With the suspension of Alex Rodriguez for the entirety of the 2014 season, the Yankees now have to figure out how they will cover third base. Unfortunately for them, neither their in-house options nor the free agent market appears to offer a palatable solution at the moment. At best, the available options are stopgaps.
Eight players who helped fill in for Rodriguez during his 2013 absence as he recovered from hip surgery -- David Adams, Luis Cruz, Alberto Gonzalez, Brent Lillibridge, Chris Nelson, Jayson Nix, Mark Reynolds and Kevin Youkilis — are no longer in the organization; all but Reynolds (who played 14 games at the hot corner for New York) have signed elsewhere, no great loss given their collectively uninspiring performance with the bat and glove. Meanwhile, the team doesn't even have a single player on its 40-man roster who has played even the equivalent of half a major league season at third base.
What follows is a quick look at the options the Yankees have on hand, and the ones on the free agent market. All players are listed alphabetically within each category.
A minor league infielder acquired in a trade from the Padres in November, Anna hit .331/.410/.482 at hitter-friendly Tucson of the Pacific Coast League in 2013, but that was his first taste of Triple A at age 27. He has just 53 minor league games at third, never more than 20 in a season; he's basically organizational depth.
Johnson has plenty of experience at second base (809 games) and leftfield (132 games) but just 16 at third base in the majors and 15 more in the minors. Even so, the 31-year-old utilityman, whom the Yankees signed to a 1-year, $3 million deal back in December, is probably their best in-house option. Johnson is a better hitter than Eduardo Nunez (.253/.335/.427 career) but he hit just .235/.305/.410 in 407 plate appearances with the Rays last year, for a 99 OPS+; he's been below 100 in that latter category four of the past five seasons, with 2011 the exception. A lefty swinger, Johnson doesn't have much of a platoon split (11 points of OPS better against lefties for his career).
A 29-year-old Cuban defector who has spent three years in the Yankees organization, splitting his time between the outfield (156 games at the corners) and third base (69 games) Mustelier got a long look during spring training last year as a non-roster invitee. A bone bruise in his knee ended his hopes of making the club and cost him the season's first month. Upon returning, he didn't exactly blow anyone away during his time at Triple A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, hitting .272/.319/.398 with seven homers in 357 games, down from .314/.371/.488 with 15 homers in 499 PA split between Double A and Triple A in 2012. Mustelier figures to get another look in the spring, no matter which route the Yankees go.
Nunez has the most experience at the position of anyone on the roster (78 games), but he has never satisfied the team with his work at the position. While the Yankees have had him focus on playing shortstop, the now-26-year-old has been downright brutal there, 21 runs below average in 75 games in 2013 according to Ultimate Zone Rating and 28 runs below average according to Defensive Runs Saved. Nunez hit a fairly representative .260/.307/.372 in 336 plate appearances in 2013; he lacks the bat to offset his defensive woes.
A slick-fielding shortstop, Ryan has played just 29 career games at third, and his .197/.255/.273 line for 2013 rules him out. Move along.
Drew has never played third base professionally, but he almost certainly could handle the position given that he's been basically average at shortstop (-2 DRS career, +2 in 2013). He spent the past season with the Red Sox, hitting .253/.333/.443 with 13 homers in 501 plate appearances. For as much sense as he might make to the Yankees, he won't come cheap (he made $9.5 million in 2013) and would cost them a draft pick, since Boston issued him a qualifying offer that he subsequently declined. That said, it would be a second-round pick, not a first-round one, given that New York lost that with its signing of Brian McCann, as well as its two compensation picks with the signings of Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran.
Another option who's well past his prime, the 38-year-old Polanco spent 2013 as the Marlins' regular at third base, hitting .260/.315/.302 in 416 plate appearances. On the plus side, the righty's performance against lefties (.317/.348/.382 in 132 PA) was good, and it's been a trend over the course of his career (.310/.352/.440). Furthermore, he was three runs above average at third base according to DRS. As superficially acceptable an option as he may be, as of September the Miami resident was unsure if he was going to return for another major league season.
Reynolds hit 21 homers for the Indians and Yankees last year, but the 30-year-old slugger batted just .220/.306/.393 while striking out in more than 30 percent of his plate appearances. Meanwhile, he was a combined 11 runs below average in the field at first and third base. He's become virtually unplayable at the latter, -35 runs in 183 games there over the last three seasons.
After a little more than three years as a utilityman with the Mets, Turner was non-tendered back in December. The 28-year-old righty hit .280/.319/.385 in 214 plate appearances in 2013 but made just 11 starts at the hot corner. Defensively, Turner has 78 major league games and 37 minor league games at third for his career, and in small sample sizes, his work has been more or less average.
Young may be a seven-time All-Star with a career .300/.346/.441 line, but at age 37, he no longer resembles that player even remotely. In 2013, he hit .279/.335/.395 in 565 plate appearances, spending five months showing that he no longer deserved to play every day with the Phillies before being traded to the Dodgers to fill a bench role for the stretch run. His offense wouldn't look so terrible if it wasn't backed by abysmal defense (-20 DRS, −14 UZR). Young has been at least 10 runs below average at third according to DRS in each of the three years he's played at least 100 games there, and he's been worth a combined −3.2 WAR over the past two seasons.
In all, that's a fairly dismal array of options, one likely to force Yankees general manager Brian Cashman to explore a trade or beg 69-year-old Graig Nettles to come out of retirement. At the very least, Cashman will have to get creative, because between the returns from injury of Mark Teixeira at first base and Derek Jeter at shortstop, and the cobbled-together solution of Johnson and Brian Roberts at second base to replace the departed Robinson Cano, there isn't a single sure thing in New York's infield. This article has been updated to clarify the compensation pick attached to the potential signing of Stephen Drew.