Brian Cashman has made it clear that getting younger is a priority, but it doesn’t necessarily make a team better. 2013 might have changed Cashman’s thought process. Where an older player once represented an overlooked market, the Yankees grew too dependent on this type of player last season. The Travis Hafners and Kevin Youkilis of the baseball world surely could have been bargains, but they also showed why the potential of older players is often undervalued in free agency. The combination of fluke injuries and age regression caught up to the Yankees in 2013, and instead of Eric Chavez, Raul Ibanez, or Andruw Jones-type contributions, the team had Lyle Overbay starting at first base, Ichiro Suzuki in right field, and Vernon Wells in left field. Older players are still an overlooked market, and as bench players or platoon partners, they still represent low-risk and high-reward acquisitions.
But the Yankees’ infield doesn’t need a bench player or platoon partner, they need starters. Third base is a mess, where at the moment, only Kelly Johnson projects to start. If the Yankees are truly building a competitive team, a real starting third baseman is a necessity, and someone with 16 games of experience is tough to count on. While Johnson could do big things with his bat in Yankee Stadium, the third base depth is far too low for any team. With uncertainty about Alex Rodriguez moving forward, the Yankees could target some youthful third baseman that will at least give the team more than depth at third base, but upside as well.
The 25 year old Lonnie Chisenhall hasn’t lived up to his first round talent or his top prospect rankings. The third baseman crushed the Indians’ minor league systems in his final years, and in 2011 earned a call up to the majors. Though he wasn’t awful, Chisenhall was never the impact player that the Indians hoped for, and he has since bounced around between Triple-A and Cleveland over the last three seasons. He’s produced a .244/.284/.694 slash with a 94 OPS+ and a 92 wRC+ in those 682 plate appearances. With the Indians, Chisenhall has shown both a lack of plate discipline and a poor ability to hit for average. Though the sample size is small, the third baseman’s glove hasn’t been anything special at the hot corner either.
With all this said, Chisenhall still has some prospect shine left. His power hasn’t gone anywhere, and at the age of 25, he could have a breakout season if given regular playing time. His left-handed power swing would work well in Yankee Stadium, although Progressive Field is also kind to left-handed sluggers. Though his power is mostly to right field, he does have the ability to hit to all fields, which bodes well for his potential average.
What Chisenhall can’t do is hit left-handed pitchers, and that’s a specialty of Yankees’ hitting coach Kevin Long. Over his short MLB career, Chisenhall has just a 66 wRC+ against southpaws in 129 plate appearances. As I’ve talked about before, Long’s ability to help left-handed hitters hit left-handed pitchers is evident in the progress of both Robinson Cano and Brett Gardner. Long uses a net drill to help his left-handers avoid lengthening their swing and get them comfortable hitting inside pitches.
For these reasons, the Indians have turned to switch-hitting catcher Carlos Santana to man third base for 2014, while Yan Gomes takes over behind the plate. Chisenhall is expendable for the Indians, and he’s probably someone that they’d trade once they see Santana at third base in March. The Indians don’t need a ton, but they could use a back of the rotation starting pitcher. For the Yankees, David Phelps or Adam Warren are MLB ready starting pitchers and expendable. I’m a big believer that you can never have too much pitching, but with Michael Pineda, Phelps, Warren, Vidal Nuno, and potentially Manny Banuelos in the mix for the fifth starting spot, how many fifth starters does one team need?
A third baseman capable of playing everyday is a must need for the Yankees’ infield. If they’re unwilling to pay for Stephen Drew, and unwilling to trade for a star like Chase Headley, their next best avenue is in some high-upside youth. Chisenhall has fallen out of favor in Cleveland, and he’d be strong change-of-scenery target for the Yankees. As someone that can play third base everyday, he’d at least be a huge upgrade over what we saw at third base in 2013.