Yesterday, the Yankees agreed to a minor league deal with 34 year old Matt Diaz. The right-handed outfielder spent six of his last seven seasons with the Braves, and hit .294/.341/.433, while averaging around 270 plate appearances a year. He now has an invitation to Spring Training with the Yankees, and will compete for the fourth outfield position against Melky Mesa and Zoilo Almonte.
Though Diaz is an average defensive corner outfielder, he provides an interesting bat to a lefty dominated position. Over his career, Diaz has mashed left handed hitters for a .324/.364/.498 slash, and a 127 wRC+. He hasn’t shown the same platoon splits in recent years though, and last season, he was held to just a 100 wRC+ against lefties. Part of the reason for his decline has been an ongoing battle with thumb issues. In August, Diaz had surgery on the digit, and is now believed to be healthy again.
At 35 years old in 2013, Diaz has age and injury related regression issues surrounding him. On a minor league deal, he represents the type of low-risk signing the Yankees have stocked their teams with over the last few years. Though he’ll be competing with Almonte and Mesa for the right-handed outfield spot, he must show immediate offensive production to disprove the regression theory. Without production against left handed pitchers, Diaz offers little value defensively or on the bases.
The Yankees still need to acquire another right handed DH-type bat, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they target another outfielder to accompany their three lefty starters. Diaz appears to lineup as the backup outfielder, rather than a regular right-handed designated hitter. While the team will likely lineup some stiff competition for him, he doesn’t figure to break the team as an everyday player, or even as a platoon DH. More than likely, Diaz will only find playing time against left handed pitchers when Joe Girardi benches Ichiro Suzuki or Brett Gardner.
It’s not a huge move, but I expect this to trigger quite a few other low-risk minor league deals in the coming month. Diaz might not even make the team, but just knowing that the Yankees signed him indicates that they’re ready to start hauling pieces off the free agent scrapheap.