In today’s Pinch Hitter post, Bennett focused on the Yankees batting order. Lineup construction is always a source of fascination, and it’s still an evolving art form as we continue to learn more and more about the game. In the past decade or so, managers have changed the way they build lineups, and although most analysis finds that lineup optimization has limited impact, it does have some impact, which makes it important.
So how should the Yankees stack their batting order this season? Like everything else about this unpredictable season, it really depends on many factors.
Is Jacoby Ellsbury definitely the leadoff hitter?
Last year Ellsbury hit third, which always seemed odd considering he came to the Yankees as one of the top leadoff hitters in baseball. In theory, a healthy lineup should free Ellsbury to move back to the very top of the order this season, but that shouldn’t be a given. With Brett Gardner, the Yankees have another obvious leadoff candidate who had nearly the exactly same on-base percentage and a slightly higher OPS than Ellsbury last season. The Yankees could keep Gardner in the leadoff spot and use Ellsbury one of two ways: Either in a return to the No. 3 spot, or as the No. 2 hitter. While baseball used to lean toward batting its best hitters third, there’s been a recent move toward prioritizing the No. 2 spot. That might be where Ellsbury fits best.
Is Alex Rodriguez a good hitter? Is he even an everyday player?
This morning, Bennett proposed batting Rodriguez eighth — that’s happened before, hasn’t it? — and it makes a lot of sense. It’s been a while since A-Rod was a great, middle-of-the-order slugger, and his return from suspension isn’t exactly generating a lot of optimism. But what if he does hit? Could he be a legitimate No. 4 or 5 hitter? Is that too much to even dream about? There’s also an opposite scenario to consider. What if Rodriguez is so bad that he can’t get regular at-bats, especially against right-handed starters? If Garrett Jones is the everyday DH against righties, that raises a new batting order problem. Specifically…
How should Joe Girardi split up his left-handed hitters?
Right now, the Yankees seem to be banking on only one right-handed regular, and that’s A-Rod. Otherwise, Ellsbury, Gardner, Didi Gregorius, Stephen Drew and Brian McCann are each lefties; Headley, Carlos Beltran and Mark Teixeira are switch hitters. It seems entirely possible, if not likely, that Ellsbury and Gardner will hit back-to-back at the top of the order — they each handle left-handed pitchers pretty well — but Drew and Gregorius have significant splits, so it’s worth keeping them separated. And the lineup becomes even more left-leaning if Jones is starting at DH. A middle-of-the-order that has Beltran, McCann, Teixeira and Headley bunched together — which isn’t an absurd idea on the surface — could leave five straight lefties (Jones, Gregorius, Drew, Ellsbury and Gardner).
Will the lineup look significantly different against lefties?
Basically, how many platoon situations are the Yankees planning to have this season? Is Chris Young going to play against most lefties to give one of the regular outfielders a day off? Is Brendan Ryan going to platoon with Gregorius at shortstop or with Drew at second base? Can Rob Refsnyder or Jose Pirela make the team out of camp and play regularly (or at least play regularly against lefties)? Is there anything to the idea of giving John Ryan Murphy regular reps against lefties so that McCann can either DH or take some days off? We know the American League East doesn’t have many left-handed starters these days, but that doesn’t mean the Yankees won’t run into their share during the course of the season. How drastically will the lineup change on those days?
What should we make of Chase Headley’s strong second half?
Here’s the central point Bennett was making this morning: Headley has been a terrific hitter in the past, and since the Yankees have to bank on healthy veterans anyway, why not bank on a healthy Headley being a productive run producer? Since the alternatives aren’t all that appealing, Headley could be a middle-of-the-order guy. Problem is, Headley’s been a true power hitter only once in his career. During that standout 2012 season he slugged .498, but he’s otherwise slugged better than .400 only once, and that was in a partial season (even in 2012 he didn’t slug a ton in the first half, just went nuts after the break). Most of his career, Headley’s been more of an on-base guy, and that’s mostly what he was with the Yankees last season despite the lingering impression of those big hits along the way. His career slugging percentage is lower than Derek Jeter’s or Kelly Johnson’s. Can he be productive enough to hit in the middle, or does he have to be considered more like a No. 6-7 hitter?
Can at least one veteran seriously bounce back this season?
This might be the most important question of all. The Yankees might not be banking on much production from Rodriguez, but they’re surely counting on McCann, Beltran and Teixeira. Those are the real sources of power in this lineup, and the Yankees need at least one of them to perform like a stereotypical No. 3 or cleanup hitter. McCann slugged .519 in September (maybe that was a sign of adjustment). Teixeira slugged .474 through the end of June (that’s a good slugging percentage these days, and maybe he can maintain that pace after a normal offseason). Beltran hit .263/.311/.516 in April (maybe his May elbow injury was root of all the disappointment that came next). If one of those three can get productive and stay that way, the Yankees might have to adjust their lineup to give that guy priority at-bats.
Associated Press photos
Pinch hitting: Bennett Sciacca • 01.22.15
Let me start this day by saying my thoughts are with John Sterling, whose apartment building was destroyed in a massive fire last night. All the best, John.
As for today’s Pinch Hitter, Bennett Sciacca is a lifelong Yankees fan now studying business and writing at Hofstra University. Bennett wrote that he enjoys studying the game of baseball and would like to have a career in the industry. When he’s not studying, Bennett is an amateur photographer working toward visiting and photographing every Major League Baseball field in the country.
For his post, Bennett looks ahead to the Yankees lineup and makes the case for one particular player – perhaps an unlikely one – hitting third this season.
The departure of Robinson Cano was a hot topic last offseason, a period in which the Yankees took to a massive roster overhaul, spending nearly half a billion dollars on free agents. Yet, it still seems the effect of Cano’s absence on the team has been largely understated.
The 2014 Yankees’ offense struggled mightily by its standards, ranking 20th or lower among all teams in total runs, batting average, and on-base percentage. The No. 3 spot in the order seemed like a lost role as Jacoby Ellsbury was thrust into the unfamiliarity of it for the majority of the season. He turned in the team’s leading batting average at .271, with catcher Brian McCann leading the team with 75 RBIs. Hardly robust numbers. It was the first time since 2004 that the Yankees did not have a .300 hitter, and the first time since 1992 that there was no 100 RBI player on the team.
Yet there is no Cano out there on the market waiting to be plucked up and lead the Yankees’ hitting categories this year. Even if there were, general manager Brian Cashman made a strong statement about his intention to avoid the purchase of a player like that in letting Cano walk in the first place.
This winter’s most immediate improvements have been in the bullpen, with the Yankees expecting the offense to feature many of the same faces as last year, hoping the pricey investments of 2014 begin to pay their dividends. Cashman has made a few relatively small additions, trading for shortstop Didi Gregorius along with the additions of a full season’s worth of Chase Headley and Stephen Drew. Alex Rodriguez’s presence will be a factor one way or another, but the team is not prepared to count on him as an upgrade on either side of the ball, as he will likely share DH time with the newly acquired lefty Garrett Jones.
With Spring Training slowly creeping up, Yankees fans are still wondering how the offensive slack is going to be picked up. Health will be the primary factor, but one may also contend that lineup construction can play a huge role in making up for some of those lost runs and producing an offensive threat. The following lineup presents a strong opportunity to do so.
Is Chase Headley the No. 3 hitter that is going to bring the punch the Yankees lost when they let go of Cano? He may not be quite the same caliber hitter, but like it or not, the success of the 2015 Yankees is leaning heavily on assumptions of regained health. With that being the case, Headley led the National League in RBIs in 2012 before experiencing back troubles, and that was with a light-hitting Padres team in the pitcher friendly Petco Park. A full, healthy season in Yankee Stadium could be exactly what Headley needs to get back to All-Star form.
In this proposed lineup, the Yankees can take some of the load off Ellsbury’s shoulders, allowing him to shift back into the leadoff spot where he batted all of his All-Star years, and where he really shows off his on-base and speed prowess in pinstripes. Slotting Gardner behind him creates a speedy tandem at the top of the lineup, one that can get into scoring position quickly, creating early opportunities for a team that had a hard time getting runs across the plate in 2014.
The 4, 5, 6, in the order should be some combination of Beltran, McCann, and Teixeira. Each player is a dangerous threat when healthy, yet they are each coming off some of the worst years of their careers in terms of offensive production. If this trio can get it going, stay healthy, and play to the back of their baseball cards, they’ll be a nasty bunch to work through. That should give Headley plenty of pitches to hit and perhaps an opportunity to reprise a role as a 100-plus RBI player, which is exactly what the Yankees need to be able to compete with the strong lineups of the AL East.
The injury troubles and lack of performance in 2014 make it hard to bank on any one guy in the lineup, but judging solely on most recent performance, Headley looked as good as any hitter on the team at the end of the Yankees 2014 season, and he should start the season as their No. 3 hitter.
As for Rodriguez’s return from suspension, the Yankees are keeping their expectations low. Given his salary and past performance, Joe Girardi is going to give A-Rod at-bats one way or another, but one has to figure that he will be penciled in toward the bottom of the lineup until the team is really sure of what kind of production he will be bringing to the table. I put him in the No. 8 spot to effectively split up some of the left-handed hitters.
Yankees fans find themselves at a point in the offseason once again where they might know what their team is capable of when healthy, but fans have been given real doubt as to whether the players will be able to perform. The Yankees won’t be getting the production of Cano back, but they could do well to make up for it and improve upon their 2014 numbers with the consistent production of their veteran players, and some crafty lineup construction.
As of right now, the lineup listed above would make a lot of sense to be featured on Opening Day, but with such volatility on the roster, Girardi will likely have a few contingency plans close at hand. At any rate, look out for Headley to be an important piece of the Yankees’ 2015 offensive puzzle.
Associated Press photos
By my count, the Yankees added 10 brand new players to the big league roster — players who had not been in the organization when the season started — between the July 15 All-Star Game and the end of the regular season.
Second-half moves like that happen every year as teams try to plug holes here and there, but the Yankees’ second-half additions stand out because of just how many have either re-signed, stayed on the roster, or otherwise impacted the organization going forward. This list isn’t made entirely of lingering players, but there are lot of them.
LHP Rich Hill – Signed to a minor league deal immediately after the all-star break, Hill was allowed to leave via free agency this offseason. Perhaps his lasting impact is the fact he was the guy called up when the Yankees let go of Matt Thornton on waivers. That was a money saving move, and having Hill in Triple-A presumably made it a little easier (there really wasn’t another lefty to bring up before Hill was added to the mix).
3B Chase Headley – Seems safe to assume Headley would have been on the Yankees radar this offseason regardless of his second-half stint in pinstripes, but the Yankees clearly liked what they saw, and Headley has acknowledged that he enjoyed the New York experience more than he expected. Would these two have found common ground without that late-season audition? Maybe not.
LHP Chris Capuano – The Yankees were desperate for a starting pitcher, and Capuano was available. He had been released and was pitching in Triple-A when the Yankees acquired him, and he pitched like a good No. 5 during his 12-start stint as a rotation replacement. As other rotation options came off the table earlier this month, the Yankees eventually found their way back to the guy who pitched better than expected late in the season.
2B Martin Prado – Of all the names on the list, this is the only one clearly intended to be a long-term fix. The Yankees planned to use Prado in the outfield last season, but he wound up playing all over the field, and it was that versatility that made him a strong fit going forward. His ability to play second base has freed the Yankees to re-sign Headley, and Prado’s ability to play the outfield might eventually free them to add Rob Refsnyder.
SS Stephen Drew – Perhaps this was the audition that had the opposite impact of Headley. Finishing off a strange year in which he signed late and missed spring training, Drew came to the Yankees at the trade deadline with the expectation that he could learn and new position and improve his offensive numbers. The first part was no problem — Drew looked good at second — but the offense never got better. It seems telling that Drew’s still on the free agent market.
RHP Esmil Rogers – A waiver claim at the trade deadline, Rogers showed moments of promise mixed with moments that explained why he was so readily available in the first place. As the season was winding down, Rogers didn’t have a defined role and he entered this offseason as a prime non-tender candidate. The Yankees, though, got him to take a pay cut as they prepare to give him one more look as either a long man, a one-inning reliever, or possibly a starter.
OF Chris Young — This move was easy to mock at the time. Young, after all, had been released by the Mets earlier in the season and there seemed little chance that such a castaway would play any sort of role with the Yankees. But he signed a minor league deal, got a September call-up, hit a few home runs, and wound up with a new one-year deal as the team’s fourth outfielder. That late signing might have made all the difference.
LHP Josh Outman – Basically added to the mix because he seemed like a better left-on-left option than Hill, but late in the year it was Hill getting more of the prime matchup situations, and Outman wound up dumped back into free agency. Hard to remember Outman was ever on the roster in the first place.
RHP Chaz Roe – A late acquisition turned September call-up, Roe is a former first-round pick who pitched two innings for the Yankees, walked three guys, allowed three hits, gave up two earned runs and was never heard from again.
OF Eury Perez – End-of-the-season waiver claim who got 10 at-bats before the end of the season. He might have been let go this winter, but Perez was given an extra option and now seems likely to open the season in Triple-A as a bit of right-handed outfield depth. He has some speed to go with a .360 on-base percentage in the minors. Probably not a guy who’s going to play a significant role going forward, but he’s still in the mix at this point.
Associated Press photos
A few random thoughts on this morning after the Chase Headley signing…
• Four years and $52 million is too much for Headley, but that’s what happens in free agency. The Yankees needed an infielder, and this is where the market set Headley’s value (actually, remarkably, his value seems to have been set a little higher than what the Yankees are paying). Headley’s a strong defensive player who’s generally stayed in the lineup despite his back issues. He’s a nice hitter, but certainly not a great hitter, and he’s never hit for much power outside of that standout 2012 season. For the money, I’m not entirely sure the Yankees are better off having Headley instead Jed Lowrie, but I do think this is the kind of overpay the Yankees are willing to make. They committed to Headley without committing to someone beyond his mid-30s.
• Yes, the Headley signing blocks Rob Refsnyder’s most obvious path to the big leagues, but does anyone really expect the Yankees lineup to stay fully healthy all of next year? Refsnyder turns 24 in March, he’s been playing second base for just two years, and he has just 77 games of Triple-A experience. He’s not even on the 40-man yet. Going back to the minor leagues out of spring training shouldn’t hurt his development, and it wouldn’t shut the door to the possibility of having him in a regular big league role by the end of the season. The Yankees absolutely had to get some additional infield depth of some sort. They essentially got the best infield depth possible on the market. Now, the key is, if something happens in the infield, they have to be willing to give Refsnyder his shot.
• During interviews yesterday, Headley made it clear that he turned down larger contracts to sign with the Yankees. I regularly get emails saying no free agents are going to want to sign with the Yankees because the Yankees are no longer a winning team. I understand the frustration that leads to such a belief — and I don’t remotely believe the Yankees are currently a favorite to compete for a championship in 2015 — but I don’t believe players look at the Yankees as a losing organization right now. Certainly not over the course of a multi-year deal. Time will tell whether those players are right or wrong.
• One thing I like about Headley: He’s a good fit for this atmosphere. He seems to handle pressure, he’s good with the media, and he seems confident enough to slide into a secondary role without feeling as if he’s been slighted. “I didn’t know how I’d like playing in New York just with all the other things that come with playing in New York,” Headley said yesterday. “But once you get here and you realize how well you’re treated, how much the fans care, how much the city cares, how well the Yankees family take care of you and your family, it was pretty obvious after a week or so that I was extremely lucky to get a chance to play in the pinstripes. So, I was surprised, but it didn’t take long to see why other players had spoke so highly of the organization.”
• With Headley, Didi Gregorius, Mark Teixeira, Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner, the Yankees have at least five players who have a chance to be above-average defenders next season. I think Brian McCann could be as well if you factor in his pitch framing and the way he works with the pitching staff. Martin Prado at second should be just fine as well. If nothing else, the Yankees have made themselves a better defensive team.
• You know what the Yankees need to go with that defense? An actual pitching staff. That has to be the final piece of the puzzle. The Yankees really have no more glaring needs in their lineup. They could even consider their bench to be complete with John Ryan Murphy, Chris Young, Brendan Ryan and Jose Pirela. But the pitching still needs work. The rotation in particularly has taken a hit with the loss of Shane Greene. Most of the pitchers who seemed to fit the Yankees desire for rotation depth have already come off the board. I do wonder if Hiroki Kuroda could jump back into the picture at some point.
• Speaking of pitching: I still believe the Yankees when they say they’re not planning to get into the Max Scherzer bidding, but if they go another three or four weeks without signing a starting pitcher who they actually like, and Scherzer still out there as a big splash who fills a clear need, I do wonder if they could talk themselves into taking the risk — yet again — on a long-term commitment that carries obvious risk down the road. Not saying it will happen, only that I could imagine a scenario in which the Yankees ultimately bit the bullet and jump into the Scherzer sweepstakes.
• Interesting that the Yankees gave Headley pretty close to the same contract they weren’t willing to give either Dave Robertson or Brandon McCarthy. Of those three, I’d say McCarthy was the best fit — the Yankees have reached a point where they most desperately need a starting pitcher — but he was also the most obvious overpay (incredibly risky to give a guy with his injury history a four-year deal). I think Robertson would been a better investment on a four-year deal, but relievers tend to come and go, and before this offseason I’m not sure I would have been on board with such an investment into a bullpen arm, even one as good as Robertson. Free agency is all about picking battles, and when it came to spending roughly $50 million across the next four years, the Yankees prioritized Headley ahead of the two familiar and desirable pitchers.
• The top third basemen in the minor league system are Miguel Andujar, Eric Jagielo and Dante Bichette Jr. Andujar is still a teenager and won’t necessarily be blocked by the Headley contract, Bichette hasn’t shown enough consistency for the Yankees to really bank on him, and there are enough questions about Jagielo’s defense and strikeouts that the Yankees couldn’t let his presence standing in the way of a deal. That’s not at all to say Jagielo (or anyone else) won’t develop into a legitimate big league third baseman, but I don’t think the Yankees could say with confidence their farm system will be ready to fill the third base hole within the next four years.
Associated Press photos
Chase Headley has done at least two interviews since re-signing with the Yankees, one with YES Network and one on a conference call with Yankees beat reporters. A few things he’s confirmed.
1. He turned down larger contracts to come back
Headley wouldn’t say how much, or which teams were involved, but he made it clear that there were larger offers on the table. He simply didn’t think there were better offers on the table. There were previous reports of at least one team willing to go four years, $65 million.
“There’s a lot of things that led to it,” Headley said. “First and foremost was a chance to win. I haven’t done that in my career, so I look forward to the chance here.”
2. He expects to play third base next season
This should come as no surprise at this point, but Headley said he did ask the Yankees about their plans for Alex Rodriguez, and the Yankees assured Headley that he is their third baseman. Rodriguez might play the position a little bit, but Headley clearly expects — and wants — to get the vast majority of his time at third base.
“I view myself as a third baseman and that’s where I feel like I help this team the best,” Headley said. “I obviously want to be the best teammate I can to all my teammates, so wherever I’m playing, I’m going to give everything I have. That was a conversation we had and I think the vast majority of my time will be spent at third base.”
3. He feels healthy this offseason
While a back issue has affected Headley in the past, he said he’s learned to manage the injury and feels good as he progresses through the winter toward spring training. Headley said he never felt like his back impacted him in the second half of last season; he thinks he can feel the same way throughout next season.
“The second half of (last) season at least, it didn’t give me any issues,” Headley said. “So I’ve been staying on top of it. I understand some of the things that are important for me to keep it healthy, some of the things I can do to try to manage it and stay on top of it. I don’t foresee it being an issue going forward. We were aware of it, but we felt like all of the clubs that we spoke with were made aware of the situation, and it wasn’t going to be a huge issue.”
Associated Press photo
Yankees make Chase Headley signing official • 12.15.14
Well that was quick. The Yankees have officially announced the deal. Here’s the press release:
Headley, 30, was acquired by the Yankees along with cash considerations from the San Diego Padres in exchange for INF Yangervis Solarte and RHP Rafael De Paula on July 22, 2014. In 58 games with the Yankees, he hit .262 (50-for-191) with 28R, 8 doubles, 6HR and 17RBI.
In his Yankees debut on July 22 vs. Texas, Headley hit a 14th-inning “walk-off” single, becoming the first player with a “walk-off” hit in his first game with the club since Roy Weatherly in April 1943 according to the Elias Sports Bureau. It was the first of three Yankees “walk-off” wins to end in a Headley at-bat (also a home run on September 4 vs. Boston and a fielding error on September 18 vs. Toronto).
The Fountain, Colo., native began the 2014 season with the Padres, batting .229 (64-for-279) with 27R, 12 doubles, 1 triple, 7HR and 32RBI in 77 games.
In 966 career games over parts of eight Major League seasons with the Padres (2007-14) and Yankees (2014), Headley has hit .265 (923-for-3,477) with 426R, 194 doubles, 13 triples, 93HR and 418RBI, while appearing in games at third base (731), left field (196) and first base (nine). He has collected at least one hit in 33 different Major League ballparks in his career, including each of the 30 current stadiums.
In 2012, Headley earned his first career Gold Glove and Silver Slugger Awards as a third baseman, batting .286 (173-for-604) with 95R, 31 doubles, 2 triples, 31HR and an NL-leading 115RBI in 161 games with the Padres. His .976 fielding percentage as a third baseman was second-highest in the NL (424TC, 10E).
Headley was originally selected by the Padres in the second round of the 2005 First-Year Player Draft. He owns a .967 career fielding percentage at third base (1,822TC, 60E), the best mark among active Major Leaguers at the position.
Associated Press photo
Yankees remodeled infield in place for 2015 • 12.15.14
The Yankees have significantly overhauled the infield in the past six months. Here’s a look at the four regular infielders from last year (plus their primary backups) along with the players projected to play each position next season. Is the Yankees 2015 infield going to be better than it was in 2014?
2014: Mark Teixeira (Kelly Johnson for 23 games)
2015: Mark Teixeira
Just like the catcher position, the Yankees are committed at first base, and they have to hope for better production from the guy who’s already in place. The Yankees — and Teixeira — believe that healthy and a normal offseason will be significant factors in keeping Teixeira’s power production relatively high. He slugged .474 through the end of June last season (a pretty high number in the current climate) but he slugged just .324 after July 1. Last year the Yankees didn’t have a real backup at the position. It seems Alex Rodriguez could play that backup role this year.
2014: Brian Roberts (Stephen Drew for 31 games)
2015: Martin Prado
Although there was a lot of mixing and matching at second base, it was Roberts who spent more time at the position than any other Yankee last season (Prado, Ryan and Solarte also had double-digit starts at second). In theory, Prado’s a solid bet to outperform Roberts’ .237/.300/.360 slash line. He hit .282/.321/.412 last season and has slugged below .400 only once since becoming a big league regular. If Prado can’t hit beyond Roberts’ numbers, Rob Refsnyder and Jose Pirela are waiting as young alternatives.
2014: Derek Jeter (Brendan Ryan for 19 games)
2015: Didi Gregorius
Although Gregorius hasn’t been much of a hitter in the big leagues, his .653 OPS last season was better than Jeter’s .617, and Gregorius is also considered a much better defensive player. The Yankees could try to get even more of an offensive boost by platooning Gregorius (who’s struggled against lefties) with right-handed-hitting Ryan, another good glove, questionable bat shortstop. By the way, kind of amazing just how many games 40-year-old Jeter was able to play last year.
2014: Yangervis Solarte (Chase Headley for 49 games, Kelly Johnson for 33)
2015: Chase Headley
Third base was supposed to be Johnson’s job last season, but he lost it to Solarte, who was eventually traded for Headley. As it turned out, Solarte had the most starts at third, but even he barely started a third of the games there. Headley surged after the trade to New York, and that came after Solarte’s numbers had seriously dragged following his standout first month and a half. In theory, Headley is a better defender and potentially a better hitter than what the Yankees had last season, but Headley’s also had back issues and he’s rarely hit for much power.
Associated Press photo
It’s Chase Headley’s turn in the spotlight.
As we start this week after the Winter Meetings, Sweeny Murti reports that Headley is close to a decision. Of course, we’ve heard that before — at one point he was expected to sign during the Winter Meetings — but now there seems to be little stopping him. With so many big pieces off the board, Headley actually stands out as one of the very best players available, and surely his market is pretty well established at this point.
In the wake of Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez signing in Boston, Headley stood out as the top third baseman on the free agent market. He’s probably the top free agent infielder, and MLB Trade Rumors ranks him as the third-best player and top-ranked position player, period, currently on the market.
Jed Lowrie and Asdrubal Cabrera are more versatile, but last season Headley had a higher OPS than either of those two, and he’s also a strong defender at his position (a position that’s thin throughout the league). The free agent market really has played to Headley’s advantage with two third base candidates signing with the same team. It hasn’t hurt that those two signed relatively early, leaving plenty of teams still plugging holes and looking to spend. Headley’s in a good spot just days after the most frantic week of the offseason.
The Yankees have made little secret of their interest in bringing Headley back to New York, and Brian Cashman restated that interest on television last night. But when the offseason started, Headley seemed like a potential value signing. Now he might be an overpay waiting to happen. The alternatives should Headley price himself out of the Yankees comfort zone? Lowrie and Cabrera might not be ideal shortstops, but they could play second base and leave Martin Prado free to play third. Same for Gordon Beckham. David Freese seems readily available on the trade market. Ultimately, though, the infield options really are pretty slim.
The fact Headley has become one of the most desirable players on the free agent market isn’t necessarily a good thing for a Yankees team desperate for help in the infield,
Associated Press photo
When I flew to San Diego on Sunday, it seemed Chase Headley might be on the verge of making a decision and signing with a team. Now I’m flying back to New York four days later, and there’s no clarity on the market’s top remaining free agent infielder.
The Yankees are engaged, but they clearly haven’t pushed enough to get a deal done. Headley seems to make the Yankees better — if only because he makes them deeper — but the Yankees have made it clear this winter that they’re not willing to sign anyone at all costs.
“We’re very comfortable (with Martin Prado) at third,” Brian Cashman said. “We’re very comfortable with Prado at second and we’re very comfortable if we move Prado to the outfield. Obviously we’re very comfortable with what Headley provided for our team (last season) as well. We’re good to go as is, if that’s the way we go, but we’re exploring ways to make us better if there’s alternatives.”
Headley is now at the head of the class among free agent infielders, but is the gap as significant as it seems? While Headley is getting a ton of attention, and seems to have a shot at a four-year deal, there’s been very little attention paid to guys like Jed Lowrie, Asdrubal Cabrera and Gordon Beckham — players who for the Yankees could basically fill the same role has Headley, except they’d be stepping into second base and freeing Prado to play third.
Asked whether Headley is significant better than the other infielders on the market, Cashman understandably wouldn’t comment.
“I wouldn’t say,” Cashman said. “(He is) pricier.”
Is it worth giving Headley significantly more years and money than some of the alternatives? Here’s a quick comparison:
30 years old (turns 31 in May)
Career OPS: .756
Last season: .243/.328/.372
The Yankees saw first-hand that Headley is a strong defender at third base, and he has at least mild experience at first base (has also played some left field, but that was a pretty long time ago). Career numbers are significantly inflated by a standout 2012 season that so far looks more like an outlier than a sign of things to come. Headley hit 30 home runs that year. He’s never hit more than 13 any other season.
29 years old (will play all next year at 29)
Career OPS: .740
Last season: .241/.307/.387
Not a particularly good defensive player, but metrics like him a lot more at second base than at shortstop, and the Yankees would hypothetically sign him to play second. Cabrera wasn’t great in 2014, but he’s had some pretty good seasons including two all-star selections, and he’s still fairly young. Although the Giants were tied to Cabrera earlier today — they wanted him to play third, basically an alternative to Headley — it now seems that Cabrera prefers to sign with a team that will play him at second.
30 years old (turns 31 in April)
Career OPS: .741
Last season: .249/.321/.355
Like Cabrera, Lowrie has generated some negative defensive reviews as a shortstop, but metrics have pegged him as basically average when he’s played second base or third base. He had a really good year in 2013, and despite diminished power numbers in 2014, his fWAR was still positive. I can’t help wondering whether Lowrie could be an immediate option at second base and slide back to shortstop if absolutely necessary (if Didi Gregorius were to get hurt or severely underperform, something like that). Offers some flexibility in emergency situations, and he’s apparently open to playing a position other than shortstop.
28 years old (turns 29 in September)
Career OPS: .681
Last season: .226/.271/.348
The eighth overall pick in 2008, Beckham was a fulltime big leaguer the very next season and was the White Sox regular second baseman until he was traded to the Angels last year. He’s never lived up to expectations, but he has occasionally hit for some power. Defensive metrics don’t love or completely hate him, and he has some experience at third base as well as second. Could he come to camp to compete with Rob Refsnyder for the second base job, and become a backup at second and third if he loses the competition?
Associated Press photo
Yankees strength coach Matt Krause was in Miami today to get an updated evaluation of Alex Rodriguez.
“He talked to (Rodriguez) maybe a month ago, maybe longer,” Cashman said. “And then he assessed him now. He’s working hard. Obviously he’s continuing to get ready for spring training, and he’s moving in the right direction.”
This was strictly a physical fitness evaluation, not an evaluation of baseball skills or performance.
“I know he’s weighing him in and stuff like that,” Cashman said. “Like all our players, he’s got a report weight that we’re hopeful they hit. He’s approaching that. He’s not at the spring training weight that we desire just yet, but there is progress, and he continues to tweak. Matt continues to tweak his conditioning program. They’re building a relationship. They don’t know each other, so that’s good (that they’re spending time together). This is not just Matt checking on Alex. He’s seeing McCann, Gardner, Ellsbury, all our guys. He’s going across meeting up with everybody.”
Winter Meeting progress
Without getting into specifics, Cashman said he remains engaged with a bunch of trade and free agent possibilities. He’s been talking to Chase Headley, but wouldn’t say whether there’s been progress between the two sides. Cashman did say the pitching market is “going to go fast,” and the Yankees are obviously engaged with various starters and relievers.
“I honestly can tell you that we’re patient,” Cashman said. “We’re not going to do something that we don’t feel comfortable with.”
For whatever it’s worth, Cashman said he’s not planning to meet with the media before he flies back to New York tomorrow, and he said that’s because he’s not expecting the Yankees situation to change between now and then. But you really never know. The Yankees are clearly in serious talks with a wide range of possibilities, it’s just unclear whether any of those talks are going to lead to something in the next 18 hours or so.
Potential bullpen additions
Cashman wouldn’t comment on a report that he’s shown interest in former Giants closer Sergio Romo, but he made it clear that he’s still open to adding another piece to the bullpen.
“If it’s the right guy, I have no problem signing a (reliever) to a major league deal,” Cashman said. “If it’s the right guy; if it fits with everything else we’re also trying to accomplish. We also have a lot of good young arms. It’s just, we’ll have to wait and see how it plays out. We have trade opportunities, so it can come in a lot of different ways whether it’s from within, whether it’s non-roster invite, major league signing from the free agent market, or trade. It’s tough to say right now.”
Today’s infielder trades
The Dodgers traded second baseman Dee Gordon earlier today, and the Phillies are said to be finalizing a Jimmy Rollins trade. Cashman acknowledged that he checked on the availability of both players. He asked about Rollins early in the offseason and was told only that the asking price would be higher than the Yankees would be willing to pay. No names were discussed, the Phillies just made it clear they would need a ton in return (might have been a kind way of telling the Yankees that Rollins wouldn’t waive his no-trade to play in New York).
As for Gordon, that conversation happened this week. “I just said, ‘If you see any fits, let me know,’” Cashman said. “They were down the tracks with (the actual trade to Miami). This was yesterday or two days ago when his name surfaced as a potential move.”
Tomorrow’s Rule 5 draft
Sounds like the Yankees won’t take anyone in tomorrow’s draft. They have three spots open on the 40-man, but Cashman clearly plans to add at least three more players this offseason.
“As of right now, I don’t think I’ll be active in the Rule 5 draft,” Cashman said. “But I know our guys want to talk to me about some things. The certain amount of roster spots that we have, and we have a certain amount of needs still to fill, so I think those roster spots can go quickly because of our needs. I’m not sure that Rule 5 is going to make sense for us this year because of that.”
Reaction to Boras
Earlier today, Scott Boras said that Max Scherzer would give the Yankees a World Series caliber rotation. Cashman laughed when he heard the quote.
“Good,” he said. “That means he likes the four we’ve got.”
Associated Press photos