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Yankees Potential Free Agent Target: Jeimer Candelario

The switch-hitting third baseman would be an instant boost to the Bombers’ lineup.

Chicago Cubs v Milwaukee Brewers Photo by Matt Dirksen/Getty Images

The Yankees offense is in desperate need of reinforcements after finishing 19th in wRC+ (94) and 25th in runs per game (4.15). Unfortunately, there’s a relative paucity of impact contributors on the open market, as the quality of player drops off a cliff after the top four or five free agent position players.

Third base was a major area of concern in New York in 2023, with the hodgepodge of players to man the position combining for a 85 wRC+ and 0.9 fWAR — 22nd and 24th in the majors, respectively. Earlier in the week, I investigated at Matt Chapman as a possible external option — today, I’d like to take a look at the player I believe to be the more intriguing fit for the Yankees: Jeimer Candelario.

2023 Statistics: 140 games, 576 PA, .251/.336/.471, 22 HR, 70 RBI, 117 wRC+, +2 Outs Above Average (3B), 3.3 fWAR

2024 FanGraphs Depth Charts Projections: 144 games, 623 PA, .248/.324/.423, 20 HR, 76 RBI, 104 wRC+, 1.9 fWAR

Previous Contract: Signed a one-year, $5 million contract with Nationals November 2022, earned further $800,000 by surpassing 500 plate appearances in 2023.

Candelario was one of the more popular names at the 2023 trade deadline with a 121 wRC+ in 99 games for the Nationals while playing on a team friendly one-year deal. He was dealt to the Cubs for a pair of minor leaguers and made an instant impact, notching four hits in each of his first two games for the North Siders — the first Cubs player with consecutive four-hit performances since Kris Bryant in 2016 and the first Cub since 1900 to collect eight hits across his first two games. The results tailed off as the Cubs ultimately missed the playoffs, but on the whole it was an impressive platform year heading into free agency.

Among qualified third basemen, Candelario finished eighth with 3.3 fWAR and ninth with a 117 wRC+. At 19 runs better than average, he placed in the top sixth of the league in Statcast’s batting run value. He also dropped his groundball rate below 40 percent for the first time in four years, leading to a top quartile finish in sweet-spot rate, or the consistency with which a hitter impacts the ball at an idealized launch angle.

I’m convinced that Candelario would be a more highly prized target on the free agent market if it wasn’t for his fluky down year in 2022. It was the first campaign below league average production (78 wRC+) since he put it all together at the plate in 2020 (140 wRC+ in the shortened season). He finished the year below replacement level, leading the Tigers to non-tender him following the season. He suffered a left shoulder subluxation in June, and it wouldn’t surprise me if that was a major culprit behind his struggles at the plate. He’s been a three-and-a-half win player in 2021 and 2023 and I’m confident that’s a better representative of his true talent than his 2022 stinker.

I mentioned Chapman at the open and while Candelario clearly is not the same caliber defender as the two-time Platinum Glove winner, he’s a more than serviceable option to man the hot corner. 2022 was again the only season that saw his defensive metrics drop below league average since 2017 — if we remove that year Candelario has reliably produced between three and five Outs Above Average at third.

That being said, the deficit in defensive value will likely be more than made up for by the discount to sign Candelario. Both he and Chapman are 30, yet Chapman is projected to sign for between $20 and $25 million per year. MLB Trade Rumors pegs Candelario for a four-year, $70 million pact this winter while FanGraphs is even less optimistic at three years and $36 million. That’s savings of anywhere from $5-10 million per year for roughly similar projected offensive production across the life of the contract.

Looking to potential fit on the Yankees, there are few players who better fit their combination of needs from a production standpoint while keeping an eye on budget. As much as we’d like the Yankees to be in on every top name, Hal Steinbrenner operates with a finite payroll with which to address multiple needs. As a switch-hitter with league average strikeout, chase and whiff rates who also walks at a decent clip, Candelario would bring balance to a lineup that struggled to get on base or make enough meaningful contact. What’s more, Candelario has finished as a top-20 hitter against the four-seamer in three of the last four seasons — a pitch against which only Aaron Judge managed significant production out of the entire Yankees offense. New York are far from his only suitors, but it would be foolish not to make a legitimate attempt at signing him.