Third base option off the board: Marlins sign Jeff Baker

Via Joel Sherman: The Marlins have signed utility man Jeff Baker to a two-year contract worth $3.75M, plus incentives. The Yankees had interest in him earlier this offseason and he made a lot of sense as the right-handed half of a third base platoon. Asking him to play the hot corner everyday would have been a real stretch though. Baker signed a minor league deal last summer, so I’m guessing that two-year guarantee (plus the promise of lots of playing time) put the Marlins over the top.


Scouting The Free Agent Market: Jeff Baker

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.

Sherman: Yankees have expressed interest in Jeff Baker

Via Joel Sherman: The Yankees have expressed interest in free agent utility man Jeff Baker. They’ve been connected to him a few times over the years but never did land him. New York added Brian Roberts earlier today and are still looking for position player help, particularly on the infield.

Baker, 32, hit .279/.360/.545 (143 wRC+) with eleven homers in only 175 plate appearances for the Rangers last season while missing more than a month with a thumb sprain suffered during a high-five (not joking). The right-handed batter has a history of mashing lefties (186 wRC+ in 2013 and 128 career), plus he has experience at the three non-shortstop infield positions as well as both corner outfield spots. Baker fits the roster really well in a platoon role. Makes a lot of sense.

Heyman: Yankees still seeking right-handed bat

This is no surprise, but Jon Heyman says the Yankees continue to seek a right-handed bat for the bench. He reiterates that Scott Hairston and Vernon Wells are options, though he adds another candidate to the mix: Jeff Baker. I wrote a Scouting The Market post for the 31-year-old back in July, so I’ll just refer you to that and give you the short version here: he hits lefties well and has a ton of experience at first, third, and in right field. Baker is almost certainly a one-year contract guy (though who knows with this market), something that isn’t true for Wells or Hairston.

Scouting The Trade Market: Jeff Baker

(Brian Kersey/Getty Images)

The trade deadline is just three days away, and Alex Rodriguez‘s broken hand has given the Yankees a clear need for help at third base. Marco Scutaro, Ryan Roberts, and Omar Infante have all been dealt already and apparently Ty Wigginton is off limits since Placido Polanco is hurt. The infield pickin’s are slim, but not barren.

Once again we’re going to turn our attention to a non-contender for potential help, this time the Chicago Cubs. They’re looking to move significant pieces like Ryan Dempster, Matt Garza, and Alfonso Soriano, but the best fit for the Yankees may be complementary player Jeff Baker. The 31-year-old utility man is have a solid season (105 wRC+) as the team’s right-handed bat off the bench, but when you’re as deep into a rebuild as the Cubbies, no player is untouchable. Let’s see if he’s a fit for the Yankees….

The Pros

  • Baker can hit a little, with a 108 wRC+ against lefties and a 101 wRC+ against righties this season. Since the start of 2010, he’s tagged lefties to the tune of a 129 wRC+ with a .186 ISO and a measly 14.1% strikeout rate.
  • He’s versatile, having spent lots of time at first, second, third, and in right field during his career. Second base doesn’t happen too often these days, but Baker can play there in a pinch.
  • A rental player scheduled to become a free agent after the season, Baker is making $1.375M this season. That’s roughly $525k the rest of the way. He also has a minor league option remaining, though at his service time level he can refuse the assignment so it doesn’t really matter.

The Cons

  • Baker’s a strict platoon guy. He has nice numbers against righties this year, but since the start of 2010 it’s just a 23 wRC+ with a 34.2% strikeout rate. The breaking ball away gives him fits.
  • Despite all that versatility, Baker is a considered a below average defender at every position he plays by the various defensive metrics. Much like Wigginton, he’s a first baseman who plays other positions because his manager tells him to.
  • Baker hasn’t been the most durable player in the world — he visited the DL twice with groin strains last year and missed more than two months with a hand issue in 2009. He’s been healthy this year though.

The Yankees aren’t necessarily looking at an upgrade over Eric Chavez or Jayson Nix, at this point they’re seeking an upgrade over Ramiro Pena as the extra infielder. That might be Brandon Laird or Eduardo Nunez, but Baker also makes some sense as a lefty masher who can fake multiple positions. Adding marginal wins means very little to New York at this point given their nine-game lead in the division, but the goal really isn’t to improve the team’s chances of winning. It’s to keep Chavez healthy and limit his exposure — so he can be a pinch-hitting weapon in the postseason — while still having a competent player at the hot corner.

Scutaro was traded just last night for an okay infield prospect, and that gives us some kind of reference point for a trade package. The Cubs insist on pitching in any move though, so perhaps a second or third tier arm like Mikey O’Brien or Shane Greene gets it done. If it doesn’t, then acquiring Baker probably isn’t worth the effort. He’s a nice role player for platoon situations but nothing more.