When the Yankees acquired Martin Prado with minutes to go before the July 31st non-waiver trade deadline, they got a player whose greatest asset is versatility. At 30, Prado has the unusual distinction of having played 245 or more games at three different positions during his career - second base, third base, and left field. He's also played 56 games at first and even sixteen at shortstop. Prado isn't an Eduardo Nunez who gets stuck into different spots because he isn't good at any of them. While he's been slightly below average on the right side of the infield with a career UZR/150 of -3.4 at first and -7.9 at second, he's been solid at third (4.3 UZR/150) and excellent in over 2,100 career innings in the outfield, amassing a UZR/150 of 13.3.
The Yankees traded for Prado primarily to be their starting right fielder for the rest of the season - ironically so, since his pinstriped debut in Boston last Friday night was only his second career game at that position. Learning right field won't be too difficult a transition for Prado. He's been extremely sound when asked to play left, and right is the easier of the two corner outfield spots in Yankee Stadium. An average to slightly below average offensive player in three of his last four seasons, Prado's not exactly the knight in shining armor many Yankee fans envisioned riding in to save a lineup that's presently ranked in the lower half of the American League in runs per game. But he should help. His 88 wRC+ makes him practically an All-Star next to Ichiro Suzuki, who at the time of the trade was hitting .269/.320/.316 on the season and .240/.277/.273 since June 1st. The .870 OPS Prado put up against lefty pitching in Arizona should also help a Yankee team that's short on right-handed hitting.
If the Yankees pigeon-hole Prado as the every-day right fielder, though, they won't be maximizing his worth. Comparisons to Ichiro aside, there isn't that much value in a league average-hitting corner outfielder, so to really get the most out of him, they'll need to move him around and make themselves better at multiple positions. In a typical game where everyone's available and versus a right-handed pitcher, Prado's most lucrative spot is right. But against lefties, he should play second. The also newly acquired Stephen Drew is hitting .094/.216/.125 against southpaws this season with an almost unfathomable wRC+ of 0. It's a small sample size, but he wasn't much better in 2013, when he posted a vs. LHP line of .196/.246/.340 and a wRC+ of 54. Ichiro's reverse splits have made him more productive versus lefty pitching the past couple of seasons, batting .375/.444/.475 against them this year, albeit in only 46 plate appearances, and .321/.331/.421 in 2013. With Prado around, there's really no reason for Drew to ever be in the lineup against a lefty starter ever. Tonight is the first time the Yankees will face a left-handed starter since the deadline, so we'll get an early peek into how creative Joe Girardi intends to be.
The Yankees can also improve their defense by moving Prado around the diamond. Derek Jeter, unfortunately, left his range somewhere in the late nineties, but Drew has become more than solid at his natural position over the past few seasons. When Jeter starts at DH, which could happen more often once Carlos Beltran's elbow is strong enough for him to play the outfield, Prado can play second with Drew at short. When Mark Teixeira needs an off-day or a DH day, Prado can fill in at first or at third with Chase Headley at first like we saw last night, leaving Brian McCann behind the plate where he belongs.
Heading into 2015, Prado's flexibility could help the Yankees, too. It will remain unclear what Alex Rodriguez has to offer, probably well until spring training, or even after. Although Headley is arguably the better player, marking Prado as the A-Rod alternative at third might make more sense, since he can still contribute elsewhere if the centaur is actually good to go as he nears forty. The Yankees will likely do their best to upgrade right field, but if that's unattainable it will remain an option for Prado. If Rob Refsnyder is dealt away, or if he's still not ready in Brian Cashman's view, he can always play second. The $22 million that Prado is owed between 2015 and 2016 is a lot to pay for a guy with no certain position, but the fact that he can theoretically be used in any of five different roles gives the club more options in what they look for in the off-season in trades and free agency.