The Yankees announced that they failed to sign Japanese infielder Hiroyuki Nakajima yesterday, in a move that didn’t seem like a big deal. The problem is, it kind of was.
The reason it is a problem is because of Alex Rodriguez. The 36-year-old slugger hasn’t even played in at least 140 games since 2007 and in that span he averaged just 124 games played per year. Derek Jeter has been much more durable, but he’ll be 38 this year and will certainly need some time off too.
That’s at least 50-60 games that a backup will need to start for the Yankees at one of those positions. Eduardo Nunez can certainly take some of those games, but with a terrible glove and a .314 career OBP he certainly shouldn’t be the Yankees only option.
Of course, they have turned their attention toward the man who filled that position last year, Eric Chavez. Chavez has a lot of problems though. One, he isn’t signed yet and is not a lock to return. The other is that the guy is just as bad as Nick Johnson, he can’t stay healthy. It might not be a good idea to sign a guy who you just can’t count on, even for just 50 games.
Other than those two, the Yankees have Brandon Laird, but he doesn’t inspire much confidence either after putting up a .288 OBP at Triple-A last season. So if not one of those three, then who?
Looking through the remaining free agents, there are a few that could do the job, but none of them are exactly pretty. There is former Yankee Wilson Betemit, Jorge Cantu, Kevin Kouzmanoff, Felipe Lopez, Miguel Tejada, Bill Hall, and Jeff Keppinger.
Offensively there are a couple of names that I want to immediately cross off that list because of their recent poor performances. Those would be Cantu (.287 OBP and .654 OPS over the past two seasons), Kouzmanoff (.284, .672 last two), Lopez (.294, .621 last two), and Tejada (.298, .660 last two).
That leaves the choices at Betemit, Hall, and Keppinger. Hall had the worst year of the three last year, but he had a solid year with the Red Sox the year before and can play some outfield as well. Keppinger’s season last year wasn’t impressive either, but he did put up good numbers before he was traded last year and also has outfield experience. The Yankees have actually tried to acquire both of those players within the past year.
And then there is Betemit. For Yankees fans who don’t remember, he was actually with the Bombers in 2007-2008 before he was eventually traded for Nick Swisher. His time with the Yankees was bad, but he has improved since then. Last year with the Tigers and Royals he played in 97 games and put up a .343 OBP and a .795 OPS. That’s even better than Chavez’s .320, .676 marks of last year.
Betemit isn’t even a terrible fielder, he doesn’t bring a lot defensively, but he isn’t a liability either. His UZR was a not terrible -1.2 while playing at first, second, and third bases. He also comes with experience at shortstop and left field even though he didn’t play either position last year.
All things considered, Betemit is probably a better option than Chavez. Keppinger and Hall aren’t bad options either, especially if you are worried that Chavez will get hurt again next year (he will). So hopefully the Yankees won’t just limit their bench market to Chavez alone this offseason, especially if they can get Betemit.