Free agent profiles: Infield depth

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Did you realize that the triumvirate of Tyler Wade, Thairo Estrada, and Jordy Mercer accumulated 170 plate appearances in 2020? That was nearly a third of the team’s total plate appearances at second base and shortstop. Both DJ LeMahieu and Gleyber Torres spent some time on the injured list which quickly exposed the Yankees’ lack of depth up the middle.

This problem was something we clamored about last winter when Didi Gregorius departed. It’s something the team needs to address this offseason even after re-signing DJ LeMahieu or acquiring a shortstop like Francisco Lindor.

Here’s how this should play out. If LeMahieu returns, the Yankees still need to bring in another infielder capable of playing shortstop. Going another year of Wade/Estrada just isn’t going to cut it. If it’s Lindor (or another shortstop), Torres can act as the reserve shortstop when he’s not at second base. That doesn’t mean the team should rest on their laurels, though. In fact, it might make it easier to obtain a bench infielder upgrade since said target wouldn’t have to be able to play shortstop (though it’d still be nice).

With that in mind, let’s get into a few options that the Yankees should look into this winter.

Tommy La Stella

The 31 year-old has hit .289/.356/.471 (125 wRC+) in 549 plate appearances since 2019, mostly with the Angels before a trade to Oakland mid-2020. He’s not going to wow you with power or exit velocity, but the left-handed hitter does a terrific job putting the ball in play. No batter has a lower strikeout than La Stella (7.3 percent) since last year, minimum 500 plate appearances.

One big problem with La Stella is that he’s not an option at shortstop. He can play anywhere else in the infield, but what the Yankees really need is a second shortstop, especially if LeMahieu returns. Now, if the Yankees acquire Lindor, it’s another story as Torres can fill in at short when necessary. Of course, La Stella could be a LeMahieu replacement if the Yanks strike out on both Lindor and DJLM.

  • Contract projection: 2 years, $14 million
  • 2020 Stats: .281/.370/.449 in 228 PA (129 wRC+), -2.0 Def, +1.2 fWAR
  • 2021 Steamer: .284/.355/.449 in 561 PA (112 wRC+), -3.0 Def, + 2.3 fWAR
César Hernández

Hernández has exclusively played second base since 2018, so he’s not necessarily as versatile as Wade even though the bat is an upgrade. Still, if really needed, I think Hernández can play shortstop (no games since 2017, or extensively since 2015) or third base (no games since 2015). He’s a stellar defender at second base (94th pct. in OAA in 2020) and won the Gold Glove award this season with Cleveland.

At the plate, the 30 year-old switch-hitter has been nothing short of consistent since he became a full-timer in Philly back in 2015. He’s hit .278/.355/.390 (101 wRC+) since ’15 and his wRC+ has ranged between 92 and 111 annually.

  • Contract Projection: 2 years, $16 million
  • 2020 Stats: .283/.355/.408 (108 wRC+) in 261 PA, +4.7 Def, +1.9 fWAR
  • 2021 Steamer: .269/.349/.385 (96 wRC+) in 630 PA, +1.0 Def, +1.9 fWAR
Kiké Hernández

Here’s the man from our plan. The only defensive positions Kiké didn’t play this year were catcher, third base, and pitcher. So not only could he address the infield depth, but he could step in for the inevitable outfield injury. Now, Hernández isn’t a plus defender at any particular spot, though it appears second base is his best position. Still, he’s a capable glove anywhere he’s put.

The 29 year-old offers good power from the right side of the plate, but does have some troubling trends. In particular, his walk rate has plummeted since 2017. That year, he posted a 12 percent walk rate, but that’s dropped each year thereafter: 10.8 to 7.8 to 4.1 percent in 2020. And since he’s not a guy with high BABIP (.272 career), he’s basically become relatively one dimensional. I’d like to think his patience can rebound, but if not, you’re looking at a low .200s batting average and sub-.300 on-base percentage propped up by a bit of pop.

  • Contract Projection: 2 years, $12 million
  • 2020 Stats: .230/.270/.410 (83 wRC+) in 148 PA, -2.0 Def, -0.1 fWAR
  • 2021 Steamer: .248/.327/.446 (101 wRC+) in 326 PA, -0.4 Def, +1.1 fWAR
Jurickson Profar

Profar’s defensive options have narrowed down since Texas traded him away after 2018. Oakland made him almost exclusively a second baseman in 2019 and San Diego used him mostly in left field (with a solid chunk of time at second base) this year. So if you’re thinking about him being a solid reserve option at short, you may want to think again. Per Statcast, Profar was 7 runs below average at shortstop, good for second-worst in MLB at the position. Moving him back there just may not be palpable, making him not an ideal option if LeMahieu returns.

Defensive limitations aside, Profar’s bat has really come around over the past three seasons. He was downright bad at the plate up until 2017 (71 wRC+ in 718 PA), but now owns a 101 wRC+ in 1,314 PA thereafter. And that’s skewed downward by a poor 2018 (89 wRC+), which seemed rather unlucky given the following:`

Metric201820192020
BABIP.269.218.293
wOBA.341.301.330
xwOBA.329.334.329
  • Contract Projection: 2 years, $15 million
  • 2020 Stats: .278/.343/.428 (111 wRC+) in 202 PA, +0.7 Def, +1.3 fWAR
  • 2021 Steamer: .249/.332/.427 (99 wRC+) in 541 PA, -3.0 Def, +1.5 fWAR
Marwin Gonzalez

It sure looks like Marwin isn’t the player for the Twins that he was for the Astros. Wonder what that could be about. González possessed a 111 wRC+ in more than 2,000 PAs for Houston from 2014-2018, including a remarkably coincidental 144 wRC+ in 2017. Since signing with Minnesota, the switch-hitter has a 85 wRC+.

Marwin’s also turning 32 in March and has shifted downward on the defensive spectrum. The Twins all but moved him off shortstop (one game in 2019), almost certainly due to his poor play there (-6 OAA in 2018). In addition to the poor bat, the inability to play short makes him not a very good option.

  • Contract Projection: 2 years, $16 million
  • 2020 Stats: .211/.286/.320 (66 wRC+) in 199 PA, +0.3 Def, +0.2 fWAR
  • 2021 Steamer: .250/.332/.410 (92 wRC+) in 366 PA, -2.1 Def, +0.6 fWAR
Jonathan Villar

Villar’s an interesting case because it looked like he was done playing shortstop after the 2016 season, only to return to significant action there in 2019. He was the Brewers’ starting shortstop in 2016, but shifted to second base the following year and didn’t log a single inning at short. Baltimore had him in 2018, and though he started 18 games at the position, none came before August 11th. And since 2019, he’s practically split time evenly between short and second. A better team than the 2019 Orioles probably doesn’t use him at shortstop. Meanwhile, the 2020 Marlins likely had little choice not to use Villar at short because of the team’s COVID outbreak. So while he’s done it recently, it’s probably not a good idea to play him at short.

Although he can switch-hit and swipe plenty of bases (218 in 277 career attempts), Villar strikes out a ton and lacks power. He somehow swatted 24 dingers for the ’19 Orioles, but had just a .059 isolated power in 2020.

  • Contract Projection: 1 year, $6 million
  • 2020 Stats: .232/.301/.292 (66 wRC+) in 207 PA, -0.5 Def, -0.3 fWAR
  • 2021 Steamer: .252/.321/.394 (88 wRC+) in 324 PA, -1.8 Def, +0.6 fWAR
Brad Miller

The Yanks’ had Miller in Scranton in 2019, but traded him to Philadelphia in June. Miller raked as a part-timer for the Phillies (136 wRC+) and continued that strong showing at the plate into this season for St. Louis. The bat has never really been a question for the lefty, but his glovework sure has. Miller was the Cardinals’ main designated hitter this year, though he also got into 15 games at third base.

Miller came up as a shortstop for Seattle, but never really belonged. Even the analytically-inclined Rays allowed him to play the position in 2016, but finally gave in come 2017. As it turns out, Miller has played very little infield other than third base over the past two seasons. The bat may be appealing, but the fit just doesn’t seem to work in the field.

  • Contract Projection: 1 year, $2 million
  • 2020 Stats: .232/.357/.451 (121 wRC+) in 171 PA, -4.6 Def, +0.8 fWAR
  • 2021 Steamer: .229/.325/.426 (97 wRC+) in 385 PA, -6.8 Def, +0.4 fWAR
Freddy Galvis

Here’s one of the few options who can undoubtedly play shortstop. Now, OAA did not like his defense this year (-3), but that comes after +23 OAA from 2018 through 2019 at the position. The 31 year-old can also play second base and though he hasn’t fielded the hot corner since 2015, I would be comfortable putting him out there.

The downside here is the bat, though he’s found a bit of a power stroke over the last two seasons (.179 ISO and 30 homers in 748 plate appearances). Still, even with that power, his wRC+ is just 89 over that timeframe. But then again, we’re talking about depth here, not a starting role. If the 31 year-old Galvis can put up a batting line roughly 10 percent below average while playing good defense, he’s a huge boost.

  • Contract Projection: 2 year, $12 million
  • 2020 Stats: .220/.308/.404 (91 wRC+) in 159 PA, +1.7 Def, +0.5 fWAR
  • 2021 Steamer: .236/.291/.379 (74 wRC+) in 341 PA, +3.0 Def, +0.3 fWAR

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3 Comments

  1. Nick

    I love La Stella and am 100% in favor of bringing him on board, even if DJL returns and Torres remains at SS. How practical would it be to use Gio as the backup SS in short term situations? I know defense is already an issue for this team and this would not improve that situation, but in terms of breaking up the extreme right-handedness of this lineup La Stella is one of the two names (along with Michael Brantley) that pops into my head as really good options.

    • Derek

      Gio logged 65 innings at short in 2018 and none since. I’d guess he’s probably emergency only at short at this point.

      • Troy

        It would be interesting if he could play SS and or 2B. Would add a ton of versatility.

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