2013 Season Preview: The Third Basemen

Starting this week and continuing through the end of the Spring Training, we’re going to preview the Yankees position-by-position and on a couple of different levels.

(Star-Ledger)
(Star-Ledger)

For the first time since 2003, the Yankees figure to have someone other than Alex Rodriguez play the majority of their games at third base this season. A-Rod is recovering from a(nother) hip surgery and will be out until midseason, leaving the team without one of its most potent right-handed hitters following an offseason that saw a few too many power bats depart via free agency.

The Starter(s)
It was supposed to be A-Rod, but the surgery will keep him on the sidelines until the All-Star break if not longer. The Yankees replaced him by signed Kevin Youkilis to a one-year deal worth $12M, and suddenly he’s become a very important part of the offense now that Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira will open the year on the DL.

Youkilis, who turns 34 one week from today, put up a .235/.336/.409 (102 wRC+) batting line in 509 plate appearances for the Red Sox and White Sox last summer. He did go deep 19 times and drew his usually high amount of walks (10.0%), but his game has been on a steady decline for years now. Just look at his graphs page on FanGraphs, everything is heading in the wrong direction. Youkilis is hitting more and more ground balls with each passing year, which is a classic symptom of an older player losing bat speed. To his credit, he worked with hitting coach Kevin Long in the offseason to shorten his stride and compensate.

Despite that decline, Youkilis is still a useful player. He absolutely annihilates left-handers, tagging them for a .275/.386/.492 (135 wRC+) line last year and a .323/.436/.598 (174 wRC+) line over the last three seasons. No hitter in baseball has been more productive (by wRC+) against southpaws since 2010. His defense at the hot corner is below-average but not a disaster, plus he can slide over to first base without a problem. Youkilis is injury prone, having visited the DL in each of the last three seasons (thumb, back, hernia). The Yankees need him to stay on the field in 2013, especially early in the season.

(Getty)
(Getty)

Of course, Youkilis is only the third baseman because A-Rod will miss the first half of the season. He’s visited the DL every year since signing his $275M scarlet letter prior to the 2008 season, but this injury is the most serious: a torn left hip labrum, a bone impingement, and a cyst. The doctors say he will make a full recovery but the Alex of old is long gone. His .272/.353/.430 (114 wRC+) performance in 2012 was solidly above-average but far below his career norms. Like Youkilis, almost everything on A-Rod’s graphs page is going in the wrong direction.

For all intents and purposes, the Yankees have to proceed under the assumption that Rodriguez will not be back this season. They can’t count on him for anything, let alone to ride in on a white horse to save the offense in the second half. It’s unclear how the new hip procedure will impact his swing — he was unable to use his lower half as much following the right hip surgery in 2009, and that injury was less severe — or his defense or his mobility. Anything the club gets out of Alex in 2013 is total gravy. Youkilis will be counted on as the starter until his contract expires as far as I’m concerned.

The Backup
With the Yankees continuing to groom Eduardo Nunez as a shortstop and Dan Johnson both failing his Spring Training hot corner audition and being needed at first base in the wake of Teixeira’s injury, the backup third baseman is Jayson Nix. The 30-year-old is a versatile little player who does almost all of his offensive damage against lefties (97 wRC+ in 2012 and 94 career) and has surprising pop (career .157 ISO). Unless the Yankees swing an unexpected trade before the season begins, Nix will be Youkilis’ primary backup at the hot corner and he could play pretty much full-time against southpaws if Johnson takes over at first.

It hasn't been pretty for CoJo at the hot corner in camp. (Presswire)
It hasn’t been pretty for CoJo at the hot corner in camp. (Presswire)

Knocking on the Door
The Bombers do have some third base depth in Triple-A Scranton. David Adams and Corban Joseph are both second basemen by trade, but the 25-year-old Adams shifted over to third late last year while the 24-year-old Joseph has played the position quite a bit in the spring. Outside of one being a right-handed hitter (Adams) and the other being a lefty (Joseph), the two players are very similar. They are both willing to take a walk and can hit for doubles power, though their glovework leaves something to be desired. Joseph in general has trouble making the long throw across the diamond. He’s expected to open the year at second base in Triple-A while Adams mans third, but both will surely get reps at each position to stay fresh.

It’s worth mentioning 28-year-old Ronnie Mustelier here, who played third base in yesterday’s Grapefruit League game — Joe Girardi said that was planned before Teixeira’s injury — and has played 26 games at the position in the minors since signing two years ago. The Yankees have moved him down the defensive spectrum from second to third to left in the last 20 months or so, but it’s fair to wonder if they’ll give him a longer look at third in the coming weeks. Mustelier can hit a fastball and put the ball in play, but the defense is a question. I don’t think he’s a legitimate third base candidate at the big league level but we shouldn’t rule it out.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Top Prospect
There’s a pretty strong case to be made that the team’s best third base prospect is an outfielder. Tyler Austin — who ranked third on my preseason top 30 prospects list — moved off the hot corner last year in deference to 2011 first rounder Dante Bichette Jr., and he mashed (.322/.400/.559 and ~163 wRC+) his way up to Double-A Trenton while settling into right field. The Yankees have considered moving him back to third base, but as far as we know that won’t happen. It’s not like the club has a long-term right fielder in place, so no big deal. He’ll open the year back with Trenton and we shouldn’t rule him out as a big league factor for 2013, but it’s unlikely. Boy can he hit though.

Outside of Austin and multi-position infielders Adams and Joseph, the Yankees’ top true third base prospect is Bichette. I ranked him 27th on my preseason top 30 for a few reasons, most notably because he fell back into some bad swing habits and had a miserable season with Low-A Charleston (.248/.322/.331 and 85 wRC+). Bichette was named the MVP of the rookie level Gulf Coast League Yankees after signing in 2011 because he made some adjustments at the plate, but he has to get back to being that guy if he wants to avoid becoming a non-prospect less than three years after being drafted. The Yankees will return him to the River Dogs this year and he’s a long way from being a big league factor.

The Deep Sleeper
New York spent $750k to sign 18-year-old Miguel Andujar out of the Dominican Republic back in 2011, then he hit .232/.288/.299 (80 wRC+) in 191 plate appearances for the rookie level GCL club in his pro debut last summer. Disappointing performance aside, Andujar is the team’s best lower level third base prospect because he’s a solid all-around player with no carrying tool but no real weakness. He has good pop and hitting ability from the right side to go along with strong defense at the position. If he grows into some more power or suddenly becomes a much more adept defender, Andujar will raise his profile quite a bit. He’ll open the year back in Extended Spring Training before joining Short Season Staten Island in June, though he doesn’t have a ton of breakout potential.

* * *

The Yankees have a decent amount of third base depth at the upper levels, but they lack a true impact player at the position. I suppose Youkilis could surprise and revert to his 2008-2010 ways, but he’s a deal pull right-handed hitter who will no longer have the advantage of the Green Monster. Despite its general hitter friendliness, Yankee Stadium is not kind to pull-happy righties. Nix, Adams, Joseph and even Mustelier are decent alternatives and emergency options, but the front office should keep their eyes peeled for corner infield help while Teixeira is out, even if it means acquiring a new starting third baseman with Youkilis sliding over to first.

Other Previews: Catchers, First Basemen, Second Basemen, Shortstops

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Poll: Replacing Curtis Granderson

(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

The dust has settled a little bit following the news of Curtis Granderson‘s fractured forearm on Sunday. The Yankees will be without their 40-homer center left fielder for the next ten weeks, meaning he will miss the first month of the season. It’s a big loss, no doubt about it, but they are lucky it happened so early in Spring Training. Things would have been a lot worse had he gotten hurt on March 24th instead of February 24th.

As expected, the Yankees insist they will plug their new outfield hole from within. The Johnny Damon talk has already fizzled out while the Alfonso Soriano talk never really got going. The only unsigned free agent outfielder who is both healthy and actually capable of playing the outfield everyday is Scott Podsednik. Thanks, but no thanks. The Yankees will stick with their internal options and see if (hope?) a better alternative pops up next month as camp winds down and roster spots are finalized. Here is a quick look at those internal options, listed alphabetically.

Zoilo Almonte
Almonte, 23, is a switch-hitter who managed a power-heavy 120 wRC+ with Double-A Trenton last year. He hit a career-high 21 homers and also stole 15 bases, though his miniscule walk rate (5.6%) and strikeout concerns (22.7%) seem to make skipping over Triple-A a risky proposition. Zoilo’s pop is legit, but the rest of the package is lacking.

Matt Diaz
Diaz was in the running for the right-handed outfield platoon bat role before Granderson’s injury, so it seems natural that he would be among the favorites for the job now. The soon-to-be 35-year-old hasn’t hit in three years (80 wRC+), due to in part to various injuries — getting stabbed in the hand by a palm tree and dealing with the subsequent infections chief among them. Diaz is on a minor league contract and was a total shot in the dark by the front office, who hopes he can recapture his 2006-2009 form (117 wRC+).

Adonis Garcia
Here’s the darkhorse. The 27-year-old Garcia signed for $400k last summer and has impressed with his bat ever since, especially in winter ball (.292/.319/.481 with six homers in 39 games). As Baseball America wrote earlier this month, the right-handed hitter “is a better fit on a corner outfield spot and doesn’t have an impact bat, but he’s shown a knack for hitting and surprising pop for his 5-foot-9 stature.” Garcia is not on the 40-man roster, which could hurt his chances.

Melky Mesa
Mesa, 26, is the best all-around player of the bunch. He can swing-and-miss from the right side with the best of ‘em (career-low 23.5 K% in 2012), but he’s hit at a better than average rate at each rung of the minor league ladder, including a ~125 wRC+ split between Double-A and Triple-A last year. Mesa has power and speed — at least 19 homers and 19 steals in three of the last four years — to go along with standout defense and a strong arm. Among players in the organization who could legitimately see big league time this summer, Melky2.0 is probably the second best defender behind Brett Gardner. He got his first taste of the show last September.

Ronnie Mustelier
Everyone loves the right-handed hitting Mustelier, the 28-year-old Cuban defector who has managed a ~144 wRC+ since signing for a measly $50k two years ago. His strikeout rate (13.0%) is strong, his walk rate (6.7%) slightly less so. The concern with Mustelier is his defense, which is poor and has gotten him moved down the defensive spectrum form second base to third to left over the last 20 months or so. He can hit a fastball though.

Thomas Neal
Neal, 25, seems to be the afterthought in all this. The righty swinger managed a 144 wRC+ with 12 homers and 11 stolen bases in Double-A last year, making his big league debut with the Indians in September. He has some Triple-A time under his belt (277 plate appearances) and is solid defensively. Neal is a long shot, but he shouldn’t be written off completely. Like Garcia and Mustelier, he is not on the 40-man roster.

Juan Rivera
Like Diaz, the Yankees inked the 34-year-old Rivera to a minor league deal so he could complete for the right-handed bench bat role. The former Yankee is, by far, the most experienced and accomplished player in this post. He’s hit to the tune of a 92 wRC+ over the last three seasons and despite being a strong defensive player once upon a time, he’s now comfortably below-average. Rivera’s best attribute is his ability to put the ball in play (12.9 K% since 2010).

* * *

Ramon Flores is on the 40-man roster, but I have no reason to think the Yankees will jump him from High-A to MLB just to plug a one-month hole. Same goes with top prospects/non-40-man players Slade Heathcott, Mason Williams, and Tyler Austin. If you want some projections for the players mentioned in this post, SG has you covered. Otherwise, time to vote…

Who should be the regular left fielder while Granderson is on the DL?
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The Obligatory Ronnie Mustelier Post

(Rudy C. Jones/MiLB.com)

The bench, particularly a right-handed hitting outfielder, and the DH spot have been the Yankees’ primary areas of focus these last few weeks and that will probably continue until pitchers and catchers report in five weeks. The free agent market still has several DH-type players available and the club does have Matt Diaz, Russ Canzler, and Melky Mesa in-house as candidates for that right-handed outfield bat role. They also have a fourth internal option in Ronnie Mustelier, who Michael Eder at The Yankee Analysts wrote about this week and a number of people have emailed me about these last few months. I figured it was time to chime in.

First things first, we have to understand that we know very little about Mustelier. We do know that he defected from Cuba in late-2009 and signed with the Yankees in June 2011 thanks to Matt Eddy at Baseball America. We also know that he turned 28 this past August, hit .301/.407/.517 in Cuba from 2007-2009, and is a career .324/.378/.497 hitter across four minor league levels because that’s what Baseball-Reference tells us. He doesn’t have a platoon split according to Minor League Central, and his overall strikeout rate (13.0%) is pretty great in 656 minor league plate appearances. We have to remember that he was old for every level, however. Mustelier’s a right-handed hitter who has played second and third bases as well as both outfield corners since signing with New York. The vast majority of his 2012 season was spent in left. If MiLB.com’s bio information is to be trusted, we also know he’s a little portly at 5-foot-10 and 210 lbs.

That’s pretty much it. The closest thing we have to an actually scouting report on Mustelier is this collection of quotes from VP of Baseball Ops Mark Newman back in early-October (Baseball America subs. req’d)…

“He has a very short stroke and pretty good balance … He strikes out once in every seven at-bats. His walks are below-average but he puts the ball in play … He played third, second, left and right … We are trying to find out where his best defensive position is and what our needs are … He can run and cover ground … He can also play right. He improved defensively over the course of the season.”

Within that same link we learn the Yankees signed Mustelier for just $50k, a pittance compared to most Cuban defectors. You have to take an organization’s quotes on its own players with a big grain of salt because of course they’re going to talk the guy up. Newman’s stuff on Mustelier isn’t outrageous though, it’s not like he called him a plus defender with elite bat speed or something. That would have been a little weird given the modest signing bonus, which indicates little interest from around the league.

Baseball America’s John Manuel offered up his take on Mustelier during the publication’s Top 20 Triple-A International League Prospects chat back in early-October (subs. req’d)…

I see him as a player for a potential Cuban ex-pat team in the WBC. I do not see him as an MLB option. Guys like Mustelier and Barbaro Canizares and Leslie Anderson and other Cuban ex-pats can make a good living in professional baseball outside of the major leagues, but he doesn’t strike me as a player with a position outside of the batter’s box. He does have bat speed and he can hit a good fastball. Maybe that gets him a chance.

So that’s pretty much it. Those last few paragraphs are basically all we know about Mustelier at this point. He’s performed very well since signing but has been old for the level each time. He offers some defensive versatility, but he probably fits best in left field based on how the organization used him. The fact that the Yankees did not stick Mustelier back at third base — they did move David Adams over to third, remember — following Alex Rodriguez‘s hand injury in the second half tells me they don’t think he can handle the position in the big leagues, even on a temporary basis. It’s not like the team had a real prospect at the hot corner in Triple-A at the time, it was basically Brandon Laird and Kevin Russo. Actions always speak louder than words.

(Photo via Syracuse Chiefs)

Now, that said, the Yankees should obviously give Mustelier a long look in Spring Training in a few weeks. He received all of two plate appearances in big league camp last year, one fewer than Austin Krum and half as many as Walt Ibarra. Mustelier just wrapped up a strong winter ball showing — .284/.345/.471 with nine homers and nine steals in 55 games down in Mexico — and finished the 2012 calendar year with a combined .304/.364/.482 batting line in over 700 plate appearances in three different leagues (Double-A, Triple-A, winter ball). When a guy that close to the big leagues hits like that, he deserves a look in camp. I definitely expect the Yankees to invite him to Major League Spring Training, for what it’s worth.

At the same time, a guy like Mustelier should not stop the team from pursuing solutions for those openings on the bench and at DH. It obviously hasn’t given the Matt Diaz and Russ Canzler pickups, but I’m talking about legitimate upgrades like Mike Morse or Scott Hairston. The Yankees should give him a look in camp to see what he can do, maybe he lost some weight and improved defensively during the offseason and made himself a viable option at second and third bases. Who knows. He’s earned the look though. Mustelier is not on the 40-man roster right now and the club won’t have to add him for another few years, so there’s no pressing roster issue that will force their hand. At the moment, Mustelier is an intriguing Plan B or C to keep in the minors. I wouldn’t want him to be Plan A for anything heading into 2013.

Aside: For what it’s worth, SG’s extremely early CAIRO projections have Mustelier as a .268/.321/.420 hitter in the big leagues next season. That’s really good for a bench player but not for a DH, which is where he’s slotted into the lineup in the projections.

Poll: Internally Replacing Brett Gardner

(REUTERS/Mike Segar)

The Yankees played their 60th game of the season last night and they’ve only had Brett Gardner in the starting lineup for eight of them. The elbow injury he suffered sliding for a ball against the Twins has morphed into a series of setbacks that culminated with a visit to Dr. James Andrews yesterday. Gardner will see Dr. Tim Kremcheck for a second opinion on Thursday, at which point the Yankees will presumably announce the latest diagnosis.

Barring some fortunate and frankly unexpected good news, Gardner is going to miss several more weeks. A few days ago Joe Girardi indicated that he doesn’t expect his left fielder back until after the All-Star break, which is still more than a month away. Raul Ibanez has been better than expected and softened the blow of losing Gardner a bit, but the Yankees can’t really rely on him as the everyday left fielder for an extended period of time. He’s already started 33 games in the field and at 40 years old, there has to be some concern about him wearing down later in the season.

Unless the Yankees get good news on Thursday, they have to at least consider bolstering their roster with Gardner on the shelf. With all due respect to Dewayne Wise, he’s nothing more than a defensive replacement/spot starter in the big leagues. The Yankees can do better without having to go outside the organization, they have some potential solutions sitting in Triple-A.

Chris Dickerson
I’ve written about Dickerson before, noting that he offers the ability to hit right-handed pitching (career .341 wOBA against northpaws) in addition to strong defense and base running skills. I don’t know if he’s a better defensive player than Wise but the difference isn’t worth arguing about. Dickerson can handle all three outfield spots with aplomb as well as contribute offensively with his bat and legs. The Yankees don’t have to play him every day in a straight platoon, but they could run him out there three times a week against righties while keeping Ibanez in the DH role. Cutting Wise in favor of Dickerson — who is out of minor league options and would have be waived whenever Gardner is healthy — is an upgrade in almost every single way.

Russell Branyan
Joe and I talked about this option on yesterday’s podcast. The idea would be to dump Wise, keep playing Ibanez in left, and use Branyan as the regular DH against right-handers. He’s come back very well from his back injury — six homers in 13 minor league games already — but it’s tough to consider him anything more than a first baseman/DH option. Branyan’s days of even faking third base and the corner outfield are a thing of the past. Adding a huge left-handed power bat lineup is obviously desirable, but it would leave the Yankees without a true backup center fielder and further limit roster flexibility.

I suppose it’s also worth mentioning Jack Cust here, who is also raking in Triple-A but has yet to play a single game in the field. It’s been DH or the bench. At least Branyan has played first base pretty much every game.

(Rudy C. Jones/MiLB.com)

Ronnie Mustelier
The most interesting 27-year-old in the minor league system, Mustelier has been hitting non-stop since signing last summer and he’s now doing it at the Triple-A level. Joe Girardi raved about his bat speed recently and said his name has come up as a call-up candidate at various points this year … but that’s pretty much all we know about the guy. He’s small — listed at 5-foot-10 and 210 lbs. — and right-handed with phenomenal numbers, but we don’t know anything about his defensive skills or speed or anything else. Box scores only tell you so much. Mustelier has spent a ton of time in left field and also has experience in the infield, so his versatility as a plus. He’s not an ideal platoon candidate given his right-handedness, but he could also hit enough that it doesn’t even matter.

Eduardo Nunez
This one probably won’t happen for a number of reasons. For one, Nunez is currently on the minor league DL with a thumb issue. For another, the Yankees sent him to Triple-A to focus on one position after bouncing him all around the field over the last year or so. Calling Nunez back up to do anything — utility infielder, platoon left fielder, etc. — would go against that plan. That doesn’t mean it’s not an option, just that it seems unlikely. That said, we can’t rule anything out. Whenever Nunez gets healthy — probably soon since he was taking grounders just last week — he figures to at least be on the call-up radar.

Miscellaneous
As always, the top minor league affiliate is chock full of random call-up options. Brandon Laird is on the 40-man roster and can play all four corner spots, but he can’t hit — .251/.289/.393 in 870 total plate appearances in Triple-A. Corban Joseph has zero outfield experience so he’s of no use in this situation despite being on the 40-man. Colin Curtis is a solid enough defensive player and can play all three outfield spots, but he’s never been much with the stick. Kevin Russo can play all over the field and make some contact, but otherwise isn’t any kind of upgrade. Neither he nor Curtis is on the 40-man roster as well. Not much to see here.

* * *

Of course, the Yankees always have the option of doing nothing and sticking with their current setup. Ibanez, Andruw Jones, and Jayson Nix could continue to take turns in left field while Wise gets nothing more than the occasional spot start. That’s  fine for two weeks or whatever, but I’d rather not see them roll with it for an extended period of time. It’s already been long enough as far as I’m concerned. Anyway, stuff is like this begging for a poll, so…

How should the Yankees replace Brett Gardner internally?
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Mailbag: Peavy, Mustelier, Jeter, Teixeira, Mo

Kind of a long mailbag this week, with five questions that cover everything from trade candidates to prospects to historical comparisons. Remember to use the Submit a Tip box in the sidebar to send us anything, mailbag questions or otherwise.

(AP Photo/Ben Margot)

Peter asks: Mike, you wrote up Jake Peavy as a trade candidate on MLBTR a few weeks ago. Do you see the Yanks possibly targeting him in July? If so, what’s a fair price?

Here’s the link to that MLBTR post. Peavy, 30, has been one of the very best pitchers in baseball this season, pitching to a 1.89 ERA (2.22 FIP) with 7.57 K/9 (22.6 K%) and 1.20 BB/9 (3.6 BB%) in 52.1 IP across seven starts. He’s been absolutely phenomenal, no doubt about it, but there are still some red flags.

For one, Peavy’s recent injury history is quite scary. He’s been on the DL five times in the last four years, including lengthy stints for an elbow strain (2009), an ankle strain (2009), shoulder surgery (2010), and shoulder inflammation (2011). The shoulder surgery was not a typical labrum or rotator cuff issue, he torn his right lat muscle right off the bone. The injury is  rare and the medical procedure so unique that the recovery timetable was completely unknown. Peavy is showing now that he’s healthy, but the injury stuff has to be in the back of everyone’s mind.

Statistically there’s not much to worry about. He’s always been a fly ball pitcher but now he’s taken it to the extreme, with a 28.7% ground ball rate on the season. That explains his .234 BABIP to a certain extent and even though not every fly ball is hit deep, you have to assume his 2.8% HF/FB rate is going to correct at some point. That’s insanely low. Peavy’s salary — $17M this year with a $22M option for 2012 ($4M buyout) — is quite high as well.. I mentioned Erik Bedard as a trade comp in the MLBTR post, meaning one top-ten prospect (in a farm system, not all of baseball) and another Grade-C secondary piece could work as a trade bounty. The Yankees could have interest, and thankfully we have a few months to see if Peavy holds up physically and can maintain his performance before the deadline.

Willie and many others asked: Is it time to start getting a little excited about Ronnie Mustelier?

(Rudy C. Jones/MiLB.com)

I was surprised by how many people asked about Mustelier following his promotion to Triple-A earlier this week. We must have gotten at least ten questions about him, but I guess that’s what happens when a player hits .351/.397/.550 in 295 plate appearances since signing last summer.

Just some real quick background info: Mustelier is 27 years old (28 in August), short (5-foot-10), kinda fat (210 lbs.), a right-handed hitter, and versatile (has played second, third, and the outfield corners). He spent a number of years playing in Cuba before defecting, and as a hitter he makes consistent contact (13.2 K%) but doesn’t walk much (6.4 BB%) or steal bases (12-for-18). The Yankees like Mustelier enough that they sent him to the Arizona Fall League last year, where he hit .344/.354/.516 in 16 games while missing time with injury. Here’s some video.

The most important thing to understand is that Mustelier has been very old for his level since signing. This is an older guy pounding young pitchers and that can skew the results. The Yankees have done a good job getting him to Triple-A quickly so they can evaluate him against the best pitching in the minors, though I wouldn’t expect to see him in the big leagues anytime soon. Baseball America didn’t even have Mustelier on their 80-player Yankees prospect depth chart in the 2012 Prospect Handbook, so there’s a whole lot of unknown here. His versatility is a plus, but we need to see another few hundred minor league at-bats to know if there’s anything worthwhile here.

Arad asks: Had this argument with my brother, who is the better player over their careers using everything, Jeter or Honus Wagner? Thanks Mike!

Wagner is the greatest shortstop in baseball history and it’s not all that close. Obviously it was a much different era, but he hit .325/.392/.462 during his 16-year career despite not officially joining the big leagues until age-27. That’s worth 110.0 bWAR and only one other shortstop is over even 75 career bWAR (Cal Ripken Jr. at 90.9). Jeter is at 69.4 bWAR and counting. No version of WAR is perfect, but the gap between Wagner and everyone else is impossible to ignore.

Jeter is very clearly the best shortstop in Yankees history and is in the conversation for a top five spot all-time with Wagner, Ripken, Ozzie Smith, Arky Vaughan, and Luke Appling. Robin Yount and Alex Rodriguez deserve acknowledgement as well, though they both spent significant portions of their careers at other positions. Wagner’s the best shortstop ever though, very hard to dispute that.

(AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

Alex asks: Mike, I read all the pieces you wrote about Mark Teixeira. One thing, which you addressed, slightly still interests me. Since Tex is a switch hitter, it seems like hitting righties from the right side is out of the question. But isn’t everyone a “switch hitter” to a degree? I bet A-Rod could turn around and produce a poor line from the left as well. Has any switch hitter ever became a one-side hitter? Will it hurt to try?

Here are those three posts on Teixeira (part one, two, three, four). I don’t know of any players who successfully dropped switch-hitting this late in their careers. Lots of guys stop switch-hitting in the minors, including Frankie Cervelli and Eduardo Nunez, but that’s very early in their careers. A lot of players mess around with switch-hitting in batting practice and may be able to survive on athleticism in a game situation, but I’d put money against it.

Teixeira’s been switch-hitting his entire life, going all the way back to high school. The guy has never been at the platoon disadvantage at a high level and he’s never seen a breaking ball that breaks away from him. If he were to stop hitting from the left side, he wouldn’t magically replicate his performance against lefties as a righty (.397 wOBA) as a righty against righties. If Teixeira’s offensive problems become so severe that dropping switch-hitting is being seriously discussed, it’s a transition that would have occur during the offseason and in Spring Training. I don’t see any way you could ask him to do that midseason and be productive. You’re setting him up for failure both short and long-term that way.

Jon asks: I literally got physically ill when I heard about Mariano Rivera‘s torn ACL. The question is does Mo fit into the new budget? Do they bring him back next year at $10-15 million if it costs them Cole Hamels?

Well the new budget doesn’t kick in until 2014 unless ownership decides to implement next season. That would suck. I can’t imagine any scenario in which Rivera gets a two-year contract after this season, not at his age and not coming off a major injury. In that sense they could pay him whatever and still sign Hamels knowing that Rivera and his salary will be gone in 2014, when the payroll tightens up. It would be a major surprise if Mo’s next contract somehow extends beyond next season.

I am curious to see how negotiations with Rivera play out this winter. Are the Yankees going to pay him the $15M+ next year just because he’s Mariano Rivera? Or will they try to scale it back a bit, maybe $10-12M given his age and injury? Considering that they offered Andy Pettitte eight figures this past December after he sat at home for a year, I’m willing to bet they’ll have no problem paying Mo something similar to, if not in excess of his current salary.