MLB Hot Stove: Options for Yankees at 2B and 3B after Castro and Headley trades
The Yankees added Giancarlo Stanton in a blockbuster trade, though they now have openings at second and third
Within the last week, the New York Yankees have swung two notable trades. The first is far more notable than the second. Over the weekend the Yankees Starlin Castro and a pair of prospects to the Marlins for reigning NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton. Then, on Tuesday, the Yankees Chase Headley and Bryan Mitchell to the Padres for Jabari Blash.
The two trades accomplished different things. The Stanton trade, obviously, added another enormous power bat to the lineup that led baseball with 241 home runs in 2017. The Headley trade was a straight salary dump. The Yankees gave up a promising arm in Mitchell to get the Padres to take on Headley's entire $13 million salary., though keep in mind they have to set some cash aside for midseason additions.
The two trades also created openings on New York's infield. They dealt their starting second baseman for Stanton and their starting third baseman for salary relief. While pitching has been the team's focus since the Stanton trade, the smart money is on the Yankees looking for infield at some point as well. Here are the club's options at second and third bases.
The Yankees are blessed with one of baseball's deepest farm systems, and they have several young players who either received a taste of the big leagues in 2017 or are on the cusp of breaking into the show in 2018. Those players could be in the mix for the second and/or third base job in spring training. Here are the young players the Yankees could hand the reins to in 2018:
3B Miguel Andujar: Andujar, 22, made his MLB debut this summer and went 4 for 7 (.571) with two doubles in his cup of coffee. More importantly, he hit .315/.352/.498 with a career-high 16 home runs in 125 games split between Double-A and Triple-A. MLB.com ranks Andujar as the 92nd best prospect in baseball and the Yankees are pleased with his defensive development.
The 2018 season is the final season on Headley's contract, and it had been assumed Andujar would get a chance to take over the position long-term come 2019. Now that Headley is gone, Andujar could get that opportunity sooner than expected.
IF Thairo Estrada: The 21-year-old Estrada is not a top 100 prospect, though the Yankees like him enough that they added him to the 40-man roster earlier this winter to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft. Estrada doesn't have much power, but he hit .301/.353/.392 with a tiny 10.3 percent strikeout rate in Double-A this year, and his defense all around the infield is very good. He is a long shot for a big-league job -- Estrada has yet to play above Double-A -- but he shouldn't be ruled out completely.
IF Gleyber Torres: Baseball's No. 2 prospect according to MLB.com now has an obvious long-term home at second base. Torres is a natural shortstop who wasn't going to unseat the defensively superior Didi Gregorius, though now he can be Didi's double play partner. This past season Torres hit .287/.383/.480 with seven home runs in 55 games between Double-A and Triple-A, and he did it as a 20-year-old. The bad news: Torres needed Tommy John surgery on his non-throwing elbow in June after an awkward slide at home plate. He will be ready for spring training, but it stands to reason the Yankees will want him to shake off the rust in the minors before thrusting him into a full-time MLB job. Clearly though, Torres is the second baseman of the future, and the future may not be far away.
IF Ronald Torreyes: Torreyes has been New York's utility infielder the last two seasons, and in 2017 the 25-year-old filled in admirably for Gregorius and Castro while they were injured, hitting .292/.314/.375 in 336 plate appearances. The Yankees were comfortable playing him on an everyday basis -- Gregorius missed a month with a shoulder injury and Castro missed six weeks total with two separate hamstring injuries -- and it's possible they will play him everyday next year, as a stopgap while waiting for a younger player like Andujar or Torres to get the reps they need in Triple-A.
UTIL Tyler Wade: The best option defensively, Wade made his big-league debut this summer and struggled, hitting .155/.222/.224 in 63 plate appearances. The 23-year-old ripped the cover off the ball at Triple-A, putting up a .310/.382/.460 batting line with seven homers and 26 steals in 85 games. Wade is a natural shortstop with experience all over the field -- that includes the outfield -- and he has the hitting prowess, the speed, and the defensive chops to sneak up on everyone in spring training and steal away the second or third base job.
The Headley trade freed up some cash, enough for the Yankees to add an infielder as well as a starting pitcher. Top of the market players? Probably not. But the Yankees aren't strapped for cash. Free agency is always an option for them. Here are the best free agent infield options:
Zack Cozart has never played a position other than shortstop in his big-league career and for good reason: He's a fantastic defender. Would he be willing to change positions to join the Yankees, a team that looks poised to become a perennial contender? It's always possible, though this is Cozart's best chance at a huge payday, and he may look for a deal that allows him to stay at shortstop and maximize his value.
Defensively, Yunel Escobar has slipped to the point where he might be best at first base going forward. That doesn't help the Yankees. That said, the Yankees might be willing to live with the subpar glovework given their strikeout heavy pitching staff and what figures to be a powerhouse offense. Escobar has experience at second and third bases and could help hold down the fort until the kids are ready.
Only a few hours after the Yankees traded Headley, Todd Frazier, who finished the 2017 season in New York. Frazier is a flawed player, no doubt about that, but he is an asset at third base thanks to his power and glove. Also, he's a great clubhouse guy and a positive influence on younger players, which the Yankees have in spades. Frazier loved his time in New York -- he that to told anyone who would listen during the postseason -- and he'd get to stay close to his New Jersey home.
Howie Kendrick might not sign with the Yankees simply because that means he wouldn't get to hit against them anymore. He's a career .346/.411/.481 hitter in 61 career games against New York. In all seriousness, Kendrick is a career second baseman who has embraced versatility in recent years out of necessity. His defense up the middle has slipped, but he is still playable on the infield corners and in left field. The Yankees could sign Kendrick as a stopgap third baseman and emergency second baseman, then slide him into a super-utility role should someone like Andujar or Torres force their way into the lineup.
This offseason's big free agent third baseman. The Yankees would face plenty of competition for Mike Moustakas, who would solve their third base problem long-term and also help balance the lineup by adding some left-handed power. (Their lineup leans right-handed at the moment.) To get him though, the Yankees would likely have to blow up their plan to get under the luxury tax threshold in 2018, or severely skimp on pitching. Possible? Yes. Unlikely? Also yes. Then again, I would've said the same thing about Stanton seven days ago, so what do I know.
Former Yankee Eduardo Nunez has come into his own these last few years, and he had a real strong run with the Red Sox this year before a knee problem hampered him down the stretch. Nunez will provide some contact-oriented offense and will cost his team a few runs in the field, regardless of where he's playing, but his speed and versatility make him a potential option for the Yankees. They'd be able to find ways to get him into the lineup even after youngsters like Andujar and Torres are ready.
The Yankees have been connected to Brandon Phillips at times in the past -- he reportedly used his no-trade clause to block a trade from the Reds to the Yankees a few years back -- and while he is no longer the player he was in his prime, Phillips could help the team as a stopgap, especially now that he picked up some third base experience in 2017. At age 36, Phillips may be willing to sign with the Yankees at a discount as he looks for his first career World Series ring.
The Yankees have a history of chasing after big-name veterans who are willing to embrace reduced rules near the end of the careers, and Chase Utley would certainly qualify. He's played every infield position other than shortstop with the Dodgers the last few years, and while he's not a major threat with the bat, Utley can still grind out an at-bat. The Yankees would love to have something like him setting an example for their young players as well. The big question: Why would Utley leave his hometown Dodgers, assuming they want him back?
The winter's best free agent second baseman is certainly familiar with New York after spending some time with the Mets. Neil Walker can still hit, that much is for certain, and the Yankees would surely appreciate adding another switch-hitter to their lineup. The problem here is the cost. Walker is said to want a four-year contract.
Giving a four-year contract -- or even a three-year contract if Walker is willing to come down a bit -- to a 32-year-old with a recent history of back problems may not be too enticing for the Yankees, especially with the young talent they have knocking on the door.
GM Brian Cashman has been much more active in trades than in free agency the last few years, and that has again been the case this offseason. The Yankees are armed with a deep farm system and some payroll flexibility, which puts them in position to swing a trade to improve their infield. Here are the top trade candidates:
Would the Blue Jays really trade Josh Donaldson to a division rival? I suppose it's possible -- the Yankees could knock their socks off with an offer -- but it seems so very unlikely. Even if Toronto is willing to trade Donaldson, they'll have plenty of suitors and would get a large package elsewhere. They wouldn't be stuck taking whatever the Yankees give them a la the Marlins in the Stanton trade.
Pirates infielder Josh Harrison is said to be on the trade block and he has experience playing both second and third bases, making him a good fit for the Yankees. If Torres arrives before Andujar, they can play Harrison at third. If Andujar arrives before Torres, they can play Harrison second. Harrison is due to make $10.25 million in 2018 and it's possible the Yankees do not want to spend that much on an infielder after dumping Headley and his $13 million salary, especially when they'd have to give up prospects in the process.
Very quietly, the 27-year-old Cesar Hernandez has posted a .372 on-base percentage the last two seasons, and he's a slick defender at second base. He's a stathead favorite and someone the Phillies have reportedly floated in trade talks as they look to open spots for their young players. The Yankees have their own young players coming, and Hernandez doesn't figure to come cheap, which could steer the Yankees in another direction.
Kinsler is 35 and he just had the worst offensive season of his career, but he's got one year left on his contract and is the type of quality veteran the Yankees could target as a stopgap option. He is certainly available. That much we know for sure.
The Indians have three infielders (Jason Kipnis, Jose Ramirez, Giovanny Urshela) for two spots (second and third base), plus a glut of outfielders, so figuring out how to get everyone into the lineup isn't easy. It's a good problem to have. Every team would love to have too many good players. But rather than paying Kipnis north of $13 million to essentially be a super-utility player, the Tribe could trade him and clear up their logjam. His versatility and left-handed bat would presumably interest the Yankees.
One year and $6 million for a player who whacked 49 doubles in 2017 and can play either second or third base? And he's a switch-hitter? Sounds like a pretty excellent fit for the Yankees, who had extensive talks with the Athletics about Sonny Gray and Yonder Alonso at the trade deadline. The A's know New York's system, so this is something that could come together quick, assuming the Yankees actually want to add Jed Lowrie for infield depth.
Yes, Manny Machado is available. And yes, . No, the Orioles almost certainly will not trade him to the Yankees, however. The AL East rivalry thing is an obstacle, as is the known fact Orioles owner Peter Angelos hates the Yankees. The chances of him approving a Machado trade to the Yankees is roughly 0.00001 percent, and even that sounds too high. Too bad. A New York superteam with Machado and Stanton and Aaron Judge would be crazy to see.
For all intents and purposes, Whit Merrifield was peak Kinsler minus about one walk per week in 2017. He had an excellent breakout season with the Royals, and since he's already 28 -- he'll turn 29 in January -- and a late-bloomer, Kansas City figures to make him very available in trades. The Royals are going to have to take a step back and rebuild after so many core players became free agents this winter, and Merrifield's peak doesn't line up with their window of contention. The fact he can play both second and third bases, as well as the corner outfield, is a bonus for the Yankees.
Joe Panik was reportedly part of the Giants' track package for Stanton, so they are open to moving him to some degree. Also, the Yankees asked for Panik over a year ago, when the two clubs were discussing Andrew Miller at the 2016 trade deadline. They had interest in him at some point. Do they now? No idea. San Francisco desperately needs a youth infusion and the Yankees could help provide that from their deep farm system.
My guess -- and this is only a guess -- is the Yankees will look to see if a low-cost free agent veteran infielder like Kendrick or Utley or Phillips falls into their laps later in the offseason, and if not, they'll go into spring training with their young prospects in line for the second and third base jobs. It sounds risky, and it is, but the Yankees have been more than willing to roll the dice on young players in recent years, and it stands to reason they could do it again after trading away two veteran infielders within the last week.
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