Luis Valbuena: The Perfect Free Agent Target

There are undoubtedly a few questions readers are asking themselves upon reading the title of this post. I shall do my best to head them off at the pass.

01. Who the heck is Luis Valbuena?

Valbuena is a soon-to-be 31-year-old left-handed hitting infielder, that has spent the last two seasons with the Astros. He spent most of last season as a third baseman, but he has also played his fair share of first and second over the last three seasons (which includes his last season with the Cubs). 

02. Is Luis Valbuena any good?

This is a common question, and one that I'm hoping front offices are wondering - but the answer is unequivocally yes. Valbuena hit .260/.357/.459 with 13 HR (123 wRC+), compiling 2.6 bWAR in just 342 PA. He has hit .243/.334/.442 over the last three seasons (116 wRC+), knocking out 54 HR in 1382 PA along the way. He has consistently above-average walk rates (11.5 BB% the last three years), and strikes out just a bit more than the average hitter (21.7 K%).

Valbuena may be best-suited as a platoon bat, though. He had massive platoon splits in 2014 (127 wRC+ vs. RHP, 77 vs. LHP) and 2015 (123 vs. RHP, 64 vs. LHP), though he did show more competence against same-handed pitchers in 2016 (129 vs. RHP, 104 vs. LHP).

Defensively ... there's no easy answer, at least insofar as the numbers are concerned. UZR has hated his defense at third the last few years, whereas Defensive Runs Saved and Total Zone have viewed it as average-ish. The numbers are also split on his defense at first and second, though the ordering is a bit different. And so, in the end, it may be safest to vaguely say that he's playable at 1B, 2B, and 3B.

03. What role would he play with the Yankees?

He would be the guy that the team wanted Dustin Ackley and Rob Refsnyder to be - a utility player that can actually contribute on offense. Valbuena could back-up three infield positions, and hit well-enough against RHP to see time at DH in platoon situations, as well. He wouldn't necessarily have a set everyday role, but I believe the team could let him start almost every game against a RHP, albeit at a different position. After all, this is a team that posted a 93 wRC+ against RHP last year.

Valbuena could also serve as a back-up plan to Greg Bird, who showed signs of rust in the Arizona Fall League, as he works his way back from a serious shoulder injury. He may not be the ideal starting first baseman - but he would be a better option than Tyler Austin or the aforementioned Refnsyder.

04. What will he cost?

The MLB Trade Rumors crew projected a 2-year, $14 MM deal, and that seems reasonable. And I would be happy to see the Yankees spend that on a platoon/bench player with the sort of upside that Valbuena offers.

05. Would he be willing to come off the bench?

That is probably the most important question here. Barring the Yankees flipping Chase Headley or Starlin Castro, there's no guaranteed starting role for Valbuena - and I'm not sure that I'd endorse creating that opportunity for him, either (though it would depend on what they received in return). Hopefully a few extra shekels and the 400-plus PA he could rack up in the role that I've described would be more appealing.

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Valbuena is not the best player on the market, by any stretch of the imagination, but he may well be the best position player fit for the Yankees. His positional flexibility makes him a better choice than someone like Kendrys Morales, who is a DH-only, and his cost figures to be lower, to boot. And, for a team that figures to give its young players a genuine shot this year, I love the idea of having a player that could bounce between positions and serve as a safety net, without hurting the team on either side of the ball - and Valbuena is just that.