Sizing Up the Second Base Market

Earlier today, Brad discussed the Yankees potentially heading into 2016 with a Dustin Ackley/Rob Refsnyder platoon at second base. That duo represented a breath of fresh air over the last month of the season, combining to hit .325/.375/.638 with 5 HR in just 88 PA. Of course, those 88 PA represent a drop in the bucket, in terms of both sample size (meaning our expectations should not be terribly influenced by those gaudy numbers), and with respect to the team's overall production at the keystone.  In 2015, Yankees second basemen batted .223/.279/.403, good for a 90 sOPS+ (meaning that Stephen Drew and Co. were about 10% below-average as a group). And despite the front office's best efforts to maintain strong up-the-middle defense, the Yankees ranked 28th in the Majors in defensive runs saved, and dead last in UZR/150 at second. Add it all together, and the Yankees ranked 29th in the Majors in second base fWAR, at -1.1. The team was in a similarly awkward position heading into last year's off-season, and the free agent market offered mostly less than enthusing options. Luckily for the Yankees, there are four semi-intriguing names out there this time around (assuming that this is a 'Bubba Crosby is our center-fielder' sort of posturing).

Asdrubal Cabrera .265/.315/.430, 28 2B, 5 3B, 15 HR, 104 wRC+, 1.8 bWAR, 2.2 fWAR (551 PA)

Cabrera played 136 games in the infield this season, and all came at shortstop (where he has long been terrible). However, he has played 210 games at second, including 48 games there in 2014. He has never been a genuine asset at the position, and it is unlikely that he ever will be, but he has been passable there for his career (-2.5 UZR/150). And it stands to reason that he could improve a tick with regular reps at the position, as he hasn't played there full-time since 2008.

Offensively, Cabrera is a bit above-average for a middle infielder. He offers a good amount of pop for the position, and he's fairly consistent (compare his 2015 line to his 162-game average of .267/.329/.412 with 54 XBH and a 103 wRC+). He's also the youngest of the group, as he won't be 30 until November 13th.

Howie Kendrick .295/.336/.409, 22 2B, 2 3B, 9 HR, 109 wRC+, 1.1 bWAR, 2.1 fWAR (495 PA)

Your stance on Kendrick is likely dependent upon how you view defensive metrics, as his cratered this season (-12 DRS, -6.0 UZR/15). Some of that may be explained away by a lingering hamstring injury, which did cause him to miss a month, but he's also 32-years-old. Moreover, leg injuries are nothing new to Kendrick, as he has been on the disabled list four times with hamstring issues in his career, and another time with a hyper-extended knee. The wear and tear a second baseman endures is well-known, and Kendrick is a fine example of that.

To be fair, Kendrick's bat was not slowed down this year, as his overall numbers were right in-line with his career norms. His high-contact approach has paid dividends throughout his career, and he's been a model of consistency, batting between .285 and .297 in each of the last five years.

Daniel Murphy .281/.322/.449, 38 2B, 2 3B, 14 HR, 110 wRC+, 1.4 bWAR, 2.5 fWAR (538 PA)

How's this for consistency - Murphy has hit between .281 and .291 with an OBP between .319 and .332 and a wRC+ between 103 and 110 in each of the last four seasons. His power spiked this year, as he had a career-best .168 ISO, but his quiet, steady production has been as dependable as could be. This season, however, Murphy appears to have decided that he simply didn't feel like striking out anymore, cutting his K% to a minuscule 7.1% (the lowest among qualified batters, and nobody was particularly close).

Long regarded as a butcher in the field, Murphy has been closer to below-average than horrible for the last three seasons. He is not an asset in the field (far from it), but he does not seem appreciably worse than what the Yankees have trotted out there these last two seasons, nor was he worse than Cabrera and Kendrick this year.

Ben Zobrist .276/.359/.450, 36 2B, 3 3B, 13 HR, 123 wRC+, 1.9 bWAR, 2.1 fWAR (535 PA)

Much like Kendrick, Zobrist's defense appears to have fallen off of a cliff in 2015, as UZR, DRS, and dWAR all viewed 2015 as his worst defensive season by comfortable margin. This is somewhat unsurprising, as Zobrist is 35 and struggled with injuries this season. And many have argued that his defensive value has long been inflated by small sample sizes, due to him splitting his time between multiple positions on teams that utilize the shift with staggering frequency.

Offensively, Zobrist had a mini-resurgence. He cut his strikeout rate for the fourth straight season, and gained about 50 points of ISO on 2013 and 2014. His baserunning slipped a bit, but that has not been a true strength of his since 2011. Again, though - he's 35-years-old.

Other options include Chase Utley (who is turning 37 in December, and coming off of a 71 wRC+ season), Kelly Johnson (who is apparently good with everyone but the Yankees), and ... well ... Stephen Drew. If the Yankees are going to dip into the free agent pool, I'm not sure that anyone outside of Cabrera, Kendrick, Murphy, or Zobrist would make sense.

The trade market presents at least one intriguing scenario, and that's Starlin Castro. With Addison Russell taking over at shortstop and Javier Baez showing improvement, Castro may well be the odd man out. And if that's the case, I would hope that the Yankees would check-in on the 25-year-old middle infielder. He has been nothing but inconsistent in his career, but the talent is there, and he feels like a textbook 'change of scenery' type. (Full disclosure - I've loved Castro since he was a prospect).

If the Yankees end up delving into free agency to fill the hole at second, I think any of Cabrera, Kendrick, Murphy, or Zobrist would represent an upgrade over Ackley and Refsnyder. My only concern would be whether the first three receive a qualifying offer (Zobrist is not eligible, as he was dealt at midseason), and the length of the contract. I would not give up a draft pick for any of these gentlemen, and I would not want to go beyond three years, either, given the attrition rate of middle infielders. And if the Cubs wanted top prospects for Castro, I would not move on him, either.

Should those standards be too high, I am surprisingly okay with giving Ackley and Refsnyder a chance to shine.