The Yankees’ third base situation has been pretty steady for most of Brian Cashman’s tenure, with Alex Rodriguez manning the position since 2004. Health issues and concern about suspension have forced the team to sign third base insurance in the past few seasons, but otherwise, there hasn’t been much action at the position since Rodriguez was added.
Scott Brosius marked the first free agent third base move of Cashman’s time, although Brosius was actually acquired via trade prior to the 1998 season. Brosius did wind up hitting the open market after that season, but eventually signed a three-year, $15M contract. Unfortunately, he never again came close to matching his performance in 1998, in which he hit .300/.371/.472 and netted 5 WAR.
To replace Brosius after his retirement in 2001, Cashman acquired Robin Ventura from the Mets. Like Brosius, Ventura became a free agent after that season but was eventually brought back to the Yankees. Ventura actually only played a half-season after signing that contract (he was traded to the Dodgers), but posted a respectable 1.5 WAR in 89 games. During Ventura’s short stint, Cashman also brought in veterans Ron Coomer and Todd Zeile as role players on the infield corners. Zeile, like Ventura, was dumped in the middle of his first season after signing. He nor Coomer were any good on the field, but considering their pay, it wasn’t anything to be up in arms about.
It wasn’t until the winter of 2007 that Cashman had to sign another significant player at the position. That player turned out to be A-Rod, who infamously opted out of his contract and became a free agent. Rodriguez eventually rejoined the Yanks at a price that broke the free agent contract record he had previously set. As documented, that move was over Cashman’s head and an ownership call. A-Rod was coming off a spectacular 2007 in which he won the MVP award, but he certainly hasn’t lived up to the deal. Rodriguez’ performance dropped (albeit still quite good), he has struggled to stay healthy, and is suspended for all of 2014.
Since the Rodriguez deal, Cashman has made a few good and bad deals at the hot corner. Morgan Ensberg and Kevin Youkilis did not work out at all, while the two pacts with Eric Chavez were successes. Ensberg provided negative value and was released in the middle of 2008, never to be seen again in the majors. Youkilis manged 118 unproductive plate appearances, and was mostly unable to stay in the lineup. Both deals for Chavez were good on a dollar-per-WAR basis, but the latter was better as he was able to avoid major injury while being superb with the bat (126 wRC+ in 313 PAs). He was certainly missed last season, when he bolted for Arizona in order to be closer to home.
Overall, it’s difficult to judge Cashman’s maintenance of this position via free agency because he had a mainstay in Rodriguez for so long. Looking ahead, with A-Rod’s future in jeopardy and the stopgap signing of Kelly Johnson, the future at third base is wide open. First-round selection Eric Jagielo has the potential to fill the void long-term, but there’s always a chance the Yankees make a free agent splash beforehand. Assuming Pablo Sandoval, Hanley Ramirez, and/or Chase Headley are not extended before hitting the market after this coming season, Cashman may pounce before Jagielo is ready.
The analysis’ methodology for this series can be found in previous posts, primarily within the posts on starting pitchers and catchers.
Photo by 3.26 on Flickr (Original version) UCinternational (Crop) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons