Today’s primary topic of offseason rumors and speculation: The left side of the Yankees infield. This afternoon, the Yankees have been connected to a third baseman and a shortstop, each of whom seems to be a logical target.
Here’s the theory behind this one: The Cardinals move Matt Carpenter to third base, play Kolten Wong at second base, and trade Freese to serve as an Alex Rodriguez backup plan. The Cardinals would pencil Freese into the infield as insurance should Rodriguez’s suspension be upheld, and they would have Freese and Rodriguez as DH options should Rodriguez become available. And, obviously, the Yankees would hope for a bounceback year.
Freese is not known as a great defensive player, and he’s coming off a career-worst .721 OPS (plus a rough postseason). He’s a less-than-ideal candidate, but baseball isn’t exactly overloaded with quality third basemen. The top tier is excellent — check out the AL MVP results on Thursday for proof — but beyond the top 10-12, the position is loaded with uncertainty. The best third baseman on the free agent market might be Juan Uribe — you could argue Jhonny Peralta, but Stephen Drew showed last year that some shortstops strongly prefer to stay at the position — and although Chase Headley became a popular trade rumor for a while, there was never much indication that the Padres were actively shopping him. In fact, I was told last winter that they’d made it pretty clear they planned to keep him.
Ultimately, Freese seems readily available, and the Yankees should be able to acquire him without giving up any of their top minor league talent. Freese turns 31 in April, he would be under team control for at least one more season, and the model used by MLB Trade Rumors has speculated a $4.4 million salary for 2014. He hit .293/.372/.467 in 2012 and .262/.340/.381 in 2013, and history suggests his expected production lies somewhere between those two, which would be better than any non-Rodriguez third baseman the Yankees currently have.
Brian Cashman always says his job is to make the team better, and Freese would do that. Whether it’s a worthwhile trade, as always, depends on the player(s) going to St. Louis.
In this case, Rosenthal goes so far as to say a deal “could happen quickly” to bring Ryan and his excellent glove back to the Bronx. The Yankees were happy with what they saw from Ryan during a down-the-stretch audition last season, when his bat was even better than expected. At the very least, Ryan would give the Yankees an elite defensive utility man. It would also give them additional depth behind Derek Jeter (an alternative to the Edaurdo Nunez backup plan).
Hal Steinbrenner is said to have talked to Jeter about the possibility of adding a shortstop this offseason, but the Yankees have also publicly said that Jeter is still penciled in as their starter as the position. Hard to imagine Jeter would relinquish the job without wanting at least a chance to prove himself this spring, but who knows? He’s not scheduled to even begin baseball drills until January, and the Yankees can hardly afford to wait that long before putting a contingency plan in place.
Associated Press photos