It's been a month since Brian Cashman snagged Giancarlo Stanton from the Marlins, and then someone kidnapped the offseason hot stove and placed it on an ice planet in another galaxy. Meanwhile, the Yankees have some questions surrounding their infield, particularly second and third base. Second base is the easier problem to solve, with Gleyber Torres waiting in the wings, and a Ronald Torreyes/Tyler Wade platoon should suffice to start the season. However, third base is a bit more tricky.
The way I see it, the Yankees have three options at third base. The first is to hand the keys to Miguel Andujar, a borderline top-100 prospect who hit for a 139 wRC+ in Triple-A last year. The second is to pony up some prospects for Manny Machado and watch the rest of baseball burn. The third is to explore a short-term deal with Todd Frazier, who provided the 2017 Yankees with some good pop and defense down the stretch.
In a vacuum, I would much, much prefer options 1 and 2 over option 3. As Matt Provenzano made clear, Frazier carries several red flags; he hits too many pop-ups, his power is declining, and his presence on the roster will prompt YES to repeat the phrases “Tom's River,” “Little League World Series” and “Derek Jeter” ad nauseam. Andujar and Machado, on the other hand, both provide youth and offensive upside. However, the Yankees' plans make the choice a little more complicated.
The Yankees are in an interesting position; they want to go all in on 2018, but they also want to leave room on their payroll to splurge on the 2018-19 free agent class without going over the luxury tax threshold. In order to do that, they will have to avoid taking on new contracts this offseason, while still ensuring that they have a secure hold on the AL East this year. And with the Red Sox looking to field another 90-win team, every marginal win counts for the Yankees.
This, I argue, is where handing third base over to Andujar gets a little scary. Reports on his defense remain less than enthusiastic, and while he could still improve, I don't really think a playoff race is the time and place for him to smooth out his defensive kinks. Offensively, I do think he has a good chance to be an above-average hitter in 2018. However, he does come with some question marks, foremost among them a well below-average walk rate and a sky-high infield pop-up rate that's exceeded 22% in each of his past three seasons.
All of this is to say that Andujar's floor could get ugly, like sub-replacement level ugly, and the Yankees can't afford to risk that. Not when Boston is breathing down their necks, and not when they're already counting on another unknown (albeit safer) commodity in Gleyber Torres. The Yankees have a golden opportunity in 2018, and they should seek to maximize it by minimizing the volatility in their roster.
What, then, about Manny Machado? He would certainly raise the floor of the 2018 Yankees, and if he's able to return to his 2015-16 levels he would give the Yankees yet another fearsome slugger in the heart of their order. However, Peter Angelos, owner of the Orioles, is allegedly insisting that Machado not be traded to the Yankees. As a matter of fact, Baltimore doesn't seem to be particularly inclined towards dealing him at all so far.
Even if the Orioles changed their minds, the Yankees would likely be forced into a bidding war with the White Sox, who have demonstrated interest in Machado and are one of the few teams with a farm system better than ours. It's far from clear as to whether getting Machado on the 2018 Yankees is a feasible option.
That leaves us with Todd Frazier, and while he may seem like the most boring option out of the three, he's low-risk for 2018 (unlike Andujar) and he could be had for money (unlike Machado). But he would only make sense on a one-year deal, considering the Yankees' plans for the 2018-19 offseason. Given that Frazier is reportedly looking for a multi-year deal, is this likely to happen?
I think there's a chance it will. The market hasn't been kind to aging sluggers recently, and I have a hunch teams won't bite on Frazier if he insists on a 3-year deal, not with the red flags that he has. If the offseason continues at its glacial pace, a desperate Frazier just might be forced to accept something like 1 year and 15 million. That's when the Yankees should pounce.
Todd Frazier is nobody's idea of a star, and he might be out of a job in 3 years. For 2018, though, he's a league-average bat with good power and a surging walk rate, and his defense at third base remains fine. He can even play some first base in a pinch, providing the Yankees with some Bird insurance. If Frazier is willing to accept a one-year deal, the Yankees would be wise to bring him back on board.