It’s been a head scratching offseason of doubling back on commitments and pleasing the fanbase. After blowing past the $189 million budget, the Yankees surprised many by signing Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran, and Masahiro Tanaka. After a season of watching platoon players forced into full time rolls, the spending spree is an exciting sign that the team is back to spending.
Though they’ve committed so much money this offseason, the Yankees’ are still far below their 2013 payroll and without a dynamic infield. Sometime around the Winter Meetings, Brian Cashman was quoted saying that he’d like to add 1 or 2 more weapons to his lineup, and return to a top 3 offense in baseball. Instead, the team signed Brian Roberts and Scott Sizemore, neither of which can be considered offensive weapons. Before signing Tanaka, rumors were that the Yankees had a standing offer to Drew, supposedly 2 years at $20 million, but after signing Tanaka, Hal Steinbrenner put a stop to spending. The next biggest middle infield free agent was the Cuban shortstop Diaz, who after some in depth scouting, the team decided to pass on. Even with money to spare, the team has already said no to both Stephen Drew and Aledmys Diaz.
Now the Yankees are at a point where they have an elite outfield, but one of the weakest infields in baseball. Not only are they relying on Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, Brian Roberts, and Kelly Johnson to stay healthy, but they’re relying on these players to remain productive despite age. The Yankees are one Jeter injury away from Brendan Ryan as the full-time shortstop, they’re one Roberts injury away from moving Sizemore to third base, and one Teixeira injury away from Russ Canzler. If this doesn’t work, the Yankees will have to tap into guys like Jose Pirela, Corban Joseph, Zealous Wheeler, Yangervis Solarte, or Dean Anna.
Having a guy like Kelly Johnson could be an extremely beneficial insurance policy. He’s a guy that can play every non-shortstop position in the infield, and if an injury occurs to an already extremely injury-prone crop of players, Johnson could provide an above average bat and defense. But the way the roster has shaped up, Johnson has no maneuverability because he’s the starting third baseman.
It seems silly to come this far, spend so much money on the rotation and the outfield, and enter the season with such a dangerous infield. One more infielder with a legitimate bat could make this team that top 3 offense that Brian Cashman wanted. When the inevitable Roberts and/or Jeter injury happens, this team could look a lot like 2013 all over again, where guys like Sizemore and Ryan are forced to play everyday regardless of performance.
So with the team out on Drew and Diaz, what is the next step? It sounds like the organization is still actively looking for other infielders, but the consensus is that they’re not going to trade for any big names like Chase Headley. With Brett Gardner, Ellsbury, and McCann locked up on long term deals, the Yankees could certainly part with their top positional prospects in Gary Sanchez, Mason Williams, Slade Heathcott, and/or Tyler Austin. They’d be selling low on them, but one additional infield piece may be enough to make them the AL East favorite.
As Spring Training develops, other teams will know what they can part with. The Indians seem to have a backlog at third base, which would make Lonnie Chisenhall available, and they may even have the same problem at shortstop if Francisco Lindor has a breakout in March, making Asdrubal Cabrera available.
Other teams may have similar dilemmas, but the Mariners have already begun shopping their middle infielder Nick Franklin. Franklin was a 27th overall pick in 2009, and the shortstop developed more into a second baseman by the end of his minor league career. The Mariner’s farm system has been extremely friendly to hitters, especially left-handed ones, but Franklin has developed as a switch-hitter. In 2010, Franklin broke out with 23 home runs at the age of 19, and the following year he was injured by a bat to the jaw during batting practice. Franklin re-emerged in 2012, OPS’ing .800 between Double-A and Triple-A, and in 2013 he OPS’d .912 in the PCL before getting the call up to Seattle. With the Mariners, Franklin struggled as most of their young hitters do. The AL West’s notoriously tough ballparks and Safeco especially, have failed their young hitters a number of times. In 412 major league plate appearances, Franklin OPS’d just .686 at the age of 22. Franklin may be the best young player readily available on the free agent market. He has a lot of rebound potential, and could provide power from the middle infield. Even as a second baseman, it’s not hard to see how his bat will translate in a more hitter friendly environment like Yankee Stadium and the AL East.
Franklin may be the best available name at the moment, but I’d hope the Yankees have their eyes and ears open. The team is one infield injury away from bringing back memories of 2013. One player could fix that, and make efficient use of Kelly Johnson’s talents. Perhaps we sound like spoiled Yankee fans, but Brian Roberts should not be a starting second baseman on any team, let alone a team that just committed nearly a half billion dollars to this roster.