Regardless of you how you feel about how they're prioritizing this offseason and who they're going after, the Yankees have to be commended for the proactive approach they've taken. Recognizing that this past season's penny pinching/washed up veteran reclamation project approach was not the right way to contend on a budget, they've wasted no time in identifying their primary and secondary free agent targets and appear to be making a strong effort to upgrade every major area of need on their roster.
Every area, that is, except for third base. The Yankees used 9 different players at the hot corner in 2013, best among them Alex Rodriguez. While they've stated that they are planning on having him around and at third next season, there's a very, very good chance that he ends up suspended for at least 50-100 games. Even if he beats the odds and is free to play for the whole season, A-Rod no longer has the ability to be an everyday third baseman after years of injury problems and surgeries to both his hips. Yet third base remains the one position the Yankees don't have a clear plan to address, at least not when compared to catcher, right field, and the starting rotation.
So what's the deal? What do Cash and the rest of the front office have in mind to address this seemingly under-considered roster hole?
Here's what we know right now. They aren't signing Jhonny Peralta to play it; he's heading to St. Louis on a 4-year deal to be their starting shortstop. They aren't moving Derek Jeter to third because well, he's Derek Jeter and Derek Jeter is going to play shortstop until Derek Jeter decides that Derek Jeter doesn't want to play shortstop anymore. They most likely aren't signing Stephen Drew to play it, as Drew had no interest in taking that job last year and is one of the few big names that reportedly has not received a contract offer from the Yankees.
We know that Mark Reynolds is interested in returning after playing pretty well in 36 games this season (.330 wOBA, 6 HR, 0.7 fWAR), but so far there has been nothing to indicate the Yankees have reached out to him to discuss a return. He's not the best defensive third baseman in the world. In fact, he's consistently been rated as a severely below-average defender for the majority of his career. But he does have plus right-handed power and he should come relatively cheap on a 1-year deal after being released by Cleveland. That was my reasoning for adding him as part of my Project 189 team. With the Yankees looking to spend big on those other areas, Reynolds makes a lot of sense as a cheap stopgap.
What we don't know is what the Yankees intend to do with some of their young internal options. Eduardo Nunez is still around, still the most likely to stick when the time comes to cut players to open up 40-man roster spots, and he did finish 2013 playing third base. David Adams, while doing next to nothing with the bat, showed that he was capable of handling himself at third and he's young enough to still offer some upside as a Major League hitter. And Dean Anna, new addition to the 40-man after being acquired from San Diego, has experience at third to go with a left-handed bat that could project to be better than those of Nunez or Adams.
We also don't know if there are any other free agents out there who interest the Yanks. Juan Uribe would be an intriguing option but he's probably looking for a multi-year deal. Eric Chavez would be a welcome return but he's no more capable of playing third every day than A-Rod is. Does Jerry Hairston Jr. still do anything for them? Or Michael Young? They might not be much more productive than Reynolds in everyday roles, certainly not in the power department, and someone with a track record like Young will probably be more expensive.
Whatever the Yankees are planning to do, it's most likely going to include multiple players. There simply aren't any big time free agents available at third and the lower tier of players mentioned above all come with their respective warts. The Chase Headly trade option well has all but dried up at this point, and with the team's primary focus being on the outfield, rotation, and re-signing Robbie Cano, third base looks to be the spot where they're willing to spend less, take a production hit, and piece together however they have to. If A-Rod does end up being available for any amount of time next season, that will help answer some of the questions. For now, that doesn't look like something the Yanks can count on and so the questions remain.