10 Top Infield Free Agent, Trade Options for New York Yankees This Offseason
Presently, the left side of the New York Yankees infield consists of two giant question marks.
At third base, there's some uncertainty as to whether veteran slugger Alex Rodriguez will be back in 2013 after his bat went missing in the postseason. Even if he is back in New York next season, the Yankees have no idea what to expect out of A-Rod at his age.
The Yankees have long since grown accustomed to penciling Derek Jeter's name in at shortstop, but he'll be spending his offseason rehabbing a broken ankle. Complicating matters is the reality that Jeter, too, is getting long in the tooth.
Now more than ever before, the Yankees need to make shoring up the left side of their infield one of their top priorities for the winter. They need to find at least one more able body for the left side, preferably one that can fill in at both short and third.
Between the free-agent and the trade markets, there will be options out there for Brian Cashman if he makes a point of improving the left side of the club's infield this winter. Here's a look at 10 names that should be on his radar.
Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
10. Free Agent: Munenori Kawasaki
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If you're hearing the name Munenori Kawasaki for the first time just now, I guess I can't blame you. He only hit .192 with a .459 OPS in 61 games. He'll probably be remembered more in Seattle for his assorted eccentricities than his non-production at the plate.
So why should the Yankees have any interest in Kawasaki?
Precisely because he'd be a very cheap option that they could use to at least shore up their shortstop depth. Kawasaki isn't much of a hitter, but he's a good fielder who doesn't make mistakes. In a pure fielding sense, he'd be an upgrade over both Jeter himself and Eduardo Nunez.
He'd also bring some speed to the table, which is something the Yankees could very much use after their one-dimensional offense fell so hard and so fast in the postseason.
Munenori would also lighten up the clubhouse a little bit. He has a reputation of being a fun guy to be around, and the Yankees are going to need one of those if (OK, when) they let Nick Swisher walk as a free agent.
If the Yankees would prefer a more experienced major leaguer with a better bat, there are plenty of other options out there.
9. Trade: Clint Barmes, Pittsburgh Pirates
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Like Kawasaki, Clint Barmes isn't much of a hitter. He's a career .249 hitter with a career .688 OPS, and he's coming off a season in which he hit just .229 with a .593 OPS.
Barmes should be on the Yankees' radar anyway because he's one of the top defensive shortstops in the game. According to FanGraphs, he finished second among major league shortstops with a 14.4 UZR, and he also finished with a DRS (Defensive Runs Saved) of +13.
Again, the notion of finding a defensive upgrade at shortstop is something that should appeal to the Yankees given how poor Jeter's defense already is and how much poorer it's likely to become after he returns from his ankle injury. Barmes would be an even bigger defensive upgrade than Kawasaki.
Not that the Yankees would have to play Barmes every day, mind you. He's probably cut out for a backup role at this point in his career, and he wouldn't necessarily have to only be used as a backup shortstop. He has experience playing third base, and he has the athleticism to play some second base as well.
It wouldn't cost the Yankees much to trade for Barmes, who only has one year remaining on his contract. He could probably be had for cash and a couple mid-level prospects. If the Yankees are feeling really adventurous, they could see if the Pirates would go for a straight-up swap for Eduardo Nunez.
Given Pittsburgh's need for young players, the Pirates might just go for that.
8. Free Agent: Ronny Cedeno
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Speaking of Pirates, former Pirate Ronny Cedeno had a decent year for the New York Mets as a part-time player in 2012. He hit .259 with a career-high .741 OPS while filling in at shortstop, second base and third base.
Cedeno's glove isn't as good as those of Kawasaki or Barmes, but he does have both of them beat in the versatility arena. He spent most of his time at shortstop, but he logged close to 150 innings at second base and 21 innings at third base.
Despite the fact he logged significantly less time at the hot corner than at short and second, Cedeno actually handled it pretty well. Per FanGraphs, he made no errors at third and compiled a UZR/150 of 35.1.
Cedeno made $1.2 million in 2012, and the Yankees wouldn't have to pay him much more than that if they were to go after him. Cedeno is just another garden-variety utility infielder in many respects.
If a garden-variety utility infielder is what the Yankees are looking for, though, they could do better.
7. Free Agent: Maicer Izturis
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Maicer Izturis has been one of the top utility infielders in baseball for several years at this point, and it's a role he excelled in once again in 2012.
In 100 games, Izturis hit only .256 with a .634 OP, but he stole 17 bases and was caught only twice. In the end, he gave the Angels well over 200 innings at third base and over 190 innings at both second base and shortstop.
Izturis' speed and versatility are just what the Yankees are looking for in a player who could conceivably come in and spell A-Rod and Jeter on a regular basis. He really wasn't far off from being an everyday player in Anaheim, and it's not hard to imagine Joe Girardi using Izturis in the exact same ways that Mike Scioscia has all these years.
And since the Yankees tend to favor players with track records of playing on winning teams, they'll appreciate the fact that Izturis would be coming from an Angels team that was very successful during his time in Anaheim.
If the Yankees want a slightly more offensively inclined utility infielder, there's another free agent out there that they can turn to.
6. Free Agent: Jeff Keppinger
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Jeff Keppinger entered the 2012 season as a .281 career hitter with a .720 career OPS.
He proceeded to hit .325 with an .806 OPS in 2012 with the Tampa Bay Rays. Because, you know, the Rays have that kind of weird effect on people.
Keppinger's productive season could net him a starting job elsewhere, but there's a good chance that he'll have to settle for a cushy offer to remain a utility infielder somewhere.
The Yankees are a team that can make cushy offers to players like Keppinger, and they certainly have incentive to make him a cushy offer. His bat should intrigue them after the season he just had, and so should his versatility.
Keppinger was used primarily at third base in place of Evan Longoria in 2012, but he has plenty of experience playing shortstop, and he can also slide over and play second base.
Keppinger isn't a master fielder at any of these positions, but that may not concern the Yankees all that much if they see Keppinger as an option to spell A-Rod and Jeter. They've been living with poor defense on the left side of their infield for some time now, and they've been able to live with it because the offense has been there.
In a sense, Keppinger could come in and help the Yankees uphold the status quo.
5. Trade: Willie Bloomquist, Arizona Diamondbacks
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Willie Bloomquist once played all 10 positions on the field in one game.
It seems like that would be a Willie Bloomquist stat, anyway. If there's a position out there that hasn't yet been discovered yet, rest assured that Bloomquist knows where it is and how to play it.
The 2012 season was a little different for Bloomquist, however, as the Diamondbacks were forced by various circumstances to play him primarily at shortstop. Bloomquist made the most of the opportunity by hitting .302 with a career-best .724 OPS.
Bloomquist won't be playing shortstop on an everyday basis again in 2013. The Diamondbacks acquired a defensive wiz in Cliff Pennington in a recent trade with the Oakland A's, and as a result, they now find themselves in a position to deal either Bloomquist or John McDonald.
It makes more sense for them to trade Bloomquist given how much his trade value took a hike during the 2012 season. They could get cash and or a decent prospect for him, or perhaps another arm for their bullpen to join the newly acquired Heath Bell.
The Yankees can make a trade like that, and they have incentive to make it given how much they could use Bloomquist's skill set. He could easily fill in at third and short, and he also has a good bat and good athleticism.
Bloomquist is one of the best of the utility players the Yankees could go after. If they're looking for more of an everyday player, there are a few intriguing options out there.
4. Trade: Brendan Ryan, Seattle Mariners
Brendan Ryan is yet another guy on this countdown who can't hit a lick. He's a .244 career hitter with a .633 career OPS, and he's coming off a year in which he hit just .194 with a .555 OPS.
So why should the Yankees give Ryan the time of day?
Because he's one of the very best defensive shortstops in the game. He was the best defensive shortstop in the game this season, according to FanGraphs, posting a 14.7 UZR and a +27 DRS.
We know for a fact that the Yankees are intrigued with Ryan, as Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reported back in July that the Yankees tried to get Ryan before they tried to get Ichiro.
The Mariners were more willing to give up Ichiro than they were to give up Ryan at the time, but they may be more willing to deal Ryan in the immediate future than they were back then.
Ryan has been a good player for the Mariners, but he's not the franchise's future at the shortstop position. Nick Franklin is, and he's getting close to being ready for the majors.
Ryan would be strictly a shortstop if the Yankees were to acquire him. They could use him off the bench in a backup role, but they could also play him every day and either make Jeter an everyday DH or an everyday right fielder.
Hey, why not? They may need a new right fielder in the near future, and Jeter can do less damage defensively in right field than he can at shortstop.
3. Trade: Asdrubal Cabrera, Cleveland Indians
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Maybe the Yankees don't care about finding a utility infielder or a defensive wiz. At this point, perhaps what they would prefer is a guy who could come in and establish himself as a starter for the long haul.
If this is what they want, one of the shortstops they could consider is Asdrubal Cabrera. He's one of the few cornerstone pieces the Indians have at this point, but Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com has reported that rival teams think the Indians could listen to offers for Cabrera this winter.
Cabrera's a hard player to get a read on. He's been one of the top offensive shortstops in the league in the first half of each of the last two seasons only to fall apart in the second half both years. He was particularly bad in the second half of the 2012 season, hitting just .251 with a .676 OPS.
Asdrubal is also an enigma on defense. He has decent range, but his focus has a tendency to abandon him. He's made a ton of errors each of the last three seasons, and his advanced defensive metrics don't look all that great either (see FanGraphs).
One thing I've noticed about Cabrera, however, is that he tends to play better when the Tribe is winning. If so, it would therefore make sense that he didn't perform well in the second half in either 2011 or 2012. He may have just plain lost interest as the losses started to pile up.
On a winning team like the Yankees, this problem may not crop up again, in which case Cabrera may finally live up to his potential over a full season.
If the Yankees think the idea is worth a gamble, they could pry Cabrera from the Indians by surrendering one or two of the talented prospects they have at the lower levels of their system. The rebuilding Indians need as many prospects as they can get.
If the Yankees are looking to make a splash, Cabrera would be a good place to start looking.
2. Trade: Elvis Andrus, Texas Rangers
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If the Yankees want to make a splash in a trade for a young, talented shortstop, Asdrubal Cabrera should be Plan B.
Elvis Andrus should be Plan A.
There have been conflicting reports, but it's widely expected that the Texas Rangers will put Andrus on the trade market at some point this winter. As Richard Durrett of ESPNDallas.com recently noted, Jon Daniels is an opportunistic GM and Andrus is one of the club's major trade chips.
The only thing Andrus doesn't do well is hit for power. Beyond that, he gets on base well enough, he steals bases, he scores runs and he plays above-average defense.
Andrus is still only 24, but the Rangers have incentive to trade him because they need to clear the way for Jurickson Profar. They could also use Andrus to bring in an outfielder if Josh Hamilton departs or a starting pitcher to help round out their rotation.
The Yankees could offer the Rangers an outfielder. I, for one, would see if they'd be willing to take on Curtis Granderson. If they're not, I'd dangle Brett Gardner instead. He's a guy who would drastically improve Texas' outfield defense while giving it some speed, and he's cheaper than Andrus and due to hit free agency at the exact same time.
If the Rangers don't go for either of them, I'm seeing if they'd go for Phil Hughes and prospects or Ivan Nova and prospects.
Andrus would be worth it. He's a solid all-around player who would bring some much-needed versatility to the Yankees offense and better glove work to their infield. He could be a replacement for Jeter at shortstop both now and for many years to come.
If the Yankees want to aim big, they'll aim for Andrus.
If aiming small is all they intend to do, then there's one guy who needs to be at the top of their wish list.
1. Free Agent: Marco Scutaro
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Even before Marco Scutaro caught fire in the postseason, he had everything the Yankees could ever ask for in a utility infielder.
Scutaro has always been a solid hitter. He has a career .276 average and a career .731 OPS, and he just hit over .300 in 2012 for the first time in his career.
Scutaro also has the versatility the Yankees are looking for. He's a shortstop by trade, and this year, he took to playing third base on a regular basis before taking over as the Giants' everyday second baseman.
Beyond his bat and his versatility, Scutaro also has the kind of intangible qualities that the Yankees gravitate towards. He's an excellent guy to have in the clubhouse, and he's definitely making the most of the opportunity to win that he's getting with the Giants. Ichiro pulled the exact same trick with the Yankees before they were eliminated.
The Yankees wouldn't have to commit to Scutaro long-term if they were to go after him. He could probably be had on a two- or three-year deal for a reasonable amount of money, and he could be used on an everyday basis at third, short and at DH.
Scutaro's no superstar, but he's a good fit for the needs the Yankees have.
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