During the previous two seasons, Andruw Jones and Eric Chavez were crucial to the New York Yankees' success, providing much-appreciated contributions from the bench. More specifically, Jones was vital to the 2011 team (.247/.356/.495, 133 wRC+), and Chavez played more of a role on the 2012 team (.281/.348/.496, 126 wRC+). They perfectly exemplified the risk/reward teams gamble on when they sign former All-Stars to bench roles. If they're lucky, they get seasons like Jones in '11 and Chavez in '12, but if not, they get seasons like Chavez in '11 (.263/.320/.356, 80 wRC+ in an injury-shortened 58 games) or Jones in '12 (.197/.294/.408, 89 wRC+, missed playoff roster).
There are few guarantees in this game though, so it's worth a shot for teams like the Yankees to give these veterans a chance in exchange for a short contract that would really only affect the 2013 payroll. The most either Chavez or Jones made in the previous two seasons was Jones's $2 million contract this year in wake of his terrific '11. Even with the Yankees attempting to reduce payroll, these are no great expenses. They can afford to take these chances, and they can probably also do so even in the planned $189 million 2014 season.
Last year, Jones was ineffective and Chavez hinted at retirement despite his solid season, so the Yankees might need to replace them both. So, which former starters on the free-agent market could they look to put into a bench role? Enter infielder Placido Polanco and outfielder Grady Sizemore.
Polanco is a 15-year veteran who is 37 years old and spent the previous three seasons with the Philadelphia Phillies. Naturally, his three-year contract was a simple regression as he got older--he went from .298/.339/.386 with a 94 wRC+ in '10 to .257/.302/.327 with a 71 wRC+ in an injury-plagued '12. He was never the offensive threat that Chavez was in his prime with the Oakland Athletics, but he has played all around the infield. His contract with the Phillies was contingent on him moving to third base because Chase Utley was at his normal position of second base. It's not a stretch to believe he could substitute at shortstop, either, even though he has not played there in a few years. If he would be agreeable to a bench role, he could certainly give it a try anyway. Polanco's been stellar at both third base and second base throughout his career anyway with a career UZR/150 of 10.5 at third and 11.8 at second. A reduced role could help restore some of his offense, although he has not been a 100+ wRC+ player since 2008. Defense is highly valued in bench players though, and Polanco could undoubtedly provide that, especially with the Yankees likely looking to cut down on Alex Rodriguez's time in the field at third base (despite A-Rod's fine defensive statistics).
The infield market for veterans is not great, and as capable as Marco Scutaro probably would be at holding down a bench position, he's probably going to want a bigger contract following his award-winning postseason with the San Francisco Giants. The Yankees should try to convince Chavez to return since he's only 35, but if he wants to retire, then Polanco would be a fine choice for a reserve infielder.
Ah, the sad tale of Grady Sizemore. His overwhelming success with the Cleveland Indians from 2005-08 made the 2002 Bartolo Colon-for-Sizemore, Cliff Lee, and Brandon Phillips look even more laughable. Sizemore was just 26 years old after his '08 season, and in that aforementioned four-year stretch, he hit .281/.372/.496 and nearly averaged a 30/30 campaign (27 homers, 29 steals). The 163 doubles and Gold Glove-caliber defense were just icing on the cake for the rising superstar. Then, the injuries came. After missing only nine games in the previous four seasons, Sizemore missed 56 in '09 but still had a 110 wRC+. It was a bump in the road, but one that many players recover from. Unfortunately, Sizemore never did. He was horrible in a 33-game '10 campaign, then played only 71 in '11 while compiling pretty poor statistics. He was a free agent for the first time last year and there was some talk of Yankee fans wanting him then, but he went back to the Indians on a one-year $5 million contract. Sizemore did not play a single game due to injuries, and he is a free agent once again.
No one knows what to expect out of Sizemore anymore because of his injuries, but he only turned 30 in August. If he is willing to reduce his workload in a bench role, perhaps he might not suffer the back pain that he's experienced over the years. He's only played center field, but he should be considering the corner outfield spots as well since they are less stressful. It has been a while since Sizemore was last good, but his lefty swing was so good in his mid-twenties. You'll notice there are a great deal of "..., but..." sentences in this paragraph. That is precisely the dilemma teams face when considering signing him. The potential is there, but no one knows what he will be able to do. Still, the Yankees should give him a shot if he wants to try a backup role. Don't forget that Chavez played his first 90-game season since 2007 this year. Sizemore is five years than Chavez was and arguably just as injury-prone. It's worth a shot.