It might be one of the most expensive infields in all of baseball, but no one in the 2013 infield is guaranteed to return in 2014. Mark Teixeira is perhaps the most likely, but wrist injuries can be tricky, and after a year of set backs, Yankee fans can’t be too optimistic that the first baseman will return at 100%. Robinson Cano looks like a an obvious re-sign, but the $189 million budget and looms this offseason. Will the Yankees be willing to go over $20 million a year for the soon-to-be 31 year old second baseman? And with the fallout of all the older players this season, how likely are they to pay Cano into his upper 30’s? Then Alex Rodriguez, who’s owed $25 million, might not be a factor in 2014. If the 211 game suspension holds up, or any suspension considerably over 50 games, the Yankees will have to find a third baseman. Finally, Derek Jeter‘s health is a huge question. He’ll undoubtedly accept his player option, but there’s no guarantee that his ankle holds up, let alone at one of the most intensive position on the field.
Despite all that guaranteed money, (though Rodriguez’ salary is now in limbo) the Yankees have a lot of questions in the infield. Specifically, the left side of the infield will require two backups. Jayson Nix and Eduardo Nunez have already proven their value this season, and that’s not very much. Nunez may be the worst position player in baseball, as his -1.9 fWAR is the fourth worst of 2013, but this came in significantly fewer games than the top 3 candidates. Nix isn’t far behind, owning a 0.7 fWAR over 87 games and 303 plate appearances.
The future of the left side could be right in front of us. A few weeks ago I questioned the future of third base, and indicated that Mark Reynolds could be the best option. The free agent market is far from loaded, and the only enticing names at third are older players with recent ineffectiveness. Eric Chavez, Kevin Youkilis, and Michael Young each have potential, but for a Yankee offense that’s already suffering with injuries and regression, these players are bigger gambles than the team needs. On the other hand, Reynolds has been extremely reliable with production and health, though he’s prone to strike outs and low contact rates, he can stay on the field and give you below-average defense with the occasional homerun.
At shortstop, Jeter could end up playing the field, but who knows? As this year proved, Jayson Nix is not a good idea as a direct backup to Jeter, his glove is far from elite and his bat is far from good. Brendan Ryan might be your best realistic bet. Though he isn’t going to put up any sort of offensive value, he is a defensive wiz. If the team believes that Jeter can still play short stop, holding on to Ryan for late-inning defense or to occasionally spell Jeter as the DH would be preferable. Even as a full time player, Ryan is capable of putting up a 2.0+ fWAR season based on his glove alone.
If the Yankees are willing to take on a multi-year contract, Stephen Drew would be an interesting name. His defense at shotstop is fairly average, as he has a career -3.8 UZR/150 and a total of 1 defensive run saved. Drew is an offensive short stop with an overall slash of .263/.328/.433. His left-handed swing plays perfectly into Yankee Stadium, and his patience at the plate plays well into the lineup. The Yankees had interest in Drew this offseason, but the shortstop opted for a more guaranteed job with the Red Sox. After his current success with Boston, he should command some sort of multi-year deal, and that may be too much for the Yankees. Even with Rodriguez’ money possibly coming off the books, the Yankees need to be mindful of what they pay their infielders over the next few years. Drew also has an injury history, which may not bode well with the team’s current injury proneness.
Though Ryan is a free agent at the end of this season, he does appear as the most likely candidate for 2014. Cashman made it clear in the past that he is uncomfortable with Jeter’s defense at short, and now that Jeter’s legs challenge him, the general manager may want to take advantage of one of the best gloves in the league. If the Yankees find a way to have Cano, Ryan, and Teixeira in the infield, it would allow them to start looking at ground ball pitchers. A strong infield defense would then have a major effect on how the Yankees handle the rotation problems as well.