With payroll being capped at $189 and not much money to play with this offseason, it is beneficial to look at players who would command moderate salaries (both in years and dollars) and might be undervalued by the market. The recently signed David Murphy and Chris Young are perfect examples of this procedure. Buying low on several quality players who as a whole can approximate the production of a well-compensated star for a fraction of the cost is very valuable. Being just above-average at virtually every position (see A’s, Pirates) can be just as effective as a stars-and-scrubs model (see Tigers) and also cost much less. Here is a look at some current free agents who fit the mold and are options for the Yankees.
Dioner Navarro-C- Navarro was signed by the Yankees as an amateur free agent way back in 2000. This will be his age 30 season and he provides a cheaper option to Brian McCann and an equivalent option (also cheaper) to Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Navarro is listed as a switch-hitter but struggles against northpaws (74 wRC+) to the point that he would be unplayable against them if his defense was any worse. Coincidentally, Saltalamacchia has the same issue but in reverse (a switch-hitter who struggles mightily against lefties). However, Saltalamacchia will be paid like a 500 plate appearance starter while Navarro will be paid as a backup who could theoretically start based on his decent defense when factoring in the catcher positional adjustment.
Defensive Runs Saved and Fielding Runs Above Average rate his defense as average to slightly below. Pairing Navarro with a left-handed hitting catcher could make a more productive catcher position than Saltalamacchia plus X for a fraction of the cost. Navarro makes even more sense when he probably won’t command more than 2 years and could bridge the gap to Gary Sanchez whereas McCann and Saltalamacchia would still be under contract if and when Sanchez is ready.
Roberto Hernandez-P- Hernandez, formerly Fausto Carmona, is a bowling ball sinker guy (career 57.8% ground ball rate) who has limited his walks since his days with the Indians. Brendan Ryan must play on days where Carmona is starting. The strikeout rate is on the uptick (17.6% in 2013 vs 14.25% for career) but the home run rate is very high, basically unsustainable.
Buying Hernadez is buying into xFIP, the idea that he will continue to post good enough K and BB rates while he generate a league average HR/FB rate. A league average HR/FB rate with a 55%+ ground ball rate makes for a really good pitcher and a nifty pickup. A 1 year $2-3 million deal would give the Yankees a cheap back-end rotation piece with tremendous upside assuming a regression in his homer rate. A move to the bullpen might even allow his fastball to play up while pitching 2-3 quality innings at a time.
Kelly Johnson-2B- This is probably the “break glass in case of emergency” option where the Yanks fail to resign Robinson Cano and miss out on Omar Infante. Johnson, 32, is coming off a season where he received just 407 plate appearances for the Rays. However, the usage is probably a product of Joe Maddon because, as a lefty, he doesn’t have a large platoon split (actually a reverse 105 wRC+ vs L and 103 wRC+ vs R).
He’s seen a lot of variance in his BABIP throughout his career. When his BABIP is high he can be a 3 win player with above average defense and 15 stolen bases. When his BABIP is low he is just above replacement level and propped up by decent power for a 2B (.174 career ISO) and walks (10.5% career BB rate). Primarily a second baseman, Johnson also has over 1000 career innings in leftfield and could spell Alfonso Soriano on occasion. The hope is that Johnson increases his line-drive rate back up around 20% to see an uptick in BABIP making him a league average (2 WAR) player at a modest price.
This is not the way the Yankees have historically operated. They usually go out and sign the big name at above market prices. They were able to do this because, well, they are on a whole separate planet than the rest of the league when it comes to revenue and finances. This method has worked for them. However, with payroll declining at the same time that free agent prices are inflating ($/win is now around 6), the Yankees need to explore other avenues. They should take a look at the clearance rack and buy low on these candidates this offseason.
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