Why Jon Berti is a near perfect addition to the Yankees' bench

Brian Cashman swiung a pre-Opening Day three-team trade to bolster the roster.
Miami Marlins v Pittsburgh Pirates
Miami Marlins v Pittsburgh Pirates / Joe Sargent/GettyImages

When DJ LeMahieu signed a six-year, $90 million contract to stay with the Yankees in January 2021, much of the fanbase rejoiced. LeMahieu was coming off one of the best two-year stretches of offense in recent team memory, slashing .336/.386/.536 in 195 games during his initial two-year stay in the Bronx.

Not only that, but LeMahieu had proven to be capable of filling in around the infield whenever the oft-injured 2019-2020 Yanks needed him to, covering second, first, and third base skillfully.

Fast forward just over three years later, and LeMahieu has become a bit of a liability on the Yankees' roster. Coming up on the fourth year of his deal, LeMahieu has hit just .258/.345/.375 since and hasn't appeared in the postseason since 2020 due to various injuries. Injuries have become so synonymous with LeMahieu's Yankees tenure that when it was announced that he would miss 2024 Opening Day due to a bone bruise in his foot, it was barely a surprise.

But just as the Yankees seemed prepared to start the season with utilityman Oswaldo Cabrera as the everyday third baseman and carry journeyman Jahmai Jones on the bench, Brian Cashman swung a trade for a player who has outperformed LeMahieu in fWAR over the past two seasons. Sending Ben Rortvedt to Tampa Bay and young outfield prospect John Cruz to Miami, the Yankees brought in the versatile Jon Berti from the Marlins, just in time to get him to Houston for Opening Day.

While not a superstar by any means, Jon Berti brings help to the Yankees' roster in plenty of areas where it was lacking. First and foremost, he provides them a reliable option to open the season at third base in LeMahieu's absence. Berti is primarily a middle infielder, but he has started 119 career games at the hot corner, tallying 5 OAA at the position since 2022. For comparison, Cabrera, while still plenty serviceable in the field, has tallied 3 OAA there in the same span with less experience.

But the Yankees did not add Berti because they were worried about their ability to make up for LeMahieu's defense at third base. They added him because he can complement Cabrera's left-handed bat at the position and fill in across the diamond when the need presents itself.

Oswaldo Cabrera, a switch hitter by trade, struggled mightily at the plate in his first full major league season in 2023, slashing just .211/.275/.299 for a 60 wRC+ and a -0.6 fWAR in 330 plate appearances. Considering the Yankees' championship aspirations, relying on Cabrera as an everyday player even for just a few weeks would be risky, and even riskier if LeMahieu's eventual return doesn't go swiftly.

Berti, on the other hand, is coming off a slightly above league average offensive season over 133 games in 2023. He hit .294/.344/.405 with a 103 wRC+, and will provide a more patient and selective alternative at the plate to contrast with Cabrera's free-swinging ways. Berti's numbers look even better against left-handed pitching, against whom he logged a .287/.336/.421 line over the past two seasons. Having Berti take the reigns against lefties will allow Cabrera to hit mainly from the left side -- his stronger side -- and will take the weight of everyday playing time off of his shoulders.

As solid and safe of an offensive option Berti is at the top or bottom of the Yankees' lineup, it's not even his calling card. Berti rose through the major league ranks as a light-hitting speed and defense guy, and has only improved his offensive output over the past few years when he's gotten more playing time.

That's right; aside from getting an above-average contributor on both sides of the ball, the Yankees have landed one of the fastest men in baseball within that same package. In 2023, Berti ranked 15th in all of MLB in sprint speed among players with 100 "competitive runs," as defined by Statcast. He also led the majors with 41 stolen bases in 2022, getting caught just five times. And although he ran less in 2023, he still ranked 30th in all of baseball in Statcast's baserunning metric.

LeMahieu going down has never been ideal for the Yankees, even throughout his struggles as a player. But in his absence, the Yankees have added an incredibly versatile player in Berti who might be as good if not better than LeMahieu in their respective career stages. Berti's first task will be helping make up for LeMahieu's production at third base and addding athleticism to the bottom of the lineup, but he should have a spot on the team all season, thanks to his stellar defensive abilities and baserunning prowess.