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 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.
- 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.