COMMENTARY | The New York Yankees' third-base options lay in limbo as the team awaits the verdict of third baseman Alex Rodriguez's appeal hearing for his 211-game suspension involving performance-enhancing drugs.
Are the Yankees looking at another season of under-performance at the hot corner in 2014?
Last offseason, the Yankees were in a similar situation with Rodriguez due to his recovery from hip surgery. They went out and signed Kevin Youkilis to the biggest $12 million waste of a contract in recent memory. Youkilis was in an obvious downturn prior to the signing, but Yankees general manager Brian Cashman crossed his fingers and hoped for the best. They received the worst.
Including Youkilis and Rodriguez, the Yankees fielded 10 players at third. The group accumulated a miserable slash line of .231/.293/.340. That's a .633 OPS, which ranked 29th out of the 30 MLB teams.
Rodriguez was by the far the best with the stick when playing at the position for the Bombers, hitting .307/.391/.515 with five homers in 114 plate appearances. Take away Rodriguez's numbers from the equation and the Yankees put the worst offensive grouping together among all teams at third base.
The Yankees invested so heavily in Youkilis that they did not have much of a backup plan and it proved to be an incredible mistake. This season, the Yankees have not done much more to cover the possibility that Rodriguez could miss an entire season. Instead, they have pieced together a collection of players who will most likely have a spring training competition for the regular season role unless a free-agent signing is made.
The questions at hand: How will Cashman fill the potential void and will his choice(s) work out better in 2014?
The Yankees signed Kelly Johnson to a one-year, $3 million deal early this offseason. Johnson, a left-handed hitter with pop, has played just 16 games at third (all in 2013 with the Tampa Bay Rays), but he is believed to be able to handle the role. The Yankees signed him with the intent to use him as a utility player, but now they may be forced to have him man third more often than not.
The team inked Brendan Ryan to a two-year contract, mostly as a backup plan for shortstop Derek Jeter, who is coming off a season in which he played just 17 games. Ryan carries a weak stick but is a defensive wizard who could spend a few days at third if needed.
Lastly, the Yankees could further test Eduardo Nunez at the hot corner. Nunez is an enigma. He occasionally swings a good bat, but he has yet to develop into the offensive threat some believed he would. His defense is still atrocious. Nunez may have fallen out of favor with the organization after he demonstrated that he couldn't handle the everyday role at shortstop last season in Jeter's absence.
The signings of Johnson, Ryan and Brian Roberts seem to indicate as much. But with not much else available, expect Nunez to see some reps at third in the spring.
Since none of these options are particularly comforting, the Yankees will likely pursue other options to coincide with one or more of the above mentioned players if A-Rod is to miss the entire season. Since they do not seem to have a fit to bring in anyone via a trade, the Yanks will look to fill from a slim free-agent market.
The Yankees could seek to create a reunion with Mark Reynolds. Reynolds played 36 games with the Bombers in 2013. He put up a .755 OPS and hit six home runs, but struck out 31 times in 120 plate appearances with the Yankees. In all, Reynolds smacked 21 homers in 2013, the sixth straight season he eclipsed 20 dingers. The strikeouts come with the homers where it concerns Reynolds, but at sixth, seventh or possibly eighth in the batting order, his power-bat could be beneficial. He is a below-average fielder at third.
Lastly, the Yankees have been linked to Michael Young. Young, 37, is trending downward at this point in his career. He did record a .730 OPS in 2013, much better than the .683 he posted in 2012. Young's company-man disposition would fit in well in the clubhouse. Young is among the poorer fielders of the bunch however. While the Yankees want offense from the position, they don't necessarily want a detriment on third either.
Both Reynolds and Young will likely command a major league contract, so bringing either of them in on minor league deals to see who looks best is not an option. If the Yankees decide to go the free-agent route, they might end up with someone who could be more than just a platoon option.
Reynolds' and Young's splits are not severe. Reynolds owns a .777 OPS versus righties and .834 versus lefties in his career, while Young has a career .772 OPS versus right-handers and .829 against southpaws. Reynolds provides more power, while Young will have a higher on-base percentage.
The prospect of teaming Reynolds with Johnson is an interesting one. The Yanks likely want Johnson's bat in the lineup somewhere especially against right-handed pitchers. With ample plate appearances, a Reynolds/Johnson combination could launch 30+ homers in 2014. Likewise, a platoon with Young has its own merits for run production, just from a different standpoint. Also, both Reynolds and Young have experience playing first base, so they could potentially give Mark Teixeira occasional rest when needed.
In the end, the Yankees are going to have to make a move if Rodriguez is in fact suspended for all or a majority of the season. The current options will not suffice. The alternatives in the market are only slightly better than what they had entering the 2013 season, but are still considered question marks. At least they won't cost as much as Youkilis.
Like him or not, Rodriguez would be the best option the Yankees have at third base, but most likely he'll be a spectator for at least most of the season. A collection of what-ifs at third base stares Cashman in the face, which could lead to another season of barren production at the hot corner for the Yankees.
Chris Carelli is a freelance sports writer/editor and the Director of Content Strategy for Sportsideo. Besides his work as a New York Yankees contributor for Yahoo Sports, Chris created and maintains his own blog site, The Baseball Stance, which provides commentary about all of Major League Baseball. Connect with Chris on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.
- Sports & Recreation
- Alex Rodriguez
- New York Yankees
- Kevin Youkilis
- Mark Reynolds