Between all the moves the Yankees have made this offseason and the players they have returning from injuries, the one position where they really downgraded is second base. That was an inevitability when their former second baseman happened to be the best second baseman on the planet, and the team’s attempts to replace Robinson Cano have been pretty lame. Plans for a true platoon at the position have fallen by the wayside as a result of their equally lame attempts to find an adequate starting third baseman, and when Spring Training starts the Yanks will open camp with 36-year-old Brian Roberts penciled in as the everyday man at second.
I say penciled in because we’re all familiar with Roberts’, ahem, diverse injury history over the past 4 years. Jokes about his eventual DL trip(s) have become a staple across each and every comment section in the Yankosphere and justifiably so. For whatever reasons, Roberts has been unable to shake the injury bug and stay on the field. There’s little reason to expect that to change in 2014, but all the jokes at Roberts’ expense have overshadowed the fact that the guy is a 2-time All Star and was, for a good stretch of time, one of the best all-around second basemen in the game. That being the case, what if Roberts were to buck the trend and somehow manage to stay healthy AND productive this season? What would that do for the Yankees?
For starters, it would have to be considered either a miracle or some form of black magic because the guy has basically turned into Mr. Glass since ’09. There isn’t a projection system out there that expects him to reach more than 350 PA this season, which equates out to less than half a season’s worth of games played. Even if Roberts manages to avoid any major injuries, the results of his previous surgeries, his age, and all the wear and tear on his body from a 13-year career make him a high probability candidate to suffer any number of sprains, strains, tweaks, and pulls that could land him on the 15-day DL. 100 games played for Roberts this year would be an acceptable, if not overly aggressive, goal. Anything over that would be icing.
As far as productivity goes, that bar has been set pretty low too. ZiPS projects a .246/.304/.364 tripleslash (.296 wOBA) in 215 PA and CAIRO only slightly better at .244/.310/.371 (.300 wOBA) in 279 PA. That’s a far cry from Roberts’ .278/.349/.412 career line (.335 wOBA) and even farther from his .290/.380/.450 peak. If we’re being fair, I think we’d say something along the lines of .260/.330/.380 would exceed our expectations, especially if it’s accumulated over the aforementioned 100 games.
So what if Roberts beats that? What if he manages to play 130-140 games and what if he produces at or somewhere near his career averages? That would cure a lot of the Yankees’ infield ills. It would eliminate the need for a platoon at second, which the Yankees aren’t all that well equipped to handle now that Kelly Johnson looks like the everyday third baseman. The less we see of the Sizemores, Annas, and Nunezes of the world, at either position, the better. It would also be a boost to the overall infield defense. Roberts isn’t what he was with the glove, but he still rates as above-average according to some metrics and him spending the bulk of the time at his natural position is an upgrade over any of the potential replacements. His switch-hittingness would give Joe the flexibility to balance the bottom third of his lineup as needed on any given day and also give him another viable option for the top of the batting order, and maybe, just maybe, there would be enough left in his legs for Roberts to steal 10-12 bases.
That type of season would be worth 2-3 WAR and 2-3 WAR from second base after losing Cano would be cause for celebration in Yankeeland. More than anything though, a healthy and productive Roberts would make managing the rest of the roster easier for Joe. He’s already got a handful of other older players to keep a close eye on, a third base situation to figure out, a rotation full of age and experience-related question marks, and a bullpen that’s only half put together. Getting stability and production from a position that was expected to be a huge weakness would make the rest of it a little easier to handle. It’s almost certainly not going to happen, which is why so many of us were against the Roberts signing in the first place. But if Roberts’ final 10 games of 2013 (13-42, 2 2B, 3 HR, 8 R, 4 RBI) were an indication that he’s got something left, there is that slight chance.
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