Fangraphs rolled out their positional rankings over the past several days. These are beneficial in analyzing teams as we can see how much production is coming from each position and roster spot rather than just an overall runs scored/runs allowed model at the team level. This allows us to identify where teams should be looking to upgrade as the season progresses. This could either come through trades or promotion of in-house players. It is much easier to replace a replacement level player (0 or negative WAR) than it is when trying to go from an average player to an All-Star or elite player. That is the Rays and Athletics method: just be slightly above average everywhere and build depth. It also adds to the fun debates about who has the best starting rotation or who would do well to upgrade the right side of their infield, for instance. Here is where the Yankees ranked at each infield position (includes catcher) with some notes about the projection:
Catcher- The Yankees ranked 5th behind the dish. Only the Giants, Indians, Cardinals, and Royals were ahead of them. The projection sees Brian McCann as a 3.3 WAR player over 480 plate appearances. It rates his fielding at -1.5, but that doesn’t factor in his pitch framing skills which are rated among the best in the game. The projection has Francisco Cervelli receiving only 96 plate appearances, but I would be willing to bet he gets more than that. The Yankees catching tandem of McCann and Cervelli might be the biggest year over year (from 2013 to 2014) upgrade of any position in baseball.
1st Base- The Yankees ranked 11th on the strength of Mark Teixeira‘s 2.8 WAR across 560 plate appearances. The Yankees don’t have a true backup at first base going into the season so the model adds a few plate appearances for Carlos Beltran, Scott Sizemore, and Kelly Johnson at the position. This projection might be bearish on the ability of Teixeira to stay healthy and not have his power sapped from the wrist injury he sustained last year. If Tex is healthy, however, this should definitely be an upgrade over Lyle Overbay from last year. It is hard to see them getting the kind of elite production they are accustomed to at the position.
2nd Base- The Yankees project to get below average production from the position (1.5 WAR) and rank 22nd in all of baseball. They will start the year with an old and oft-injured Brian Roberts at the position. Dean Anna figures to be next in line. Anna hasn’t had a single major league plate appearance but has demonstrated an ability to get on base in the minors and is a legit middle infielder. They will enter 2014 with 2 unknowns at 2nd base after having the best 2nd baseman in the game in Robinson Cano. This might be the flip side of the catcher situation: 2nd base for the Yankees might be the biggest year over year (2013 to 2014) downgrade for any position in the MLB.
Shortstop- Derek Jeter is back for his final season. Jeter is 40 years old and coming off a serious ankle injury. There aren’t really any comps for this player at this stage of his career. He projects to be worth .5 WAR. This includes negative hitting, baserunning, and defense as he is propped up by positional value and merely staying on the field. Brendan Ryan, currently injured, also figures to see time at the position. Ideally, he would come off the bench as the utility infielder, but he might be pressed into a starting role when Jeter needs time at DH. Anna (again) and Eduardo Nunez (just assigned to AAA) are the wild cards here. They might be better options at the position, but Jeter will play pretty much no matter what. Yankees fans hope that Jeter has one last run in him to disprove the 26th overall ranking.
3rd Base- Alex Rodriguez was suspended for all of 2014 and most Yankees fans rejoiced. Then they realized that the team’s 3rd base projection looks dismal. Kelly Johnson will be the starter. Johnson is a nice player, but ideally he is used as a bench piece or in a platoon if the other 3 infield spots had above average players. Johnson will probably need to move around the diamond to spell Tex or Roberts and that opens the door for Nunez and Anna at third base, too. The running theme is that the Yankees have multiple players that can play multiple positions on the infield and it figures to be a rotisserie all year long. The other point is that the infield could be among the very worst in baseball with another bottom 10 ranking at 3rd base (25th overall). ARod would have been the best option for the team in 2014.
The team upgraded at catcher (big time) and 1st base. However, that might not be enough to offset the questions around the non-first base infield spots. A large part of the success of the team revolves around what is Derek Jeter? What is Brian Roberts? What is Dean Anna? Of course, signing Stephen Drew would solve one of these infield question marks and make the team look much better on paper.