On Tuesday, I wrote about how the Yankees need to add depth to the infield to prevent the same problems we saw in 2013. The team is already out on Stephen Drew and Cuban shortstop Aledmys Diaz, but now Brian Cashman is hinting that he recognizes the team’s weaknesses.
“I am more focused on the bullpen, the rotation and how that will shake out and the infield that is not Mark Teixeira or Derek Jeter. I have said it’s a developing story that the Yankees have to keep focused on,” Cashman said of second and third. “Do we have the answer, the exclamation point right here in camp? If the answer is no, we have to look outside. If we need to do improvements it has to be cheap, we spent our money.”
In this report by George King, he brings up names like the White Sox’ Jeff Keppinger and Gordon Beckham, as well as the Brewers’ Rickie Weeks. In my last post I also brought up Asdrubal Cabrera, who with one year left on his contract, could lose his job to Francisco Lindor. There are two issues with these players, the first being their salary. It truly looks like the Yankees are done spending their big money in 2014, and adding one of these guys will add millions more to the payroll. The second problem is that there’s been a recent and much needed youth movement with the Yankees. It’s easy to look at the infield and call this team old, but the Yankees will have a very young starting rotation with Masahiro Tanaka, Ivan Nova, and Michael Pineda, as well as a young bullpen that could sport Dellin Betances, Manny Banuelos, and Cesar Cabral.
With the infield as old as it is, and with Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez the only two players guaranteed to start over the next few years, (if you think the Yankees will keep Rodriguez around) a young and cost controlled infielder could save this team some big money during the 2014-2015 offseason. I suggested the Mariners’ second baseman and shortstop Nick Franklin a couple of days ago, but the Diamondbacks are now looking like an interesting trade partner.
Diamondbacks’ GM and ex-Yankee scout Kevin Towers mentioned to Nick Piecoro that Chris Owings and Didi Gregorius are battling for the same major league spot, with the loser landing in Triple-A. With Stephen Drew still on the market, Towers has been reluctant to trade one of his shortstops since Drew is limiting the value of his trade pieces. Despite holding off on trading one of his young middle infielders, Towers stated that he wanted starting pitching and catching.
“For us, it would have to be the right deal,” Towers said. “Our biggest needs in our system are catching. If it’s the right, top-notch catching prospect. Someone we could have right behind Miggy. More of an upper-level guy. Maybe a top, upper-end starter. We have a lot of bullpen depth, infielders. Maybe an outfielder, but probably more catching and Double-A, Triple-A type starter.”
On the other hand, the Yankees have excess catching, in fact they have 5 catchers on their 40-man roster. Brian McCann and Francisco Cervelli project to make the 2014 team, with John Ryan Murphy and Austin Romine ending up in Triple-A, and Gary Sanchez moving back to Double-A. Murphy may be the most valuable upper-level trade piece at the moment, with Sanchez owning just 110 plate appearances above Single-A baseball.
Back in December, before signing Roberts, the Yankees were rumored to be interested in Didi Gregorius as a second baseman for 2014 and backup to Jeter. The left-handed Gregorius put up a .252/.332/.373 slash in his first full major league season at 23 years old. The shortstop’s defense was considered average in the small sample size of data we received from 2013, but his bat has some potential.
The left-hander can pull the ball, and if he were playing in Yankee Stadium in 2013, he would have hit 10 home runs at home. Gregorius also limited his strikeouts fairly well in his first season, and walked a surprisingly 9.2% of the time. His biggest problem is hitting left-handed pitching, and in 2013 he hit just .200/.267/.245 against southpaws. The Yankees have a knack for fixing those problems through Kevin Long’s screen drills, which he used with great success on Brett Gardner and Robinson Cano.
Meanwhile, Chris Owings saw his first taste of the big leagues in September of last season. He hit .291/.361/.382 in 61 plate appearances, but really picked it up in his last few games by hitting .346/.346/.538 in his last 26 plate appearances. In the minors, Owings hit .330/.359/.482 with 12 home runs and 20 stolen bases in the extremely friendly PCL league, though he did show signs of breaking out in High-A in 2012. The right-handed hitter can hit for power, but he’s also prone to strike outs. The overall consensus by scouts is that Owings has a solid glove at shortstop, but he may struggle to put up a high enough on base percentage to successfully use his speed.
Either of these middle infield candidates are far upgrades to what the Yankees’ have in their minor-league system. With Brian McCann under contract and a ton of depth behind him, there’s no reason to hold on to all of their catching prospects, and if the Diamondbacks are interested in Murphy, the teams matchup extremely well for a trade this March.