If you go to MLB.com and filter the offensive statistics to show only those players listed as second basemen, you’ll find six players with an OPS of .750 or better, three players with an OPS above .770, two with an OPS above .800 and one with an OPS above .900. You’ll find that there is, quite simply, no second baseman in the game quite like Robinson Cano, and he stands atop a group that falls off quickly and drastically. Which makes this position especially fascinating for the Yankees.
Signed through 2013
The Yankees best player is marching toward free agency, and it remains to be seen whether the Yankees can re-sign him and still meet their financial goals for next season. In the short term, Cano is the most certain aspect of the roster. He just turned 3o, he’s been top six in MVP voting three years in a row and he’s coming off the highest OPS and most home runs of his career. He is, without question, the best second baseman in baseball; both productive and durable. The Yankees really have no backup plan for this season, and the only real question is whether Cano will be back. If he hits the open market, he will most certainly be next winter’s top free agent, and agent Scott Boras isn’t likely to accept a hometown discount. He could be the face of the franchise through the end of the decade, or he could be gone at the end of the year.
On the verge
Here’s the mistake I made a few weeks ago: I talked to a Yankees official about David Adams without saying much about Corban Joseph. The Yankees official quickly redirected my attention — yes, the Yankees believe Adams can hit, but they also believe the power Joseph showed last season is both real and repeatable. Having never hit more than six homers in a season, Joseph jumped to Triple-A early last year and hit 13 in 84 games. He had a .266/.366/.474 that made him the team’s No. 3 hitter for a few games (he mostly hit second). Although he played some second base earlier in his career, Joseph has stayed at second the past two seasons, and it seems likely that he’ll open this season as the everyday guy back in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre waiting for a door to open. It’s also worth mentioning that Adams hasn’t given up second base entirely. Although he shifted to third base late last season, he still got regular playing time at second during the Arizona Fall League and could also be a viable alternative this season.
Deeper in the system
For whatever reason, I haven’t done a lot of searching for prospect rankings this winter, but my guess is that a lot of Yankees lists have Angelo Gumbs as the top infielder in the system. He’s at least a year or two behind Joseph and Adams, and he’s too far away to be considered polished, but there does seem to be some real upside. Gumbs was the team’s second-round pick in 2010 — picked one round after Cito Culver and two ahead of Mason Williams – and he’s generally gotten good reviews for his interesting mix of tools and athleticism. He played only a partial season last year because of a torn triceps, but he still managed to steal 26 bases and hit .272/.320/.432 with seven homers. There are other lower-level second baseman who put up good numbers last season — Ali Castillo, Jerison Lopez — but the newcomer to mention here is fifth-round pick Rob Refsnyder. He was an outfielder at the University of Arizona was named Most Outstanding Player at the College World Series, but he hits for more average than power, so the Yankees are using him at second base, which was his position in high school.
Second base is a position prime for adjustments, and Refsnyder is only the most recent example. Cano spent a lot of time at shortstop and third base early in his career before settling in at second base. Gumbs was a shortstop when he was drafted and immediately went to second. The lowest levels of the Yankees minor league system have a lot of middle infielders who have been intriging for one reason or another but have to really establish themselves. Utility type Anderson Feliz is primarily a second baseman, and he remains an interesting prospect despite a somewhat lost season. Claudio Custodio is primarily a shortstop who hit in 2011, didn’t hit in 2012 and has some experience at second. Even corner man Ronnier Mustelier has some experience at second base. The guy who stands out as a potential moving part is shortstop Austin Aune, the Yankees second-round pick in 2012 who’s being tested at shortstop but might not have the glove for the position. Outfield might be a more likely destination than second base, but it’s too early to know much for certain.
What to watch
Cano’s contract situation is one of the most pressing issues facing the Yankees. If the Yankees manage to re-sign Cano, then everything else about second base becomes secondary at best. Having Cano locked up well into the decade would minimize the Yankees need at second base. It could — in theory — prompt the team to shift Gumbs to another position, and make Adams or Joseph into a more flexible utility player. If the Yankees can’t re-sign Cano, then they might have to try to replace his offensive production elsewhere, while falling into a second base situation similar to most every other team in baseball. With a good season in Triple-A, Adams and/or Joseph could be knocking on the door if second base does become an opening.
Associated Press photo; headshots of Cano, Joseph, Gumbs and Refsnyder