On-Base Perception

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Who will play second base for Yankees?

Tampa Bay Rays' Kelly Johnson, center, is congratulated

Tampa Bay Rays' Kelly Johnson, center, is congratulated by teammates after scoring on a single by Jose Lobaton during the fourth inning against the Houston Astros. (July 14, 2013) (Credit: AP)

The Yankees may have blunted the loss of Robinson Cano’s offense by signing the likes of Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, but there remains one, glaring issue: None of those players can man second base.

UPDATE: The Yankees have reportedly agreed to a deal with Brian Roberts. Read the story here.

The Yankees have infielder Kelly Johnson on the roster, but their reported dalliance with second baseman Omar Infante (who’s since agreed to a deal with the Royals) suggests the Yankees view Johnson either as more of a super-sub, third baseman or last-ditch second base option.

But the Yankees aren’t quite in “last-ditch land” yet, and there is still ample time to improve the second base mix. Here are the current options:


Eduardo Nunez is 26 and has 827 plate appearances in the majors. There’s no law saying he can’t advance beyond being a poor defensive player with a career average of .267 and on-base percentage of .313, but it’s just not likely to happen.

Dean Anna is a 27-year-old career minor leaguer with a spot on the Yankees’ 40-man roster. In six minor league seasons he has a .286 average and .386 OBP. But Anna doesn’t have much power or prospect buzz, and is likely a utility depth option for the team, not a starting answer.

Johnson is – by far – the best option at second, at least as a hitter. He has 809 games of experience at second and is a .253 hitter with a .335 OBP in eight seasons. His real asset is power. The lefty swinger has slammed double-digit home runs in six of his past seven seasons, including 16 long balls for the Rays in just 366 at-bats in 2013. Defensively, he may be better than his reputation. Johnson has -4 career Defensive Runs Saved at second base. DRS is an advanced stat that’s the primary defensive component in the Wins Above Replacement stat. But his DRS history is split into two distinct sections. He had -12 DRS from 2007-2009 in 3,007.2 innings. But since then, Johnson has +8 DRS in 3,809.2 innings.

Free agency

The Yankees reportedly tried for Infante and made an offer to Cano, but thus far free agent second basemen have spurned the team’s advances. The remaining options present slim pickings:

From 2004-2009, Brian Roberts never played in fewer than 138 games with the Orioles and reached 155 games four times while posting an .803 on-base plus slugging percentage. In the four seasons since, he’s played 59, 39, 17 and 77 games. Beset by injuries, his composite line from 2010-2013 is a .246 average and .310 OBP. His 77 games last season were his highest total since 2009 and he’s an AL East lifer, so the Yankees may view him as a low cost, low risk veteran.

Elliot Johnson is a career backup whose best stretch came following a trade to the Braves during the second half of 2013. He posted a .676 OPS. That’s been his highlight so far. I wouldn’t even mention him, but he played for the Rays from 2008-2012, so you may have actually heard of him.


Keep in mind, this is all speculation (though thoughtful speculation). But there are actually teams with a second baseman to spare.

The Angels reportedly dangled Howie Kendrick, 30, earlier this Winter, though after the three-team deal that finally landed them some decent pitching, they may opt to keep him. Kendrick is notable for his high average (career .292), palatable OBP (.329) and modest power (career-high 18 home runs in 2011, double-digit home runs in four of last five seasons). He’s owed $9.35 million in 2014 and $9.5 million in 2015.

Rickie Weeks, 31, is signed with the Brewers for $11 million in 2014 before he can become a free agent (there is an $11.5 million team option for 2015). Weeks is a career .247 hitter with a .346 OBP and has hit 20 or more home runs in three of the last four seasons. So why might he be available? Because Weeks tore his hamstring in August and was replaced by Scooter Gennett, who performed so well he has the inside track on the second base job heading into the Spring.

The rebuilding White Sox likely have little use for Jeff Keppinger, 33, who’s signed through the 2015 season for a total of $8.5 million. Keppinger, who can play multiple positions, signed with the Pale Hose following a breakout season during which he hit .325 with a .367 OBP for the Rays in 2012. He dropped to .253 with a .283 OBP in 2013. But the career .282 hitter makes consistent contact, and could be a solid placeholder.

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