Friday, August 30, 2013
Yanks' third-base options after A-Rod
By Jim Bowden
Could Chase Headley be a long-term solution to replace Alex Rodriguez at third base?
The New York Yankees should be pleased with how Alex Rodriguez has played since his return from hip surgery and the disabled list. His bat speed and ability to hit a good fastball have improved considerably compared to where he was at the end of the 2012 season.
However, the team also realizes that Rodriguez possibly will start the 2014 season on the suspended list for his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal, pending his appeal. If the appeal doesn't succeed, how long will the suspension be -- 50, 100, or the full 211 games originally handed down?
Therefore, general manager Brian Cashman must make preparations to start the 2014 season without Rodriguez -- either with a stopgap measure or long-term solution at third base. Cashman clearly knows the answer for either time frame is not in the Yankees’ farm system. Though Kevin Youkilis (on the DL after back surgery) and Mark Reynolds might still be options, Cashman has to wonder if Youkilis will ever perform at a high level again, and is likely concerned about Reynolds’ below-average defense at third and his strikeout ratio.
That means there are just two viable avenues Cashman can take -- trade or free agency. Cashman’s scouts should be out in force during September, bearing down on their evaluations of Rodriguez’s possible replacements.
In the following list, I grouped players by trade or free-agency targets and categorized them as long-, medium- or short-term solutions, depending on how long I think each player might fit with the Yankees. Long-term players would completely replace Rodriguez beyond his return from even a 211-game suspension. Medium-term solutions would replace Rodriguez from anything beyond 100 games and below 211. Short-term players fill the gap until Rodriguez returns from a 50- or 100-game suspension.
Here is a quick look at how the third-base market currently stands for the Yankees this offseason.
Headley, 29, is coming off a disappointing season, hitting just .240/.331/.368 with eight home runs and 36 RBIs. However, he’s also only one year removed from hitting 31 homers, leading the NL with 115 RBIs, and winning the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards. He also finished in the top five in MVP voting.
Headley will be a free agent following the 2014 season, and it’s doubtful the financially strapped Padres would be willing to give him a long-term deal. But with a thin third-base market, Headley will get paid whether he bounces back or not. His switch-hitting ability and left-handed power would fit in nicely at Yankee Stadium. This is the type of two-way player for whom the Yankees might scrape together a nice prospect package to entice the Padres into a deal.
I drafted Zimmerman in 2005 when I was the Nationals’ GM. I really thought that Zimmerman was a player who would start and finish his career with the Nationals. He was from the mid-Atlantic area and with his special makeup and character, I believed he would be the team's leader for years to come. However, recently I got the impression the Nationals actually might be open to trading him if presented with the right deal. They are privately concerned about his throwing, for both physical and mental reasons, and there are some in the organization who think he might have to be moved to first base at some point because of it.
At first base, he would compare to Mark Teixeira, a Gold Glove-caliber first baseman with the ability to annually hit .290 with 25 home runs and 100 RBIs. The Nationals have former first-round pick Anthony Rendon, whom they could move back to third, his natural position. Zimmerman will make $14 million a year through 2018, before finishing his contract in 2019 or 2020 at $18 million annually. The Nats could get out of the long-term exposure and use that money for other players. Zimmerman’s calming, professional demeanor would fit nicely next to Derek Jeter on the left side of the Yankees’ infield.
Dominguez, 23, always has been a Gold Glove-caliber defender at third base. He possesses special hands and feet, along with a strong arm. However, this year he also proved he could hit enough to be an every-day player as shown by his .240/.278/.415 line, with 20 doubles, 19 home runs and 66 RBIs in 125 games. His bat should continue to improve, and even if it doesn’t, his defense and range are so good that it might compensate for Jeter’s declining range and allow him to play a few extra years. The Astros won’t be looking to deal Dominguez, so the Yankees would have to overpay. The Astros are thinking long term in any deal they make, so a quantity of prospects might pique their interest.
The Cardinals are thrilled with the performance of second baseman Matt Carpenter this year, who has quickly developed into one of the game’s best leadoff hitters. Although he’s done a solid job at second base, there are some in the organization who believe Carpenter’s best position is third base. This would allow top prospect Kolten Wong to take over at second. If they decide to make that move, then Freese could become available.
Freese, 30, has had a subpar season, hitting just .265/.339/.375 with just six home runs and 48 RBIs. However, his ability to hit to the opposite field and drive in key runs would make him a legitimate medium-term solution while Rodriguez is on the suspended list without having to commit long term to a player who hasn’t proved he can stay healthy for an entire season.
Ramirez, 35, shows no signs of slowing down -- at least when he’s healthy. Last year, he led the National League with 50 doubles while belting 27 home runs and driving in 105 runs to go along with a .300/.360/.540 line. This year, he has been hampered by injuries but has shown lately that he still has the bat speed and first-step quickness on defense to perform at a high level. He has one year remaining at $16 million, with a mutual option for 2015. The Brewers should reallocate those dollars to build for the future and deal him to the Yankees for two mid-level prospects.
Young, 36, probably has one year left as an every-day player, but because of his tremendous leadership and ability to get clutch hits, he could be a perfect short-term solution for the Yankees -- especially if Rodriguez is suspended just 50 games by an arbitrator. When Rodriguez comes back, Young could become a valuable part-time utility player at DH, first, second and third base. And at this point of Young’s career, he definitely would be that high-character, support player the Yankees love.
Uribe, 33, helped the San Francisco Giants win a world championship in 2010 with 24 home runs and 85 RBIs before signing a three-year, $21 million deal with the Dodgers. The deal was a total bust for them the first two years, but is playing big dividends this year. Although he no longer has the power, Uribe continues to come up with big hits and key sacrifice flies. He consistently makes above-average plays at third base and has been a vital part of the Dodgers’ season. He’s an aging but winning player who could be a solid stopgap solution if Rodriguez’s suspension is 100 games or less.