Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Yankees Not So Hot Corner



The punch-less Yankees dropped another game in the AL East standings Tuesday night. A game that could have been won had the Yankees' lineup been able to produce more than a single run in a 3-1 loss to the KC Royals.

Royals' starter James Shields, aka "Big Game James" has not had much success against the Yankees and struggled in the early going. The Yankees had two on and none out, and the bases loaded and one out and only scored one run. Shields and the pen then shut down the Yankees the rest of the way. Monday night's 5-1 loss in the first game of the four game set came after the Yankees had the bases loaded with no one out in the 9th and then struck out three straight times. With all the pitchers they let off the hook the Yankees should never take up fishing.

In Tuesday's piece, "Shortstop, Catchers and Pitchers, Oh My, I wrote about the need for the Yankees to upgrade at catcher. Today I am going to focus on the infield, particularly the corner position that has been anything other than hot for the Yankees this season.

Third base has been a key position for the Yankees over the years. Gil McDougald won the AL Rookie of the Year Award after he manned the position in 1951. Graig Nettles won two World Series rings (1977-1978) against the Los Angeles Dodgers, who will attest to Nettles' remarkable thievery with his glove. Alex Rodriguez won two AL MVP Awards after his shift to New York and a new position. The Yankees would not have won the 2009 World Series if not for the player who should really be known as "Lightning-Rod".
A-Rod's second hip surgery knocked him out of play for the first half of the 2013 season and a PED suspension could wipe out the second half. Kevin Youkilis was signed to take his place, but played just 28 games before he was lost to season ending back surgery. The Yankees replacements have contributed decent defense, but the offense has been anemic.

David Adams, Alberto Gonzalez, Jayson Nix, Chris Nelson, and Luis Cruiz have combined to go 53-247 (.215) with 2 HR (both by Adams) and 18 RBI when they played third base. Only Nix (.620) has an OPS above .600 at third and that number is nothing to write home (or text) about. The combination of poor hitting veterans and rookies is not enough with the uncertainty surrounding A-Rod's future. The Yankees need to get themselves a third baseman.

Just as is the case with catchers, the Yankees don't have anyone at the minor league level to play in the Majors right now. Ronnier Mustelier made a very good showing in Spring Training, but has missed large chunks of time with knee and groin injuries.

So who might be available? And would the Yankees want them?

Michael Young: He's the first option for teams looking for a utility guy or someone to specifically play either corner spot or second base. (His days at shortstop are long behind him.) Young has bounced all around the infield in his career until the Texas Rangers, who he spent 13 seasons with, finally forced him out. The 36-year old looked like he might be finished after he produced a sub-.600 OPS in May, but he's been above .800 the rest of the season. He could also give Lyle Overbay a rest across the infield now and then.

With one of the two wild card positions still in their sites, the Phillies are reportedly hesitant to move the pending free agent at this time. That could change as the trade deadline nears.

Aramis Ramirez: The 35-year old has hit less than 20 home runs just once since 2003 and averaged 26 home runs and 93 RBI over the last three seasons. So much for the good news; Ramirez was placed on the disabled list on Tuesday for the third time this season with a bad left knee. He is also guaranteed $16MM next year and has a $14MM mutual option/$4MM buyout for 2015. Fuh-geddabout it.

Ty Wigginton: Like Young, Wigginton is more of a utility player at this point of his career rather than a player who is settled in at one position. He's also unemployed after being released by the St. Louis Cardinals. The Cardinals owe him the remainder of the $2.5MM he's making this season plus another $2.5MM he is due in 2014. The Yankees could sign him for a minimal amount this season (The amount would be subtracted from the Cardinals' debt), but should they?  Wigginton had a sub-.500 OPS and 34 of his 57 at-bats came as a pinch-hitter. If they're interested the Yankees would be better off signing him to a minor league deal with a deadline date where he can asked to be released if he is not called up. That way he can get some regular at-bats before facing Major League pitching. With all that said, I would pass on him.

Mark Reynolds: Mash or miss, that's been Reynolds unwritten motto since his debut in 2007. He's currently on a one year deal with the Cleveland Indians for $6MM and has split time between first and third. He might be available even though the Tribe is in the thick of the AL Central race, because he hasn't produced on a consistent basis. Reynolds has homered in 4.3% of his at-bats, the second lowest percentage since his rookie season. His .700 OPS is the lowest of his career as is his .392 slugging pct. Oh, and he's a butcher defensively at third base.

Wait, the idea was to find a player that would fit. There's the problem. There isn't a whole lot to choose from.

Chase Headley: He became a household name last year and since that time Yankees fans have been calling into radio shows to say the Yankees should go after him. Those fans haven't bothered to notice what Headley is doing this season nor have they taken a look at what he did before last season. Headley's 2012 campaign produced career highs in almost every offensive category.

He had never hit more than 12 home runs or driven in more than 58 runs in a season until he put up 31 and an NL leading 115 last year. 2012 was the first season Headley had an OPS over .800 as well. Headley has come crashing back to earth in 2013. He has just 7 HR and 29 RBI in 77 games and is sporting a career worst .681 OPS. More importantly why would the Padres deal him now? 1) He has no trade value at the moment. 2) The Padres had been trying to give Headley an extension until he asked them to stop negotiations in May, because he felt it was a distraction. So it appears they would like to keep him.

Chris Johnson: The Atlanta Braves 28-year old has provided the NL East leaders with some big at-bats this season. Johnson is with his third team in three seasons, but has a slash line of .332/.375/.480 in 269 plate appearances this year. As an added bonus, he's not eligible for free agency until 2017. Since he has been a key contributor it is possible Atlanta has no plans to move him, but perhaps the Braves would like to add some depth to their bullpen with a guy named Joba Chamberlain. Throw in a mid-level prospect too or perhaps they would like to take a chance on one time prospect Fernando Martinez.

Abbott and Costello were right. "I don't know....Third base!"

Tomorrow I take a look at the rotation and bullpen.

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