The New York Yankees may very well be content with Starlin Castro and Dustin Ackley acting as backups to Chase Headley and Rob Refsnyder likely grabbing the final bench spot behind: Ackley, Hicks and Sanchez/Romine. Brian Cashman may very well be speaking the truth when he says the Yankees are unlikely to make any more major league signings this winter.
New York’s 25 man roster outside of some bullpen competitions may very likely be set.
But then there’s Pedro Alvarez.
An intriguing, 30+ HR bat who happens to play corner infield very likely looking to settle on a one year deal with an outside shot at a non guaranteed MLB contract.
And if you’re the Yankees, it’s a situation you may not want to pass up, especially in light of Greg Bird’s season ending injury in the minor leagues.
Pedro Alvarez has his warts; if he didn’t, he wouldn’t be on the market in early February looking for a short-term contract. He’s not a good defender, he has a career .309 OBP and he averages 177 strikeouts per season. The Pirates were probably right to non-tender him and not even bother with the qualifying offer process or look to trade him before he became a Free Agent.
But the Yankees have a situation where they have one of the best bullpens in the game. Though they didn’t go out and grab a starting pitcher they will have Luis Severino and Nova all season (Severino didn’t pitch in the majors until August and Nova until June) and presumably, a Nathan Eovaldi capable of staying healthy all year. It’s a rotation with question marks, but unlike last season, we know what Eovaldi is, we can expect some upside to individual performances and the only pitcher who we should expect to pitch worse is CC Sabathia, the fifth starter who had a bad year last year anyway.
There’s upside to the rotation and plenty of depth, albeit fragile depth from top to bottom.
So really, the only area Yankees’ fans should feel is fixable this winter and can still be improved is in the lineup. Didi Gregorius established himself as the shortstop of the future after a rough start. Castro was acquired this winter to improve second base. Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez are not going anywhere and now it’s evident Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner are staying put as well. Carlos Beltran is in a walk year.
The Yankees can’t look for long-term solutions at any position because Bird and Aaron Judge need a path to the majors, presumably as early as next year (when they likely replace Tex and Beltran), Sanchez is being broken in at catcher and Headley, Ellsbury, Gregorius and Gardner are all signed for multiple years.
The only way to improve this lineup outside of a major trade we didn’t see happen, while not surrendering a draft pick or top tier talent (two things the Yankees seem against doing) is to maximize the bench.
And to that point, Hicks, Sanchez and Ackley should all be upgrades from last season when Chris Young, Brendan Ryan and JR Murphy were on the roster instead.
Currently, the idea is for Refsnyder to likely backup second base for Castro and have Castro backup short and third, leaving the Yankees fairly vulnerable if Castro struggles mightily at the plate or gets injured. Ackley seems to be a corner outfield option as well as possibly short and third less frequently and Sanchez is likely to beat out Austin Romine as the full-time, backup catcher.
With the Bird injury, a player who has missed at least 29 games the past four years in Teixeira, will be the only one relied upon at first base outside of Ackley, who might be backing up at least four other positions.
But what if the Yankees signed Alvarez to a one year deal with a team option and buyout for a second year if necessary? What if they went to a guaranteed two year deal with lower annual income and a chance for Alvarez to reboost his value with a short porch in right? The one thing we saw which quickly torpedoed the Yankees season was when Tex and A-Rod slowed down towards the end of the year, the offense went invisible.
New York could use more power depth beyond those two and McCann. Beltran, Gardner and Ellsbury are unlikely to hit 20 home runs. Tex and A-rod are likely to break down again due to injury risks and age. The Yankees can use a Cecil Fielder or Darryl Strawberry type off the bench like they used to have back in the day.
With Bird out, there won’t be a knight in shining armor ready to fill in for 90% of Tex’s production like there was last year.
Is Refsnyder’s 2016 production really worth that risk?
If you buy into Hicks and Ackley covering the outfield (with plenty of major league ready minor league depth available), Castro backing up shortstop, leaving Refsnyder as depth in the minors one more time (he’s clearly not the long-term starting solution anyway) and sacrificing one right-handed bench option for a lefty, Alvarez makes all the sense in the world.
In Yankees’ Stadium, he could hit 40 home runs and in a bench role, probably still 20+ long balls. He can back up Teixeira primarily, DH when A-Rod is tired or against tough righties (A-Rod’s .245/.340/.806 vs righties is not much better than Alvarez’s .240/.322/.799) and maybe play third in a pinch behind Headley (let’s face it, the Yankees survived Headley’s career worst defensive year, they can probably deal with Alvarez at third once a week).
With this combination, Alvarez can probably get close to 400-500 at bats and 20-30 home runs, extending the lineup against right-handed pitchers and wouldn’t impact any of the regulars against lefties. The Yankees are above the tax limit this year and have a lot of money freed up next year, so signing Alvarez with the potential to hold him a second year could make a lot of sense. Or they can afford to let him walk with very little downside depending on Bird’s health.
Pedro Alvarez could help fill the one hole (and now the one major injury) the Yankees really can’t and haven’t addressed this winter.
Alvarez is among the best to provide it.