Sunday, December 15, 2013

Help Wanted: Second Baseman, Must Field and Hit

Rickie Weeks could be the answer.

With Robinson Cano now in the Emerald city, Brandon Phillips making too much money for too long, and Omar Infante moving to the "Show Me State", the Yankees are still in need of a productive second baseman.

No, Kelly Johnson is not the answer, though he will be a good back up at both second and third base. There's no quality players left among the position eligible free agents, (the NY Post's Joel Sherman said the Yankees have "little interest", thankfully, in free agent Brian Roberts) so the Yankees need to pursue a trade to strengthen the position.

There was a rumor about a week ago that the Yankees had inquired about Seattle's Dustin Ackley, a former high draft choice that has been a bust as a Major Leaguer. The 2nd overall pick in the 2009 draft, had a .766 OPS in his rookie season in 2011, but was barely above .600 the last two years. His future looks to be as a utility player after the Mariners moved him to the outfield last season.

There's also been talk that the Yankees contacted Washington about Danny Espinosa, but were rebuffed. Espinosa had a miserable 2013 season, battling a torn rotator cuff and a broken wrist that he suffered when he was hit by a pitch. He spent time in the minors and had a .465 OPS in 44 big league games.  A year earlier he belted 17 home runs, but had a modest .717 OPS and struck out an NL leading 189 times. Espinosa is not a significant upgrade from Johnson so why bother.

One interesting possibility would be the Milwaukee Brewers' Rickie Weeks, whose brother and fellow second baseman Jemile Weeks was traded earlier in the off-season.  The elder Weeks was limited to 104 games last season after undergoing season ending surgery in August on a torn hamstring muscle. He finished with a career low .663 OPS.

Weeks' offense had dipped in 2012 as well (.728 OPS) after he was limited to 118 games in 2011 due to a badly sprained ankle. He still managed to hit 21 HR, drive in 63 runs, score 85, and drew 74 walks. He also stole 16 bases in 19 attempts.

Weeks is in the final guaranteed year of his contract and is set to earn $11.5MM this coming season. He has a team option for another $11.5MM in 2015, but if he doesn't get 600 plate appearances in 2014 or a combined 1,200 plate appearances between 2013 and 2014 the option goes bye bye. The combined PAs are out of the question since he only came to the plate 399 times last year. He's also not likely to get 600 PAs this coming year, so the option would likely not be a factor.

Rookie second baseman Scooter Gennett impressed the Breweres in Weeks' absence, putting together a .324/.356/.479 slash line in 230 plate appearances. Weeks could be expendable to give Gennett a shot as the full-time second baseman.

Weeks may not be what he once was, but he's an upgrade over Johnson.

Tbe Yankees could also take a different route, one that could work for 2014 and the future. It's also one that is less likely to occur than dealing for Weeks. The Cleveland Indians are said to be open to dealing shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera.

The 28-year old played 162 games at second base between 2007 and 2009 and became the full-time shortstop thereafter. He'll make $10MM next season and is set to be a free agent after the 2014 campaign. Cabrera would have to be amenable to it, of course, but the move would be to have him play second base for a year with the possibility of a free agent deal to become the team's shortstop in 2015.

Cabrera would probably not be on board since it is his walk year and he wouldn't want to hurt his chances for a big contract by going back to a position he hadn't played in five years. Perhaps some additional money - maybe $3MM to $5MM - might convince him to make the switch, but it's an outside shot at best though.

Others don't fit the bill for a number of reasons:

Chase Utley: Once a top five MLB second baseman, Utley has been banged up the last few years though he had 18 HR and 69 RBI in 131 games last season. The problem? His contract. Utley will earn $15MM in 2014, $10MM the year after. Then there are three vesting optioins through 2018 that will kick in an annual salary of $15MM if Utley gets 500 plate appearances the prior season.

Neil Walker: Nice power hitting second baseman for the Pirates. He earned $3.3MM in 2013 and Pittsburgh has him under control through 2016. No reason to move him.

Darwin Barney's name has been bandied about the last week by members of the mainstream media and some blogs. My question is why? Barney has a .628 OPS in 1,499 lifetime plate appearances and had an abysmal .569 OPS last year. The Cubbies can keep him. The Yankees already have Brendan Ryan to cover the defense and not hit.

Another nice fit would be former Toronto Blue Jay and current Arizona Diamondback Aaron Hill. The second baseman went from Canada to the southwest as part of a deal that sent Johnson to Toronto. Hill swings a good bat and has vastly improved his defense from his time north of the border. This past February the Diamondbacks signed him to a three year contract extension with $35MM, so he is likely not going anywhere.

In summation, the Yankees front office should spend a few days talking about Weeks. And if is acquired by the Yankees I will try to stop calling him Richie instead of Rickie.

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