedy switch-hitting outfielder. He’ll hit like .450 in camp, give or take. So consider this your annual reminder that Spring Training stats mean almost nothing for many reasons. One, the sample size is inherently small. Two, the level of competition varies wildly from day-to-day and even inning-to-inning. Three, players tend to work on stuff in Spring Training, not get results. You’ll see a pitcher throw something like 25 changeups in a two-inning outing just because he’s trying to get a feel for that pitch before the season. It will be tough to ignore stats this spring because of the various competitions (fifth starter, bench, bullpen), but trust me, you don’t get too caught up in the numbers these next few weeks.
Via El Heraldo (translated article): The Yankees have signed 17-year-old Colombian right-hander Juan Escorcia. He was one of 60 players they scouted at a recent workout. No word on the bonus but chances are it’s relatively small. The news would be everywhere if it was substantial.
“Escorcia is a right-hander who was highlighted in the evaluation process for the ease of his arm strength and pitching consistency,” said Luis Sierra Llamas, one of the team’s scouts in Colombia. Escorcia is said to stand 5-foot-11 with a fastball that sits around 90 mph, so yeah, he’s got quite a bit of development ahead of him before becoming a serious prospect. · (27) ·
The Yankees played their first exhibition game of the year this afternoon, beating Florida State 8-3. Back-to-back doubles by Zoilo Almonte and Brendan Ryan created the first run while a Gary Sanchez sacrifice fly drove home the second. The sac fly was actually a foul pop-up near the on-deck circle, but no one bothered to cover the plate so the runner came home. Spring Training baseball against a college team, y’all.
The box score is right here. Vidal Nuno struck out three in two scoreless innings while Brett Gardner (infield single), Frankie Cervelli (5-4-3 double play), and Kelly Johnson (strikeout looking) got one at-bat apiece. Ramon Flores hit a solo homer, Dean Anna doubled once, and John Ryan Murphy doubled twice. Shane Greene allowed all three runs in his two innings of work. Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston (above) went 0-for-2 with a strikeout and a ground out to second. Here is everything else from Tampa.
- CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, and Masahiro Tanaka will make their Spring Training debuts against the Phillies on Saturday. That game will be on YES, MLB Network, and MLB.tv. All three guys are slated to go two innings or 35 pitches. [Erik Boland, Bob Klapisch]
- Chad Jennings has the workout assignments for the guys who didn’t play in today’s game. David Robertson, Shawn Kelley, and Matt Thornton were among those to throw live batting practice. Alfonso Soriano hit on the field after missing the last few days with the flu.
- Tyler Austin‘s wrist feels “significantly” better, but he is not scheduled to take batting practice anytime soon. He is getting treatment daily and it continues to improve. Austin has been dealing with this issue since last April, so he’s not exactly out of the woods yet. [Jennings]
- Among the players making the trip to Bradenton for tomorrow’s Grapefruit League opener are Carlos Beltran, Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann, Preston Claiborne, and Dellin Betances. Ivan Nova gets the start against the Pirates. [Mark Feinsand, Jennings]
This your open thread for the evening. None of the hockey or basketball locals are in action, so you’re on your own for entertainment. Talk about anything your heart desires right here. Have at it.
Via George King: The Yankees were one of seven teams in attendance for Johan Santana’s workout at a Florida high school earlier today. He topped out at 81 mph and sat mostly in the 77-78 mph range, though his changeup was said to be “impressive.” Scout Tim Naehring was at the workout for the team.
Santana, 35 next month, had surgery to repair a torn shoulder capsule last April, his second such procedure. He is still in rehab mode, so it’s no surprise his arm strength was less than stellar, but torn capsules are usually the kiss of death and Johan has now had two of them. There is no such thing as too much pitching depth but the Yankees do have plenty of fifth starter candidates at the moment. No reason to give Santana even a minor league deal until he shows more arm strength. · (29) ·
Does anyone honestly want to hear a recap of the 2013 Yankees injury situation? From the revelation that Alex Rodriguez would miss at least half the season, to Brett Gardner‘s strained oblique in September, injuries buried the team.
What hurt the 2013 team could make the 2014 team stronger. Two key players who missed almost all of the 2013 season appear to be healthy in 2014.
How much did losing Teixeira hurt the Yankees in 2013? His relatively weak 2012 campaign might obscure his overall impact. Particularly in terms of power output, losing Teixeira hurt badly.
The Yankees went from an AL-leading .188 ISO in 2012 to a third-lowest .133 in 2013. A good portion of that loss came from free agent departures. Eric Chavez, Raul Ibanez, Andruw Jones, Nick Swisher, and Russell Martin were the Nos. 4 through 8 power producers on the team.
Not only was Teixeira the No. 3 power source on the 2012 team, but he ranked No. 23 (out of 143) in all of MLB. In a season when the Yankees needed their power guys more than ever, they lost almost all of them to injury.
Getting a healthy Teixeira in 2014 could provide the lineup with the power boost that it needs. (Particularly at first base, where they had the worst OPS in the AL in 2014.) Yet the question remains: what will Teixeira look list after serious wrist surgery?
The closest comparison is Jose Bautista, who did experience a power dip in 2013, after suffering a similar injury in 2012. Yet there are two mitigating factors here:
1) Bautista underwent his surgery almost two months later in the season than Teixeira, so Teixeira could be further along in the healing process.
2) Bautista did still produce quality power numbers in 2013, producing the eighth-highest ISO in the majors. That’s a drop-off from his No. 1 mark in 2011, but by no means a cliff dive.
There is no way Teixeira can be worse than Lyle Overbay and the 2013 cast of first-base misfits, so his return will be welcome regardless of actual outcome. At the same time, his return to form as a middle of the order bat will go a long way in powering the 2014 Yankees lineup.
Ladies and gentlemen, it feels so good to be back — only it didn’t. Each time Jeter returned last season he struggled physically. It honestly came as no surprise, at least in hindsight.
Baseball players rely on their lower halves. A novice observer might see the upper body central in every baseball movement; the ball and bat sit in our hands, after all. But everything that sets great players apart comes in the lower half. Swinging, throwing, and defensive range all rely on strong hips and legs.
Coming into 2014, Derek Jeter’s lower half was probably the weakest of his career. The ankle injury that ended his 2012 season prevented him from strengthening his hips and legs during the off-season. Sure, physical therapy got him to a certain base of strength, but that base is hardly enough to power a pro baseball player.
Jeter, unused to such physical limitations, pushed himself too hard and reinjured his ankle. Again, that meant rest and no opportunity to strengthen his lower half. Why did he injure his squad, then his calf, and then his ankle again in 2013? Because his legs were weaker than ever.
A full off-season to build strength should benefit Jeter. It’s tough to expect much of him this year, his final season, one during which he will turn 40 years old. At the same time, he is Derek Jeter. With physical strength behind him, perhaps he could come close to the .316/.362/.429 line he produced in his last fully healthy season.
As with Teixeira, it’s difficult to see Jeter not improving on last year’s shortstop production, which ranked 14th out of 15 AL teams.
Seeing as he’s the best second baseman in the league, the Yankees had no chance of replacing Robinson Cano‘s production this off-season. What they did, instead, was reinforce other areas of weakness in hopes that they can spread Cano’s production among many positions.
The man tasked with actually replacing Cano has not been known for his reliability in recent years. After three straight years of more than 700 PA, Brian Roberts has managed just 809 in the last four seasons combined. Worse, his combined numbers during that span are worse than any single season he’s produced since 2003.
Getting a relatively healthy 2014 from Roberts will go a long way for the Yankees. It’s tough to expect him to repeat his last fully healthy season, considering that was four full years ago. He did get better as last season progressed, though, so perhaps a healthy Roberts can still be a productive player.
The bet is a long one, as we all know. If the Yankees win, they get a slightly below average hitter at 2B (which would be above average for the position) for a low cost. If they lose, they have to replace Roberts from within, which means that the best among Eduardo Nunez, Dean Anna, or Corban Joseph gets the spot. (Or it could be Kelly Johnson with one of the above, or Scott Sizemore at third.)
In 2013 Cervelli got his big chance. With Russ Martin gone and no other surefire starting catcher candidate on the roster, he could get some consistent playing time. He responded well early, producing a .877 OPS in 61 PA.
Then he got hit with a foul ball and broke his hand. Before he came back he suffered an elbow problem that kept him on the shelf longer. Then he got suspended for his involvement in Biogensis. Now he’s sitting behind Brian McCann, one of the best-hitting catchers in the league, on the depth chart.
Given his lack of minor league options and his relative experience, Cervelli figures to get the backup job. His return from injury can help prevent the catcher spot from being an offensive black hole when McCann takes days off. He might also make it easier to give McCann days at DH, limiting the wear and tear on the starter.
Most of all, a successful return from injury could raise Cervelli’s trade value. The Yankees will absolutely need help at the trade deadline. A healthy catcher who still has a few years of team control remaining could prove a valuable bargaining chip. With John Ryan Murphy and even Austin Romine ready at AAA, they can certainly afford to part with Cervelli.
What hurt in 2013 can help in 2014. The Yankees will get back a number of players whose absences hurt them immensely. Combined with the new guys, and we could see significant improvement this time around.
Outside of Matt Thornton and some minor league pickups, the Yankees didn’t do much to improve their bullpen this past offseason. David Robertson will take over as closer but the team did not replace Mariano Rivera in the sense that they lost an elite reliever and didn’t pick up anyone to take his spot. New York has a bunch of interesting young guys in camp and Joe Girardi always seems to cobble together a good bullpen out of nowhere, so it might not even be a problem.
The Yankees signed former All-Star closer Andrew Bailey to a minor league contract over the weekend, but that move is geared more towards 2015 than 2014. He is rehabbing from surgery to repair a torn shoulder capsule (and labrum!) and both Girardi and Brian Cashman confirmed that if he does pitch this year, it won’t be until late-August or September. According to Andy Martino, the Yankees have been monitoring two other relievers who are returning from injury and could provide more immediate help:
It turns out the Yanks sent a scout to a recent showcase for former Phillies closer Ryan Madson, according to a source — and while impressed by Madson’s arm after two years of rough recovery from Tommy John surgery, the team considered his asking price excessive.
The Yankees also continue to monitor another another former All-Star, Joel Hanrahan, who underwent Tommy John last year (the Mets have also watched him throw a bullpen session). If Robertson is successful, a player like Hanrahan would probably serve as a setup man.
Madson is the rare Tommy John surgery failure story — he had the procedure two years ago and has not pitched since due to continued setbacks and complications. The 33-year-old has been working out for teams for a few weeks now and there have been no reports of his asking price, whatever it may be. After two lost years, I’ve been assuming he would have to take a minor league deal like Bailey. I guess he’s shooting for more since he’s in a better position to help a team right away.
Hanrahan, 32, not only had Tommy John surgery last May, he also had his flexor tendon repaired and bone chips removed from his elbow. They did all three procedures at once and while he is currently throwing off a mound, Hanrahan isn’t expected to be game ready until May or June. There’s a chance he will be ready sooner rather than later just because he’s a one-inning reliever and won’t have to get stretched back out like a starter.
Given his timetable and the nature of his injury, Hanrahan might be the best 2014 bullpen option among himself, Bailey, and Madson. We know Bailey won’t be able to help until late in the year, if at all. Madson hasn’t pitched in two years and since he’s already had so many setbacks with the elbow, I don’t think you can count on him to be healthy and productive until he’s actually on a big league mound being healthy and productive. All three guys were elite when they were last healthy, but Hanrahan’s injury is the least severe. (They’re all severe, obviously.)
The Yankees have been signing injured pitchers and waiting for them to get healthy for years. They did it with Jon Lieber (worked out) and Octavio Dotel (didn’t work out) back in the day and with David Aardsma (didn’t work out) more recently. Bailey is the latest example and if Madson’s demands remain excessive for a pitcher who hasn’t pitched in two years, Hanrahan could be the next. With nothing but scraps left on the free agent market and teams not really looking to trade relievers at the moment, he is their best option for potential high-end bullpen help in the near future.
Over the last three months, the Yankees have committed 12 contract years and $210.6M in guaranteed money to Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner. That’s a lot of cash and a lot of years for a pair of defense-first outfielders who will steal a bunch of bases but not hit for much power. Years ago, these two guys wouldn’t sniff that kind of money, but teams now better understand and value players who contribute in less obvious ways.
Having both Ellsbury and Gardner signed for at least the next five years impacts the Yankees in a lot of ways. First and foremost, they don’t have to worry about fly balls all that much because those two will track down almost anything. They also don’t need to sweat finding a leadoff man in the post-Derek Jeter era because they now have two of them. Having two-thirds of the starting outfield signed long-term makes life a bit easier, no doubt about it.
On the other hand, having both Ellsbury and Gardner signed for the next half-decade also creates some problems. Well, not to much problem. Just things to consider. They are two very similar players and that makes them somewhat redundant, especially offensively. Don’t get me wrong, guys who get on base and steal bases can be very dangerous, but there also needs to be some diversity to the lineup. The power is going to have to come from somewhere, and with two outfielders signed long-term, it will have to come from the infield.
The good news is that the Yankees have a clean slate on the infield, or close to one anyway. Mark Teixeira is signed to play first base for another three years but Derek Jeter is retiring after the season and both Kelly Johnson and Brian Roberts are on one-year contracts. The team has a lot of flexibility when it comes to building their future infield, and that’s great. At the same time, holy crap they need to build three-fourths of an infield next winter. That’s a big deal and it’s a lot of work.
The Yankees’ best infield prospects (Eric Jagielo, Abi Avelino, etc.) are still years away from the big leagues and future free agent classes are pretty terrible. Next year’s class will get even worse as players sign extensions, most notably Hanley Ramirez. He recently said he wants to spend the rest of his career with the Dodgers and they have the money to keep him around that long. Hanley would be a great fit as a power-hitting infielder, though others like J.J. Hardy, Chase Headley, and Pablo Sandoval would make sense as well.
There aren’t many power-hitting infielders out there — only 13 non-first base infielders have had at least 40 extra-base hits in each of the last three seasons — so finding two or three of them won’t be easy in the coming years. The Yankees are going to have to dig up a few guys like that though, that is unless they plan on becoming a speed-first team despite playing in a tiny ballpark in the AL East. The Gardner and Ellsbury deals mean New York will have to target some infielders who can rake for the coming years.