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New York Yankees: The Cavern at Second Base

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COMMENTARY | When the 2013 season came to an end, many New York Yankees fans were expecting Robinson Cano to be handed a very large contract.

He certainly was, netting a 10-year, $240 million deal. Unfortunately, for the Bronx faithful, it was the Seattle Mariners who were willing to pay Cano into his 40s.

Cano's departure has left the Yankees with a large hole at the keystone, one which they intend to fill with Brian Roberts, a player who has played only 192 games over the last four seasons. That's 456 games missed. Cano missed just 14 games since 2007. The Yankees are going from a player who exemplified stability to one who has shown little of the same quality since 2009.

Roberts, a longtime member of the Baltimore Orioles, signed a one-year $3 million contract with the Bombers. As the team readies itself for spring training, Roberts is No. 1 on the depth chart. What can the Yankees expect from the 33-year-old if he's healthy?

Roberts played in 77 games in 2013, the most since 2009 when he was considered one of the better second baseman in the league. In 291 plate appearances last season, Roberts produced a slash line of .249/.312/.392. Not too shabby for the position, but dwarfed by Cano's .314/.383/.516 splits from 2013.

Roberts used to possess above-average speed, swiping 235 bases from 2003 through 2009. He stole just three bases in 2013. As for Roberts' glove, he's a good fielder, posting a 5.1 UZR/150, according to FanGraphs, which was actually better than Cano's 1.3 in the same category.

Are there other options? There certainly are, but each one has just as many question marks attached to them as Roberts.

Kelly Johnson was signed initially to be a super-utility player and as a backup plan for the possibility of losing Cano. Johnson is most comfortable at second base, having played 84.3% of his 960 MLB games there, but he now seems to be the benefactor of Alex Rodriguez's suspension and is being penciled in as the main option at third base.

The Yankees signed veteran shortstop Brendan Ryan to a two-year deal, again with eyes toward using him at a position other than second base. Ryan is mainly on the roster as a fallback to provide rest days for Derek Jeter as he returns to the field after missing 145 games in 2013. Ryan is a slick fielder who could slide over to second, where he has logged 59 games. But Ryan possesses a weak bat (career .619 OPS), so any long term stay at second base would not be likely.

The Yankees acquired two minor league players over the winter that could make an impact in New York this season. They received Dean Anna in a trade with the San Diego Padres and signed Yangervis Solarte, previously in the Texas Rangers' organization, as a minor league free agent.

Anna, 27, has played 253 minor league games at second, more than any other position. He hit .331/.410/.482 at Triple-A Tucson last season with 38 doubles and nine home runs. Solarte, 26, ripped 23 homers over the last two seasons for the Rangers' Triple-A affiliate.

In an effort to provide even more depth at second and third, the Yankees signed Scott Sizemore to a minor league deal with an invite to spring training. Sizemore played in just 2 games in 2013 and he last played a full season in 2011 due to a smattering of injuries. He owns a career OPS of .709 in 585 MLB plate appearances.

I don't feel very confident that Roberts can stay on the field long enough to accumulate much more than 400 plate appearances, and that is being generous. The Yankees likely feel the same way as each move they make seems to be one that hedges a bet against a successful tenure from Roberts.

Since the Yankees seem to be done spending for the season, Johnson looks to be the man ready to assume most of the at-bats as the regular third baseman. The team can be hopeful that either Anna or Solarte pan out as a long-term solution, but the reality is time is running out for each of them. Ryan's bat is not strong enough to be an everyday player and Sizemore is a wild card at best. I wouldn't be surprised if the Yankees continue to hand out minor league deals to test others at second base, or work the waiver wire as the season progresses.

In Cano, the Yankees had a sure thing at second base since 2005. In 2014, there could be a never-ending loop of players manning the position, none of whom can come close to replicating the production Cano provided. For better or worse, Roberts is the answer for now. A pebble instead of a rock; a large cavern to fill indeed.

Statistics provided by FanGraphs.

Please see the author's recent look at what the Yankees can expect from first baseman Mark Teixeira; part of what will be an ongoing series through the remainder of the offseason.

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. He is a member of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance and the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America. Connect with Chris on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.
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