Sizing Up the Market: Third Base

Alex Rodriguez? Alex Rodriguez.

Alex Rodriguez?!

Alex. Rodriguez.

With that out of the way, it does seem as if the Yankees are already planning on going in another direction at third. And, to be perfectly blunt, it would be patently idiotic to count on a 39-year-old coming off of two hip surgeries and a calendar year-plus away from organized baseball to do much of anything, let alone man the hot corner for a would be contender. As much as it would be fun, and perhaps even deserved if we sat down and assumed that the Yankees would be so inept as to head into the season with that sort of player penciled into the Opening Day lineup, I simply cannot see that happening as of this moment - at least not at third base, or barring some sort of calamitous Spring Training injury.

The Yankees head into the off-season with a compelling free agent third baseman of their own in Chase Headley. A mid-season acquisition, Headley was more or less a revelation to a team that had been trotting out replacement-level hitters from June forward (after Yangervis Solarte), and never had anything more than a competent defender at third. The former Padre provided excellent defense and a potent bat, slashing .262/.371/.398 with 6 HR and a 121 wRC+. Despite playing just 58 games in pinstripes, Headley finished third on the team in both bWAR and fWAR for the season, and led the way in the second half by a tremendous margin - he provided 2.8 fWAR, and Martin Prado was second with 1.4. And, last but certainly not least, he was third in the AL in fWAR after coming to the Bronx, trailing only Josh Donaldson and Alex Gordon.

In short, Headley was fantastic, and the player that he showed he can be is a player that most anyone would welcome into the fold.

There are two questions, however, that linger about Headley - what will he cost, and was this the real Headley? As to cost, I simply do not know what to expect. The third base market is intriguing, headlined by Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez, with the possibility of Aramis Ramirez entering the fold. Where Headley falls among that group is up to interpretation, as his career has been more good than great (at least offensively). His career arc is quite similar to Jacoby Ellsbury - his 2012 was MVP-quality, and every other year has ranged from average to above-average, and mostly closer to the former than the latter.

If I had to hazard a guess, I would expect Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez to garner more attention. Sandoval is a couple of years younger, and is the superior hitter, and Ramirez is in another stratosphere as a hitter. With teams battling it out amongst themselves for their services, I could see Headley falling through the cracks a bit, and ending up with a shorter term contract for a reasonable salary (3-years, $36 MM?). And he may even be looking for something akin to a pillow contract, hoping to recapture some of his 2012 glory while playing sixty percent of his games in Yankee Stadium, Fenway Park, and the Rogers Centre.

The internal options are ... not great. Zelous Wheeler has a bit of pop and an acceptable glove, but it would be generous to say that he struggled with the Yankees in 2014, and he will be 28 in January. Jose Pirela has played a bit of third base (11 games in his career), and has the athleticism to man the position, yet he seems best-suited for second. Rob Segedin is a third baseman on paper only, and, power surges aside, is more of an organization/emergency guy than a Major League solution. Dante Bichette recaptured some of his prospect luster this season, but he's still only 22, with a grand total of 74 PA above High-A. There are two intriguing options for the near future, in Eric Jagielo and Tyler Austin.

Jagielo had a fine season at High-A, playing better than expected defense and mostly living up to his potential with the bat (though, the strikeouts were a bit disconcerting). He performed well-enough to head to the Arizona Fall League to get in some extra playing time - but, as is the Yankees luck, Jagielo was struck in the face with a fastball, and will undergo season-ending surgery.

And Austin, like Bichette, is a prospect that put himself back on the map (at least some maps) as he further distanced himself from hand and wrist problems. He hit .301/.351/.472 after a mid-June slump, hitting 7 of his 9 HR over the last 61 games of the season. That may represent little more than a half-season's worth of plate appearances, and yet it is reason for optimism, as Austin made harder, better contact, and his bat speed was noticeably perked up. And, yes, I realize that he was moved off of the hot corner in favor of right field - yet he did play some third base this season, and was reportedly practicing there regularly. In a pinch, it would not shock me if the Yankees tested those waters more thoroughly.

As was the case with second base, I suspect that the Yankees will go with a player that they know to play third - and that is the route that I would like them to take. Headley may not be the monster he was in 2012, but he would need only to play to his career norms to be the best third baseman the team has had since they won the 2009 World Series - perhaps offensively, and definitely defensively. And bringing that player back on-board should be one of Cashman's priorities this off-season.