Yankees sign Brendan Ryan, but is his defensive value already plummeting?

Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports

The Yankees just signed Brendan Ryan to a two-year, $5 million deal and a third-year mutual option that, if exercised, and including incentives, could give the shortstop a total of $10 million in the end. That's not really a terrible deal. You can't complain about a $2.5 million AAV, but you can complain about the length of the contract he was given.

I will say that I wanted Brendan Ryan back as the backup shortstop in order to get at least one of Jayson Nix and Eduardo Nunez off the roster. However, no one was asking for Brendan Ryan, no one was banging down his door to sign him, so why did they have to give him two guaranteed years? The mutual option is not a big deal because if he's bad, the Yankees decline, but I would have expected a one-year deal and have the second year as an option year.

In 2013, Ryan was a -0.6 WAR player, but managed to provide 0.1 WAR with the Yankees. His bat was even more useless than usual as he put up a 44 wRC+ against a career 71. That's not very surprising at this point, but his drop-off in defensive abilities was. It's possible this is all statistical noise, but I'm not sure that it is. From 2009 to 2012, his age-27 through age-30 seasons, Ryan averaged 22.25 defensive runs saved and a 26.2 UZR/150 per season. This season, at the age of 31, he only saved six defensive runs and had a 3.2 UZR/150.

Breaking down these defensive metrics even further, he averaged 2.6 double play runs saved in those four years, but only one run in 2013. Noted for his trademark range, where he can field balls hit to the right side of second base with ease, Ryan averaged 6.9 range runs saved per season, however he only managed 3.7 runs saved in 2013, his lowest since 2009. He averaged 3.5 error runs saved in the last four years, but was at -2.5 in 2013, the worst rating of his career.

The 2013 season was the first time in three years that he failed to reach 1,000 innings in the field, so if he'll be a part-time player from now on, his defensive numbers might never reach the limits that we're used to seeing again. Obviously, defensive metrics can be very fickle from year-to-year, and since there is no obvious sign of defensive decline in his numbers, it's very possible he will be fine next season.

While backup shortstop shouldn't be something to worry about, Derek Jeter and his broken ankle could make it something. I just hope the Yankees didn't add another Ichiro Suzuki-type deal to the roster. He may not have a useful bat, but his glove is where all his value lies. Unfortunately, that took a step back in 2013 and, if he shows to have lost a step in 2014, I worry if the Yankees signed a sinking ship.

Make no mistake, Brendan Ryan is a great defensive shortstop, and he will be very valuable for the 2014 Yankees, but what about 2015? Will he continue to decline in his age-32 season? What about age-33? The only way he serves any use to the team after 2014 is if Jeter doesn't retire and he can play second fiddle behind the captain for another year. They would never allow Ryan to be the starting shortstop, and anyone they sign wouldn't require a backup infielder that can only play shortstop.

Jeter returning in 2015 and beyond is the only thing that allows the Brendan Ryan contract to make any sense, but does that scenario make any sense for the Yankees? Ryan seems to be insurance for an illogical future.

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