Brian Cashman’s Free Agency Performance: Middle Infielders

Hopefully Roberts surprises us.
Hopefully Roberts surprises us.

With so few Major League contracts given shortstop and second base under Brian Cashman, I decided to lump the bunch together for today’s edition of this series*. Why hasn’t he had to do much with the position during his time? Simple. He’s had one starting shortstop, Derek Jeter. He’s had three second good to great second basemen: Chuck Knoblauch, Alfonso Soriano, and Robinson Cano. For the most part, it’s been a strength that Cashman has been able to ignore while focusing on other areas of the roster.

Depending on how much longer Cashman stays, we may see him make the calls on the next waive of middle infielders. We’ve already seen the additions of Kelly Johnson and Brian Roberts this winter, but both certainly are not long-term solutions at second. Additionally, 2014 could be the final year of Jeter’s career. For now though, let’s look back at the results from other signings at the positions during Cashman’s time.

Before this winter, the only time Cashman needed to find a free agent solution to be a starter at second base was for the 2004 and 2005 seasons. Miguel Cairo was added for ’04, but was initially intended to be a utility man. Instead, he was thrust into the starting role after Alex Rodriguez was acquired in a package featuring the incumbent at the time, Soriano. Cairo was decent, posting a 101 wRC+ in 408 plate appearances. According to the WAR analysis, this actually was the only fair value signing of the group, but mostly because the salary was so low.

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Cairo left the Yankees for the Mets after 2004, and the Yankees inked Tony Womack to become the starter. He was a complete bust. He lost his job mid-year to Cano and was traded away at season’s end. This signing is not on Cashman whatsoever, as it came down from ownership.

The contracts handed to¬†Luis Sojo and Rey Sanchez were really so inconsequential that their poor performance wasn’t a big issue. The same can be said about the two deals Cairo signed in 2006 and 2007. WAR isn’t completely precise, but a good estimate of overall value, so we can probably say all those guys were roughly replacement level. If that was the case, then yes, they were all overpaid since a minor leaguer could have done the job at the league minimum salary. However, considering trivial financial impact and expectations for these players, Cashman could never be grilled for these decisions.

When Jeter’s extension from 2001-2010 expired, he was on the open market until December. There wasn’t much doubt that he was returning, but nonetheless, it was the first time the Captain had been on the open market in his career. Unfortunately, he didn’t quite live up to the $48M he earned over those three seasons, posting just 4.3 WAR. He was below replacement in 2013 thanks to an ineffective and injury plagued campaign. In truth, the only year of the pact he lived up to his salary was 2012, in which he posted 3 WAR and had a 117 wRC+.

It’s not really fair to say Cashman did a bad job on the Jeter deal. As the franchise’s icon, there was no way the organization could allow him to walk. Even if they were truly bidding against themselves, Jeter still demanded respect and wanted to be paid accordingly. We saw this happen yet again this offseason, when the Yankees reworked his option for this year to be worth $12M.

Taking these moves into account, there’s nothing to really bat an eye at here. The “bad” contracts of this group were either out of Cashman’s control or had mitigating circumstances. Going forward, it will be fascinating to see what new faces come through the door in the middle infield. Hopefully, not many.

*The analysis’ methodology for this series can be found in previous posts, primarily within the posts on starting pitchers and catchers.

Photo by Keith Allison from Baltimore, USA (sep906yankees 009_filtered) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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