With the news of Kevin Youkilis signing with the Yankees on a one year, 12 million dollar deal, the Yankees have solved one problem. And thats "who will be the starting third baseman on opening day". Yes, the ugliest player in baseball and the same guy that most Yankee fans loved to hate while he was a dangerous hitter in the Red Sox lineup is now a New York Yankee. it is expected that Youkilis will hold the fort for a couple of months, and then be relegated to more of a part time DH/3B/1B role once Alex Rodriguez returns from his hip surgery. Hopefully sooner rather than later. But we'll see.
With the team filling the temporary hole at third base for 2013 it got me thinking about something that I'm sure has been on people's minds anyway. And thats, who is going to be the future third baseman for the Yankees? Just to get a couple things out of the way: Alex Rodriguez is expected to be the primary starting third baseman in 2013. Brian Cashman has confirmed this multiple times, and has basically said that whoever they get to replace him will be "checked out" once A-Rod comes back. All indications point to the Centaur manning the hot corner for the 10th straight season as a Yankee.
In those 10 seasons, he's put up some of the best numbers in Yankee history, and the best offensive numbers for any third baseman that has ever played for the team. He has compiled the highest WAR out of any third baseman with 50.7 thus far, and that leads Greg Nettles (46.8) despite playing in almost 300 less games. Offensively, he has by far the highest slugging (.538), wOBA (.395) and wRC+ (143). Put that with the numbers Derek Jeter has put up and the Yankees have had maybe the most productive left side of the infield of all time. You'd be hard pressed to find a better one in terms of offensive production. Try and find a better one. You won't. We're incredibly lucky to have seen those two play at the same time for so long.
It's important to know because, whoever they get to replace him can't be expected to actually replace Alex Rodriguez in terms of production, because that isn't going to happen. But it's clear that A-Rod is nearing the end of the road, and may be headed to full time DH sooner rather than later. So even if you can't expect to find someone that can be as good as he's been, you still need to find a guy to replace him.
Like I said, he's gonna be given the opportunity to play third base in 2013, and depending on how he reacts, how the hip reacts, he may be given the job in 2014 as well. But I can't really see it happening beyond that. And thats best case- worst case is that he can't play the field at all and may need to head to full time DHing before 2013 even ends. My guess is something in between. But at this point we really can't tell for sure whats going to happen. All we know is that he's an aging superstar who, along with Derek Jeter, is nearing the end of the road. Seems vague, but it's true.
So looking ahead to the future a little bit, I was thinking about some possibilities about who may be A-Rod's successor as the third baseman for the Yankees. There's a few directions the team can go with this, so I'll list a few.
1: In-House Options
Problem with this option is... there's currently nothing. Really, there's nothing. Going into the season, a young Dante Bichette Jr. was ranked as sixth best prospect in the Yankees system. Oh, how much can change in a year. In 2012 at Charleston, he hit .248/.322/.331 with three home runs. Thats an OPS of .653. And although there's no fangraphs for the minor leagues to extensively check his defense, his range isn't all that good and he made 21 errors this season. But fangraphs or no fangraphs, Dante Bichette Jr. failed miserably in his first season in the Yankees system. Now, things can change. He can really bounce back next season. You never know. It's not like it would be the first time. But if you're thinking about replacements at third base at the major league level, this is not a guy that should really be on your radar right now.
Couple other in house options that have been mentioned are Corban Joseph and David Adams. Both have played minimal third base and are blocked at second base by Robinson Cano. Joseph was drafted as a shortstop but has played mostly second base through the minor leagues. The thing with this is, guys who play mainly second base don't often move positions. Shortstops move to third or second depending on the circumstances, and sometimes even third baseman move to any of the other infield positions. But it isn't often that you see a natural second baseman switch to shortstop or third base. There are exceptions (Michael Young), but a lot of times if you're playing second you're either too shaky with the glove, don't have the arm, or both. These aren't exactly top flight prospects either, although they're much closer to major league ready. Moving one or both to third is a possibility for the future maybe, but I wouldn't count on it.
Jayson Nix is not a long term solution. Or a short term solution. The team views Eduardo Nunez as a shortstop. And for those who have suggested that Robinson Cano move to third... well, no comment. I think thats it for the in house options. So in other words, for the forseeable future there are no in-house options.
Maybe the most attractive route, mainly because this is probably the only way they can get a young talented, cost controlled third baseman in here. It wouldn't be easy and it would require them to give up a lot. But on the other hand, there are some very good young third baseman in this league, either just starting out or very close to major league ready. Very close to major league ready is fine, because this year and possibly next it's gonna be Alex Rodriguez. So long as they could be ready to take on full time duties at 3B by 2015, then it's an option. Some young players that immediately cross my mind...
Mike Olt: The 24 year old third baseman is currently the top prospect in the Rangers system, and finished the season with the big league club. He figures to start the season with the team. He's also a guy that apparently Texas has been willing to include in a trade for the right price, so he's not one of those untouchable guys. Throughout the minors Olt impressed with his bat, OPSing over .800 at nearly every single minor league level. Most recently at AA, he just hit .288/.398/.579, which is good for a wRC+ of 168. He may still have some growing to do as a player, but his bat has tremendous upside, and he's shown thus far both the ability to work an AB, work a walk to get on base, and hit with power. He fits the bill of a typical corner infielder, has tremendous upside, and any team that has him has him under team control for 6 years. He'd probably be at the top of my list in terms of guys to trade for, and with the rumors of him being on the block I'd be shocked if Cashman hasn't at least inquired.
Nick Castellanos: This is another attractive option, and while his name hasn't been brought up the reason I'm mentioning him is for two reasons. One is he's blocked by Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder, and two... he's really good. The one big advantage he has over Olt is he's at a very close level, but he's also four years younger. At only 20 years old (gonna be 21 next year), he'll open 2013 in AAA and possibly be a September callup for Detroit if he continues to rake like he's done. Careerwise in the minor leagues thus far he's at .316/.367/.443, and he really broke out in A ball this past year, going a ridiculous .405/..461/.553 before earning a callup to AA. He slumped a bit in AA to end the season, but his very successful 2012 is going to lead to him starting 2013 in AAA. He doesn't have the power potential that Mike Olt has, but he's quicker and hits for a better average and is a plus defender. He's also been moved to the outfield too, so he's a guy that was drafted as a shortstop, moved to third base, and then he's learning how to play both the corner outfield spots too. There's a lot to like about this kid. If you're interested in a scouting report on him, Bless You Boys did a nice piece on him here a few weeks ago.
Jedd Gyorko: Not a name that is mentioned much around here, but he's another kid that I like a lot. A second round draft pick by the Padres in 2010, he has flown through their system and is close to major league ready at the very least. His numbers in AAA this past season were outstanding, and it seems as if he's never had a rough patch thus far. He's flown through every single level of the minor league system, ending with a .328/.380/.588 season in AAA this year in 92 games. It's very possible he could start 2013 on the Padres big league roster. He has a short, quick swing and great mechanics for just a 24 year old. He's only 5'10, 195 pounds, but despite the smaller frame the quickness in his swing makes him a very dangerous hitter and power threat. He's a guy that could have a lot of power to gaps, and a lot of extra base hits. His defense needs work, but with his offensive capabilities I'd take him any day. Here's the scouting report on Gyorko.
Mike Moustakas: He's had some growing pains in his first couple years in the majors, only hitting .250/.301/.395 in his first two major league seasons as the Royals third baseman. However, he did show improvement in 2012, going .267/.316/.455 with 20 home runs, and he played outstanding defense according to UZR with a 16.8. He's a plus defender with power and he's 24 years old. A lefty with his power in Yankee Stadium could only see power numbers increase, and it would likely be a defensive upgrade over A-Rod as well.
Chase Headley: I might as well throw him in here. Headley can play third as well as both corner outfield positions, and he had a breakout season in 2012 with a .286/.376/.498 line and very good defense, which was good for a WAR of 7.5. He's only 28 and on a team friendly contract currently, and if they were to say trade for him now, he'd be a guy they could have at third base for maybe 6-8 years. Now, he just had his first breakout season and he's not exactly one of those young prospects, so I'd be a little hesitant with Headley. Not taking away anything from the season he just had, but he wouldn't be my first choice.
Now, do I expect any of these to happen? No. In fact, all five are probably a long shot. The point of this is to lay out some options, and in terms of a trade for a young player or a guy that could come in and take over at third base. Eventually they're gonna have to do something, and in-house options clearly isn't an option. At least for right now. If not a trade, and not from the farm system... then there's only one thing left.
You can pretty much write the next two years off for this one. A-Rod is the third baseman for 2013, Youk is the fill in guy for now, and in 2014 they're a) on a budget, and b) there are no good free agent third baseman available whatsoever. And A-Rod could wind up (hopefully) as the starting third baseman in 2014 anyway. However, starting in the 2015 offseason, that is when the Yankees could for the first time in over a decade be seriously in the market for a third baseman, and they'll have money to spend. Guys like Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez could presumably be available in free agency, but it's hard to tell so far out right now.
Stopgaps: Basically if they can't sign a big name, productive free agent to a long term deal in 2015, then the option has to be a stopgap. Unless Alex Rodriguez is still somehow capable of playing third on a regular basis, they're gonna need someone to at the very least split time with him. Kevin Youkilis is that guy possibly for this season. Guys like Mark Reynolds will be available again next offseason, and Ty Wiggington is a possibility. By using various stopgaps, they can either put off time for a couple years until a real free agent that they really want becomes available, or use that time to maybe draft and develop one that can come up through the system.
I think I covered all the possible ways they could handle this. Currently, going in house for a third baseman is not a likely scenario, so they'll have to go outside the organization unless they can draft someone and develop them relatively quickly. The Yankee way has always been free agency, but if they can trade for a young player like some of the guys I listed that would probably be my first choice for how to approach this whole thing. Alex Rodriguez has had a terrific run as the Yankee third baseman, but the end of the road is near. The sooner the Yankees have at least a plan in place as to how to replace him, the better they will be, because he'll be a DH pretty soon. How soon is up in the air. We'll just have to wait and see.
Thoughts? I know it's difficult to tell with this right now, but in a boring offseason it just gave me an idea for something to write about.