Robinson Cano's free agency and Alex Rodriguez's appeal loom over the Yankees offseason. Justifiably so at $50M/year, not to mention Cano's stellar play. Moreover, the possible posting of Masahiro Tanaka and the potential cost of that posting might be just as influential. However, it would be foolish for the Yankees to wait for these situations to resolve themselves before they sign another capable infielder because the infield market is too barren to risk waiting.
Here is the list of free agent infielders who have averaged 2 fWAR over the past three seasons. Cano, Jhonny Peralta and Omar Infante. That's it. Here is the list of free agent infielders who produced over 2 fWAR last season. Cano, Peralta, Infante, Stephen Drew and Juan Uribe.
Stephen Drew already declined being a super utility player, so he's out. Juan Uribe was great this season, but awful the previous two. He's a possible fit although he'll be 35 next season. He's a risky possibility and given how effective he is, may want to wait for a situation that provides more certainty. Peralta has been an above average shortstop for the last three years and was very good before his suspension. However, the Yankees probably want to avoid signing another player suspended recently for PEDs. For his standpoint, Peralta probably wants to find a team that isn't handing the starting shortstop job to an icon.
That leaves Omar Infante. His past versatility and his earnings history make him a super utility/ 2nd or 3rd hedge candidate. Infante has been a reasonable offensive player who plays good defense. He's been consistently average for four seasons, even having his best year last season. He's primarily played second base, but he's also played over 200 games at short, 81 games at third and 92 games in the outfield. While he'd probably like to play for a team that has a clear second base opening, this contract will be the biggest of his career by far and that might make him inclined to take a good offer early rather than wait for a better offer that may or may not arrive. (His last contract was only for $8M/2yrs compared to estimates of $7m-$10M annually and $20M-$30M total.) Infante for $30M or less isn't unreasonable and in this off-season, may represent one of the best buys available. Among players who may accept positional uncertainty, Infante is probably the best.
Certainly the likelihood of the Yankees needing him in 2014 is high. Even if Cano returns and Rodiguez wins his appeal, Infante will still be useful. Rodriguez is unlikely to be able to play even 80 games at third base. Jeter will certainly not play 150 games at short stop and even if the team signs Brendan Ryan, there will be occasions when a better hitter is required at short stop. After Jeter and Nix, even below average defense from Infante will be an improvement. So minimum, 80 games at third, 40 games at short and 10 games at second. That's 130 games already and that number is really a floor for how much the Yankees will be able to use Infante.
What's more likely is that Rodriguez is suspended for some portion of 2014, maybe even the whole season. If that happens after the winter meetings and Infante, Uribe and Peralta are gone, the Yankees will be screwed. At that point it would be Youkilis and Chavez really. It's also possible that Cano will receive better offers elsewhere. After Infante, the next best second baseman is Mark Ellis who the Dodgers decided wasn't worth $5M. Although Dodger decision maker is sometimes puzzling, they didn't think he was worth even such a small risk. Less than exciting.
Signing Tanaka, that's exciting. So is resigning Cano for less than the moon and adding another big bat. But the Yankees must wait for those players. Now they can act on Infante. Signing Infante provides a necessary hedge against a Cano departure or Rodriguez suspension/injury and even provides a secondary hedge against a Jeter injury. That value combined with his reasonable cost, make signing Infante the best early off-season signing the Yankees could make.