By the time this weekend came to a close, the Yankees hopes of signing a starting second baseman died, with Omar Infante heading to the Royals and Mark Ellis joining the Cardinals. While neither looks to be much better than a solid-average regular for this coming season, both appear to be much better options than the dregs remaining on the open market. That leaves the Yankees with three options at the keystone, none of which are particularly exciting – Kelly Johnson (which would likely lead to the team signing a third baseman), a trade (Darwin Barney?), or an attempt to catch lighting in a bottle (or, more likely, static electricity in an ugly Christmas sweater). As Brad has already tackled the ineptitude of Mr. Barney, it makes sense to focus on the second and third basemen remaining on the open market.
Jamey Carroll – 2B/3B
And we’re off with a bang. Carroll has long been known for his defensive versatility (he’s a passable defender at second, third, and short), his excellent approach at the plate, and his status as one of the last remaining Expos in the game. A career .272/.349/.338 hitter with strong defense seems like a reasonable fit with a great deal of offense elsewhere. However, to say he lacks power is an understatement, what with his career .066 ISO, and he hit a robust .211/.267/.251 (43 wRC+). I have a strange (read: irrational) appreciation for Carroll’s skillset, and I want to believe he can bounce back a bit, even at age-40 … but I wouldn’t give him more than a minor league deal. And I may have talked myself out of him entirely.
In terms of players with reasonable sample sizes at second base, Carroll is essentially the only option that has hit reasonably well at some point in his career (excluding Brian Roberts, who has missed 456 games the past four seasons). The rest of the lot is headlined by Robert Andino, Elliot Johnson, and Munenori Kawasaki.
Or, phrased differently, barring some unforeseen trade, Kelly Johnson is the best available second base option by a fairly significant margin.
Wilson Betemit – 3B
Betemit is probably best known to Yankees fans as “that guy that was dealt for Nick Swisher.” Since that wonderful trade, however, Betemit has batted a solid .273/.340/.447 (good for a 111 wRC+), averaging 18 home runs per 550 PA. That offense does come with two downsides, though, as Betemit gives back a great deal of value with his glove, and is coming off what was essentially a lost season. As a career .279/.347/.472 hitter against righties and some semblance of age on his side (having just turned 32), Betemit seems like a decent gamble. However, as is the case with Carroll, it seems awfully risky to dole out much more than a minor league deal.
Eric Chavez – 3B
Injuries continue to haunt Chavez, and yet he has somehow managed to hit to his career norms these last two seasons (.281/341/.488, 120 wRC+, versus .268/.342/.476, 112 wRC+ for his career). His defense is no longer an asset at third base, but his bat will likely play quite well so long as he is able to stay on the field. And, for whatever it’s worth, his limited experience at first may prove to be quite valuable, given the recent injury woes of Mark Teixeira.
Mark Reynolds – 1B/3B
If Betemit is a butcher in the field, Reynolds may well be a mass murderer, as UZR sees him as over 12 runs below average at both first and third. He also strikes in nearly a third of his plate appearances, and has struggled to stay above the Mendoza line over the last four seasons. Despite this, Reynolds has managed to get on-base at a roughly average clip over his career, averaging roughly 28 home runs per 550 PA (making him a slightly above-average hitter for his career, with a 108 wRC+). Overall, this is a decidedly middling profile – he is not much more than a 1 or 1.5 win player. Reynolds profiles best as a platoon bat (119 wRC+ v. LHP), taking the short side of the split from someone like Chavez, thereby mitigating both his defensive shenanigans and his strikeout woes.
In short, the Yankees do have some less than appalling options available to fill the (probable) void at third base. Missing out on Ellis and Infante hurt, but Cashman’s quick signing of Johnson provided the Yankees with a bit more flexibility in the infield than they would have had otherwise. And, as frightening as it may sound, they do have an infielder with some experience at 2B and 3B that could fill the short side of a platoon in Eduardo Nunez (95 wRC+ v. LHP). While none of these machinations approach an ideal scenario, the team could still end the off-season with reasonable solutions at second and third, without having to give up something of value in return.