Yankees Free Agents: Players Who'd Best Fit Joe Girardi's Strategy
The New York Yankees are a team looking to vastly improve this offseason, as a lack of postseason hitting and aging veterans were the two major downfalls to the team last season.
Manager Joe Girardi will be returning next season, so it's general manager Brian Cashman's job to give Girardi the players he needs to fulfill the ultimate goal—winning the World Series.
There are several players on the free-agent market who fit the strategies Girardi likes to play by. He loves matchups, making several bullpen pieces on the market interesting options. He also loves pitchers who can go deep into games (who doesn't, really?), and there are several pitchers who fit that mold.
Other needs are not as obvious. Girardi would love to have a younger, more versatile reserve infielder not named Eduardo Nunez. He also needs someone who can handle the pitching staff, but also handle the bat as well.
Cashman really has his work cut out for him this offseason. If he abides by Girardi's wishes and signs players that fit his strategies, the Yankees will be better off during this upcoming season.
Note: Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte are not included in this slideshow, as it's a near lock that they will either be rejoining the Yankees or retiring.
With CC Sabathia's sporadic struggles and minor injuries this season, Hiroki Kuroda was by far the Yankees' most reliable starter. This gave Girardi immense amounts of confidence that the bullpen would get a much-needed rest every fifth day.
He tossed a career-high 219.2 innings and won a career-high 16 games. He also posted a 3.32 ERA, the second-best mark of his career.
It's obvious that the Yankees need to do whatever it takes to bring him back.
Cashman may have to coax Kuroda away from returning to his native Japan, and that could prove to be difficult. Money won't be the reason he returns to Japan; just the thought of being back home is obviously an intriguing option.
Kuroda is a great fit on this Yankees staff.
He is a veteran who eats innings and gives his chance to win every single time he pitches. He is a true professional who works hitters and puts them away with strikeouts or soft ground balls. Playing in a stadium like the Yankees do, ground-ball inducers are invaluable.
If Kuroda decides to play another year in the states, Cashman needs to do all he can to re-sign him.
Anybody that watches the Yankees with the slightest bit of consistency knows that Girardi trusts his binder more than he trusts his gut.
Career batting averages and splits are his best friend when it comes to handling his bullpen.
Girardi often used both lefty specialists—Boone Logan and Clay Rapada—in singular games because of a certain batter's career marks against lefties.
Rapada was stellar against lefties, holding them to a .186 average. The problem was that allowed right-handers to bat .303 against him.
Logan, on the other hand, held lefties to .231 and righties to .238—essentially making him equally as effective against both.
Both are arbitration eligible, but the Yankees could choose to not offer either arbitration and instead go after Mike Gonzalez from the Washington Nationals.
Gonzalez held lefties to just a .179 clip this season, making him one of the more trusted options coming out of Davey Johnson's bullpen.
With Girardi's love of statistics and matchups, Gonzalez would be a smart addition.
Yeah, yeah, I know—Russell Martin was horrific with the bat last season. So horrific that I don't even need to remind everyone of his poor average and inability to put the ball in play on a regular basis.
That being said, he's still the best fit for Girardi given the other free-agent catchers.
A.J. Pierzynski, while a very good player, provides mostly offense at this point in his career. Last season, he smashed 27 home runs and hit .278. Unfortunately, the fact that he's 35 leads most to believe that he won't be able to catcher over 120 games or so.
Mike Napoli is the best hitting catcher available. He's coming off a down season (.227 with 22 home runs), but his offensive potential his there. Plus, Napoli is more of a catcher/first base hybrid, making him more of a hindrance than a help to the Yankees.
This makes Martin pretty much the most attractive option by default. The likes of Yorvit Torrealba, Gerald Laird, Kelly Shoppach and Miguel Olivo are another whole tier below.
Martin is capable of handling the pitching staff, and hey, you never know—is it possible for his bat to get much worse?
Ichiro Suzuki played very, very well last season after coming over at the trade deadline from the Seattle Mariners.
Even so, it was clear that he never really fit with Girardi's managing style. Girardi doesn't like sending runners, nor does he enjoy bunting all that much, both of which are pretty decent-sized portions of Ichiro's game.
With this in mind, the best option for Girardi in right field would be Torii Hunter.
Hunter hit an incredible .313 at age 37 last season, while also blasting 16 home runs and driving in 92. While his power production wasn't off the charts, it obviously didn't hurt his total run production.
Hunter also plays a stellar outfield, even though he's no longer the center fielder he once was. This would be a big upgrade from Nick Swisher, whose defense could be described as average-at-best.
With Swisher's impending exit, the Yankees will also make an attempt to fill the void left by him in the clubhouse. Hunter can easily transition into that role. He is generally regarded as one of the nicer guys in the sport.
Ichiro is a great player, even now, but Hunter is the better fit with Girardi.
Newsday's Ken Davidoff tweeted a few days ago that the Yankees are looking for a shortstop/third baseman who could play 100 games combined between the two spots. This would obviously be done in an effort to give the aging bodies of Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter half-days off at designated hitter.
Jayson Nix is not capable of providing the offensive production necessary, and Eduardo Nunez's defensive struggles may just be enough to keep Girardi from inserting him into that role.
Enter Jeff Keppinger.
Keppinger hit .325/.367/.439 last season with the Tampa Bay Rays. He hit nine home runs and drove in 40.
He mostly played third base, filling in for the injured Evan Longoria. He didn't play any shortstop, but he's played 178 games there in his career.
Keppinger played in 115 games with the Rays, making him a perfect fit for this role. He can hit for average, move runners along by making contact and play solid defense.
Another interesting thing about Keppinger is that it's very tough to strike him out. In 2008, he placed first in the National League with 19.1 at-bats between strikeouts. In 2010, he placed first with 14.3 in between.
The Yankees struggled to put the ball in play during the postseason, making a little statistic like this one extremely important.