This bit of news hit Twitter right around midnight last night.
According to Ken Rosenthal, the Yankees are “likely” to sign second baseman Brian Roberts. You’re probably all familiar with Roberts because he’s spent his entire career with Baltimore, where he was once a very good player on some very bad teams. He had some speed, played pretty good defense, and even had some surprising power. Today, Roberts is 36 years old and hasn’t had more than 265 at-bats in a season since 2009. That’s because of a series of injuries that made him kind of a bit player in his final years with the Orioles.
1. This is a pretty clear indication that the Yankees are preparing to piece together at least one infield position. It’s almost impossible to imagine Roberts playing every day — he just hasn’t been healthy enough to count on more than 250 at-bats — and if the Yankees are going to add him, it will clearly be with the intention of making him part of a platoon or even a three-man mix at second base.
2. Roberts is a switch hitter, and in his career, he’s been better from the left side. But last year, he was much better from the right side (and that was true in some other recent years as well). Normally I’d take the larger sample size as a way of defining Roberts as a hitter, but after all the injuries, I suppose there’s a chance that he’s a completely different type of hitter now.
3. On September 21, 2008, Roberts hit into the last out at the old Yankee Stadium. It was a ground ball to first. Just a little bit of bonus trivia that you probably already knew.
4. If the Yankees are ready to go cheap with Roberts at second base, then I wonder if it’s just a matter of time before they sign someone like Michael Young or Mark Reynolds to add some insurance at third. Signing Roberts would seem to be a pretty clear indication that the Yankees haven’t found a strong trade partner for a second baseman, and that they’ve noticed all of the second baseman coming off the board lately. The other free agent second basemen are definitely utility types.
5. How many infielders can this team carry? Since Kelly Johnson is able to play the outfield when necessary, is it possible the Yankees will carry only four true outfielders — Ellsbury, Gardner, Beltran, Soriano — one of whom will regularly start at designated hitter? Basically carry a catcher and four infielders on the bench? If Alex Rodriguez isn’t available, there could be a lot of mixing and matching at those infield positions.
6. When the Yankees go to Baltimore, you can bet that Roberts will be cheered. His last Orioles contract was a complete disaster, but that fan base doesn’t seem to hate him for it. The guy went through a ton just trying to play again.
7. Those cheers will come despite the fact Roberts once confessed to a one-time — a single injection — use of steroids. His name was in the Mitchell Report, and he responded with a statement that read, in part: “In 2003, when I took one shot of steroids, I immediately realized that this was not what I stood for or anything that I wanted to continue doing. I never used steroids, human growth hormone or any other performance-enhancing drugs prior to or since that single incident. I can honestly say before God, myself, my family and all of my fans that steroids or any performance-enhancing drugs have never had any effect on what I have worked so hard to accomplish in the game of baseball.”
8. Roberts wore No. 1 in Baltimore, so we’ve got another guy who’s going to have to choose a new number. And No. 11 is taken this time.
9. Random Roberts story: Back in 2003, I’d been working at the Scranton Times for about four months when the Triple-A season started and I was sent to write a sidebar on the visiting team, which happened to be the Ottawa Lynx. This was, I believe, my first baseball story as a full-time professional writer, and I wrote about the two big prospects on that team: Larry Bigbie and Brian Roberts. I remember nothing about the story, only remember talking to those two guys. I bet Roberts totally remembers that too.
10. I have no idea whether Roberts will be healthy enough to play any sort of role or productive enough to have any sort of impact, but I’m reminded of what one non-Yankees executive said to me just before the Winter Meetings. We were talking about the bad pitching contracts given out this winter. The wording here isn’t exact, but this is what he said: “Do you think Dayton Moore wanted to give Jason Vargas four years? Do you think he believes that’s a good contract? Of course he doesn’t, but it’s what you have to give to sign these guys.” Don’t fool yourself into thinking the Yankees believe they’ve just landed a can’t-miss replacement for Robinson Cano. That’s not the way to frame this signing. It’s about picking battles. The Yankees could have given Cano 10 years, or Omar Infante four years, or Mark Ellis $5.25 million, or surrendered Brett Gardner for Brandon Phillips. This is the battle they chose.
Associated Press photo