2016 Statistics: .270/.349/.510, 18 HR, 56 RBI, 126 OPS+, 1.9 WAR
Age on Opening Day 2017: 32
Remember Sean Rodriguez from his days with the Rays? He’s spent the last two seasons with the Pirates, and before this past season, he wasn’t really worth discussing. From 2008 to 2015, Rodriguez was a .228/.295/.371 hitter worth 85 wRC+. He was primarily known for his defensive versatility, able to play anywhere on the field, until the 2016 season when he altered his approach and turned into a completely different hitter.
In his age-31 season, Rodriguez managed to hit an astounding .270/.349/.510 with a career-high 18 home runs and 56 RBI. Somehow, someway, he not only became a productive hitter this year, but one of Pittsburgh’s best over 140 games. It might be easy to dismiss his season as a fluke, but there is evidence that it could make Sean Rodriguez an interesting target for the Yankees this offseason.
Much of his success can be attributed to a better outcome against right-handed pitching this year. As a righty hitter, he has only managed a 78 wRC+ against same-sided pitchers in his career, however, things were different in 2016 when he put up a 120 wRC+ against them. It turns out that much of his swinging numbers are the same, except for the fact that he is making less contact after dropping from a 72.4% contact rate to just 66.7%. In return, he swung at more pitches in the strike zone, from 66.7% to 70%, and minimized bad contact by dropping his contact rate on pitches out of the zone, from 55.9% to 44.8%.
Becoming a more selective hitter caused his walk rates to spike to a career-high 9.6%, though his strikeout rate also hit 29.8% as he wound up for bigger swings. The change in approach allowed him to finally hit for power to all fields. Always a singles hitter who could spray the ball all over the field, Rodriguez managed to hit more doubles and home runs to right field than ever before, a trend that would play well in Yankee Stadium if it were to continue. The added versatility of his bat produced a 1.9-WAR season, the highest of his career, and makes him an intriguing option as a utility player who can hit.
Heading into 2017, the Yankees have several needs that Rodriguez can help fill. He can play first base, second base, third base, shortstop, and all three outfield positions, allowing him to slot into the lineup wherever he is needed on any given day. He would probably be most useful as a fill-in at first base for Greg Bird, as he returns from surgery. Tyler Austin and Rob Refsnyder remain in the picture, but the Yankees shouldn’t balk at the idea of adding a versatile player (who can actually field his positions) with the potential for 15-20 home runs season.
Right field is also a position that lacks a starter. Aaron Judge, Aaron Hicks, and Clint Frazier will likely compete for the job, but Rodriguez could provide some right-handed pop if Judge doesn’t look ready yet and Hicks continues to hit like he did all season. Ronald Torreyes did a fine job as the team’s utility infielder, but is he worth keeping over Rodriguez, who could fill in at all the same positions but offer a better bat?
The potential is there, but the Yankees will have to evaluate whether or not they think Rodriguez can do it again. He only made $2.5 million last year, so even a mild raise over that figure would be no big deal. The Yankees have wanted a super utility player for awhile now, so this could be their chance to add an incredibly useful piece to their roster.