Last week, the Yankees signed veteran slugger Adam Lind to a minor league deal. This continued the Yankees’ recent tradition of bringing in veteran first base insurance late in the offseason, a year after signing Chris Carter to a one year deal, and after signing Chris Parmelee in February of 2016.
Yet Lind’s signing, while similar to the acquisitions of Parmelee and Carter at first blush, appears quite different upon examination. For one, the fit isn’t quite there the way it was in past years. Greg Bird was either injured or coming off injury when the Yankees brought in their first base backups the past couple seasons, and with Bird and Tyler Austin healthy this spring, Lind doesn’t have an obvious roster spot.
On the other hand, though, Lind stands out because he still looks like he could make an impact at the major league level. Upon signing, Carter and Parmelee profiled as barely better than replacement level. Lind has had legitimate success at the plate in recent years, and it seems odd that the Yankees were able to get him on a minor league contract.
Lind hit a robust .303/.362/.513 last year, good for a 123 OPS+. He recorded just 0.9 fWAR, but required only 267 at-bats to reach that total. That’s quality bench production, and his line of .304/.364/.534 against left-handers was particularly solid. As a lefty-swinger, he struggles with southpaws, but Lind has all the markers of a good bench slugger, or even as a starting DH or first baseman against right-handers.
Lind’s 2016 paled in comparison to his 2017 campaign, as he recorded a 94 OPS+, but beyond 2016 his recent track record is actually strong. He owns an overall OPS+ of 122 since 2013, nearly matching his mark from last year.
Perhaps most importantly, Lind’s success at the plate doesn’t look fluky. Last season, Lind recorded a wOBA of .375. Per Baseball Savant, the wOBA he would have been expected to record based on the quality of his batted balls was .371, nearly a dead ringer. Lind didn’t have a good season because he saw a few lucky balls fly just over the fence, or because of an abnormally high BABIP. He had a good season because he hit the ball hard, drew walks, and showed discipline at the plate.
In fact, that Lind hasn’t shown a deterioration in plate discipline might be the best reason to hope that he can continue to rake as he ages. He swung at fewer pitches outside of the zone last season than in 2016, and posted some of the highest contact rates of his career across the board (per FanGraphs).
Even as he enters his age-34 season, Lind is striking the ball well, taking walks, and making as much contact as ever. He is in his mid-30’s, so a decline is always possible, a fact reflected in his projections (Steamer expects his wRC+ to fall from 122 to 114 in 2018). Yet based purely on performance, Lind still profiles as a legitimate hitter, and one that should probably be earning fairly regular at-bats in a big league lineup until he proves he deserves otherwise.
Lind’s quality production probably helps explain why the Yankees invited him camp, as he provides good insurance in case of injury. Given that Austin still can be optioned to Triple-A, Lind could even theoretically make the team, and while he’s somewhat redundant with the lefty-swinging Bird, there are worse scenarios than populating your bench with dangerous sluggers.
What Lind’s quality play doesn’t explain is why he was had so cheaply. His minor league deal flies in the face of recent precedent, as worse veteran first basemen have signed much larger deals over the past few offseasons. Mike Napoli was guaranteed $8.5 million last year, after posting a lackluster 106 OPS+ in 2016. Mitch Moreland received $5.5 million after running a woeful 87 OPS+. Even the Yankees were forced to guarantee Carter $3 million last year for his (poor) services.
That Lind, a hitter who has consistently been much better than average at the plate for much of the past several seasons, hasn’t been able to secure any guarantees certainly feels like another data point showing the squeeze a number of free agents have been feeling this offseason. Lind can opt out of his deal before spring training ends, and if he performs well perhaps he will find a more lucrative contract elsewhere, but at the moment his current situation looks strange.
We will need distance from this offseason to determine if the plight of Lind, Jake Arrieta, Mike Moustakas, Neil Walker, and any number of other veteran free agents has been nothing more than a blip, rather than a sign that baseball’s market is broken. For now, it is odd the Yankees have essentially gotten a free look at a quality veteran bat. If he makes the team, he could very well make a positive impact if his recent performance is any indicator.