Can the Yankees Catch Lightning in a Bottle with Brian Roberts in 2014?

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistDecember 17, 2013

BALTIMORE, MD - AUGUST 17: Brian Roberts #1 of the Baltimore Orioles celebrates following the Orioles 8-4 win over the Colorado Rockies at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on August 17, 2013 in Baltimore, Maryland.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Rob Carr/Getty Images

Losing Robinson Cano was a big blow to the New York Yankees, not only because he is a great player, but because finding a quality second baseman on the open market is not easy. 

The Yankees signed Kelly Johnson to a one-year, $3 million deal earlier this offseason, and he was an option at second. However, he may actually wind up at third base, where an Alex Rodriguez suspension would leave a major void once again.

With Omar Infante and Mark Ellis signing with the Royals and Cardinals, respectively, last week, the best option left on the market at the position was 36-year-old Brian Roberts. Therefore, the Yankees pulled the trigger on signing the injury-plagued veteran on Tuesday morning.

According to Jon Morosi of Fox Sports, the two sides have come to terms on a one-year, $2 million deal that includes incentives:

A fan favorite in Baltimore who was once among the best second basemen in baseball, Roberts has dealt with a myriad injuries the past few seasons and has not played more than 77 games in a season since 2009.

Here is a look at his injury history, according to his Baseball Prospectus page, since the start of the 2010 season:

Brian Roberts: Significant Injuries and Time Missed Since 2010
DateInjuryTime Missed
April 10, 2010Abdominal Strain91 games
May 17, 2011Concussion122 games
March 26, 2012Recovery from Concussion60 games
July 2, 2012Right Hip Surgery84 games
April 5, 2013Right Hamstring Surgery79 games
Baseball Prospectus

The Orioles selected Roberts out of the University of South Carolina with the No. 50 overall pick in the 1999 draft, and he made his big league debut two years later.

By 2003, he had stepped into an everyday role. From 2003-09, his combined 28.1 rWAR (Wins Above Replacement, per Baseball Reference) trailed only Chase Utley among all second basemen.

He made a pair of All-Star teams and finished 18th in the AL MVP voting during a fantastic 2005 season.

Brian Roberts' Stats, 2003-2009
2003460 AB, .270/.337/.367, 22 2B, 5 HR, 41 RBI, 65 R, 23 SB2.7
2004641 AB, .273/.344/.376, 50 2B, 4 HR, 53 RBI, 107 R, 29 SB2.4
2005561 AB, .314/.387/.515, 45 2B, 18 HR, 73 RBI, 92 R, 27 SB7.3
2006563 AB, .286/.347/.410, 34 2B, 10 HR, 55 RBI, 85 R, 36 SB3.3
2007621 AB, .290/.377/.432, 42 2B, 12 HR, 57 RBI, 103 R, 50 SB4.2
2008611 AB, .296/.378/.450, 51 2B, 9 HR, 57 RBI, 107 R, 40 SB5.2
2009632 AB, .283/.356/.451, 56 2B, 16 HR, 79 RBI, 110 R, 30 SB3.0
Baseball Reference

The question now is, just how much does Roberts have left in the tank? Can he stay healthy enough for the Yankees to actually rely on him as their primary second baseman this coming season?

He managed to stay in the lineup over the final three months of 2013, appearing in 73 games from the start of July through the end of the regular season.

Over that span, he hit .239/.307/.386 with 11 doubles and eight home runs in 251 at-bats. While Roberts' average is obviously not where you want it to be, those are decent power numbers for a second baseman, and he did draw some walks to post a respectable OBP given his average.

The absolute best-case scenario would be Roberts staying healthy enough to give the Yankees 500-plus at-bats this coming season. If that were to happen, and with a full spring training under his belt to prepare, he could put up 30 doubles, 15 home runs and 65 RBI with a .260/.330/.400 line.

That said, more than 500 at-bats is asking a lot. 

If Roberts can play just 100 games and give the Yankees 400 at-bats while posting something like a .250/.320/.375 line with 15 doubles, eight home runs and 50 RBI, he'd be worth every penny of his $2 million contract, plus whatever incentives he collects.

By comparison, light-hitting utility man Nick Punto will get $2.75 million from the A's next season. Meanwhile, the Yankees handed out $2 million for all-glove, no-bat infielder Brendan Ryan.

Roberts is not going to be the All-Star player he once was. And the Yankees will no doubt need to turn to the likes of Ryan and Johnson at some point during the season, as Roberts will likely miss time.

However, the deal makes perfect sense for the Yankees and is undoubtedly one of the better low-risk, high-reward contracts to be handed out so far this offseason.


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