There are just about three weeks left until Opening Day and despite their many moves this winter, the Yankees are still sporting a roster that can best be described as incomplete. While Joe Girardi tries to fashion two fourths of a starting infield out of a motley group comprised of injury returnees and late-20s career minor leagues, the front office continues to scout the rest of the majors to try and identify players on other teams who might be expendable. One team's trash after all...
Despite the much-maligned status of their potential trade commodities, we learned last week that teams have at least been kicking the tires on what the Yankees have to offer. The White Sox and Brewers, in particular, are known to have checked in on New York's catching surplus. Could a mutually beneficial trade be struck with either of those clubs from the upper Midwest?
The White Sox were one of the only teams in baseball in 2013 with a catching situation worse than the Yankees'. A group comprised of Tyler Flowers, Josh Phegley and Hector Gimenez combined to slash .196/.238/.325, making Chris Stewart and friends look like All-Stars in the process. Unlike the Yankees, who signed Brian McCann, Chicago did nothing to improve its lot besides claiming Adrian Nieto in the Rule 5 Draft. John Ryan Murphy could start for the White Sox tomorrow, and Francisco Cervelli and Austin Romine probably could, too.
So what can White Sox VP Kenny Williams and GM Rick Hahn offer for one of the Yankees' young backstops? He'd probably love to pawn off Alexei Ramirez and the $20.5 million that's still guaranteed him through 2015. But the Cuban native is 32 and hasn't been a league-average hitter since his rookie year, in 2008. His wRC+'s have sat at 72 and 86 the past two seasons and his once-decent power faded into a career-worst .096 ISO in 2013. Ramirez's still-stellar defense at short has kept his WAR fairly high, but he isn't supplanting Derek Jeter this season, and he hasn't played a game anywhere else in five full years.
If not Ramirez, then what about Gordon Beckham? At 27, he's never fulfilled the promise that led Baseball America to name him a top-20 prospect in 2009, but he has experience at second and third, the Yankees' two positions of need, and he's signed to a reasonable one-year arbitration deal for $4.18 million. While Beckham might be attainable for Cervelli or Romine along with a low-level prospect or two, it's worth wondering whether he's really an upgrade over the in-house options the Yankees are already sifting through. It's possible, if not probable, that the .267/.322/.372, 88 wRC+ season that Beckham managed in 2013 could be matched by someone from the Sizemore-Anna-Solarte mix, for a much lesser price.
A deal that makes sense for both sides would be a Murphy for Marcus Semien swap. Semien, 23, is the fifth-rated prospect in Chicago's bottom-third farm system according to Baseball Prospectus, while Murphy is fourth on the Yankee list. Semien hit .284/.401/.479 between Double-A and Triple-A last year. While he's played mostly short before, he notched time at second in 2013 and played mostly third after being called to the majors in September. Semien wouldn't necessarily make the big club out of spring training, but he'd provide insurance for an injury to Jeter or Brian Roberts and could take over third later in the year if things start off well...as expected. Most importantly, Semien would give the Yankees a legitimate upper-level prospect in the infield, something they've been without for a pretty long while.
Traveling 90 minutes up I-94 to Milwaukee, we find a Brewers team set at catcher with Jonathan Lucroy, who's managed a 3.6 fWAR in each of the past two seasons. Behind him, though, things get ugly. Martin Maldonado, who posted a wRC+ of 40 last year in 67 games is the only other catcher on the 40-man squad, and non-roster invitees like Robinzon Diaz and Matt Pagnozzi don't inspire much confidence either.
Like his counterpart in Chicago, Brewers GM Doug Melvin has an infielder with a bad contract he'd be happy to move. Likely to be ousted by rookie Scooter Gennett, Rickie Weeks will earn $11 million this year despite being a worse-than-replacement level second baseman in 2013 with a triple slash line of .209/.306/.357 and a UZR/150 of -16.9. Last season was part of an ongoing decline for Weeks, who's seen his production dip steadily since his career-best 5.8 fWAR campaign in 2010.
For the Yankees, Weeks would be Vernon Wells version 2.0, even if he could be had for Cervelli or Romine alone, and even if Milwaukee ate a large chunk of his pay. In life and in baseball, the same logic goes - just because something comes cheap, doesn't mean it's necessarily worth having. The last thing the Yankees need to add to their infield stew right now is another shot player swiping reps from guys who could possibly do better. Brian Cashman's "throw it against the wall and see if it sticks" specials haven't worked too well of late, and it's time the Yankees moved away from that approach.
Another Brewer that could carry some appeal is corner infielder Juan Francisco, who was once a fairly promising third base prospect for the Reds. Four years and two organizations later, Francisco's been reduced to fighting it out with Lyle Overbay to be the left-handed half of a first base platoon with Mark Reynolds. While his inability to hit lefties and his suspect defensive skills make him somewhat redundant with Kelly Johnson, Francisco does have some worthwhile qualities. At just 26, he boasts a non-awful 97 wRC+ for his career, and he hit 18 home runs in 365 plate appearances last year. His presence would allow Johnson to slide back into his intended role - playing second base and some outfield against right-handed pitchers. Francisco would also be a better backup to Mark Teixeira's wrist than anything the Yankees currently have. An offer of Cervelli or Romine and a depth pitcher like Vidal Nuno or Adam Warren could be enough to get this one done.