The Yankees are likely done with their big-money window shopping this offseason, but there are still some odds and ends to sort out with the leftover cash. The team may be interested in adding a veteran reliever, outfielder or utility infielder. In regards to the latter, the team has been linked to former Giants and Mets second baseman Joe Panik in recent days.
As the Yankees explore ways to have more left-handed balance on their roster, one option they've discussed -- among others -- is adding Joe Panik in free agency, to be part of their infield mix.— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) December 19, 2019
As Joel Sherman later noted, the interest is believed to be mutual, especially on Panik’s end after growing up a Yankees fan in New York who idolized Derek Jeter. After adding one former Yankees fanboy to the team in Gerrit Cole, might the team be able to add another, or would it just be a Panik move?
Earlier this week, I floated the idea of Cesar Hernandez , an idea that was met with mostly disapproval in the comments section. While Panik would come far cheaper, there is a reason for that.
Panik has declined as a hitter since his breakout 2015 season, only mustering one above-average offensive campaign since then (2017). The Yankees are interested in him because he’s a left-handed hitter, who are in short supply on the roster right now, but the truth is that Panik really hasn’t hit anyone that well in a few years.
Still, there are some attractive parts to Panik’s offensive profile. For one, he is a true wizard at making contact. Panik’s strikeout rate has been in the top one percent (!) of Major League Baseball for four straight years, and he has never struck out more than 54 times in a season. He is a pure slap hitter though – he routinely posts some of the lowest exit velocities of any Major Leaguer, and doesn’t often hit for power. He has only posted a SLG over .400 twice in his career, and a .400 SLG isn’t exactly a high benchmark.
It’s important to understand that that’s not what Panik is paid for, though. His job is to hit for contact, get on base and play stellar defense, and that’s what he can do for the Yankees. If the Yankees are regarded as a righty-heavy team that strikes out too much and prioritizes offense over defense, signing Panik would be a way to add some variety to the roster.
Panik has only played second base over his MLB career, and he plays it pretty well. He’s never made 10 errors in a season and has a positive UZR, although his DRS is lower than expected. Still, defensive metrics can be finicky, and Panik generally has a good reputation in the field.
Interestingly, Panik revitalized his career a little bit after being let go by the Giants and coming to the Mets this past season. In 39 games as a Met, Panik slashed .277/.333/.404 and provided some spark atop the lineup. Those numbers aren’t worthy of a starting job necessarily, but they would fit in fine on the Yankees’ bench when paired with plus defense.
Panik could be a viable flyer for the Yankees, and definitely a more likely one than Hernandez. Whereas Hernandez would probably cost over $6 million, Panik would be far cheaper, has minor league options left, and would likely be more willing to accept a reserve role.
Essentially, Panik is the established Major League version of what the Yankees hope Tyler Wade can become. Whereas signing a player like Hernandez would block Wade’s path to the bigs, Panik would be in more of a competition with Wade, and the Yankees would choose the best one. The Yankees aren’t looking to spend big money rounding out their bench, and some of Panik’s tools make him intriguing enough for a minimal one-year offer this winter.