So, yesterday was pretty intense. Robinson Cano is heading elsewhere, Hiroki Kuroda is coming back, and Carlos Beltran is finally going to play for the Yankees. It’s been a wild winter already, and the Winter Meetings are still two days away. Here are a few quick questions as we being this weekend after an eventful week.
What to do at second base?
As far as Plan C goes, Kelly Johnson is pretty solid. He’s a left-handed hitter who’s used to the position, and he has a little bit of pop. There are worse second base starters out there, and if it shakes out so that Johnson is the regular second baseman, or even platooning against righties, the Yankees could be just find. But the Yankees will surely look for a Plan B before handing Johnson the job. Omar Infante is still a free agent, and he stands out from the pack. There’s really not other standout unless Stephen Drew is OK with playing second. In theory, the Yankees have several trade options, but it’s tough to gauge what it might take to land a guy like Howie Kendrick or Brandon Phillips. The entire second base market — trade and free agent — surely adjusted after Cano came off the board. The bad news for the Yankees: Internal options like Eduardo Nunez, Corban Joseph and Dean Anna are closer to Plan D than Plan B.
What to do in the outfield?
For just a moment, let’s assume the Yankees will make no more outfield moves. Given a combination of Beltran, Jacoby Ellsbury, Brett Gardner, Ichiro Suzuki and Vernon Wells, the most obvious solution is Ellsbury in center, Gardner in left, Beltran in right and Soriano as the regular DH. That group would allow for plenty of half days off as players would rotate occasionally through the DH spot. The Yankees would then have to decide between Wells as a platoon hitter or Ichiro as a pinch runner for their fifth outfielder. Honestly, I’m not sure which they’d rather have, and I’m not sure either has an ounce if trade value.
How to replace the lost offense?
It’s not only Cano who walked away yesterday. The Yankees also formally lost Curtis Granderson, who signed with the Mets. That’s a ton of left-handed power to replace. Obviously Brian McCann takes care of some of that, and the Beltran signing was a clear reaction to the events of the day, and Ellsbury is a left-handed bat that produces offense in a different way. Make no mistake, offense has been added. That said, with the Beltran signing, it’s tough to find another strong upgrade opportunity given the positions available. Nelson Cruz (whose defense stinks) and Mike Napoli (who provides little lineup flexibility) could provide right-handed power — which would be nice — but where would their at-bats come? Based on the current free agent market, it’s hard to get anything approaching Cano’s offensive production from another infielder. Might have to settle for a marginal upgrade at either second or third and let Johnson handle the other spot as part of a platoon (assuming Alex Rodriguez is suspended).
What to do with the unspent money?
This is mostly in response to missing out on Cano. Beltran got some of that money, but he didn’t get all of it. That means there should be some leftover, which might be best spent on the pitching staff. Maybe that means a stronger offer if/when Masahiro Tanaka becomes available. Maybe it means getting Grant Balfour or someone else to upgrade a depleted bullpen. Clearly the Yankees have money to spend. Might as well spend it (you know, because it not our money anyway).
How does this impact the rest of the roster?
For now, the events of the past week or so give the Yankees an overcrowded outfielder and make Johnson a temporary favorite to start at second. Losing Cano also might — might! — increase the chances of Eduardo Nunez playing some sort of role in the infield. But really, the infield is still pretty far up in the air at the moment. The impact I most wonder about is the plan for Gardner. Early indications are that the Yankees want to keep him, but with Beltran in place, the Yankees might be able to flip Gardner for a player who fills a more significant need. Maybe a starting pitcher? A third baseman? A second baseman? I happen to be a pretty big Gardner believer, but if he’s not hitting leadoff or playing center field then the Yankees aren’t utilizing him in a role nearly as significant as some other teams might envision. He has value, and for the Yankees he’s vaguely expendable. The moves of the past week might have landed Gardner on the trading block.
Associated Press photos