Last night, news we all knew would probably break broke. Eric Chavez re-signed with the Yankees for the 2012 season, agreeing to a small, incentive-laden deal to backup Alex Rodriguez and DH on occasion. In doing so, he unofficially closed the book on an exciting 2012 off-season. Per MLB Trade Rumors:
The Yankees have agreed to terms with third baseman Eric Chavez on a one-year, Major League contract, pending a physical, according to Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com (Twitter links). The deal is worth $900K and also includes incentives, tweets Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com.
The deal isn’t bad. A number of us here at TYA, myself included, have expressed varying degrees of contempt towards Eric Chavez’s future with the team. Chavez is an injury prone, weak hitting, average fielding corner infielder on a team with Eduardo Nunez. His presence is somewhat redundant, even at his present best. Fortunately, like another recent signee in Raul Ibanez, Chavez was signed to a small contract for next season. After making $1.5 million last season, his base salary will be cut nearly in half. At $900,000, Eric Chavez merely needs to produce at slightly above replacement level to justify his contract.
Still, the question must be asked. What does Eric Chavez bring to the table at this point in his career? Why bring him back at all? From Chavez’s perspective, this deal makes some sense. He’s made nearly $80 million over his career and at 33-years-old is rich well beyond his needs. He can afford to take a pay cut to stay with a winner. If he wants to resurrect his career, Yankee stadium, especially with a fragile Alex Rodriguez manning third base, isn’t a bad place to try.
But from the Yankees perspective? Chavez is depth. Particularly mediocre depth. What worries me is the potential for an expanded role. If the Yankees – Cashman, Girardi, and Co. – see Chavez as more than a Nunez’s big brother, could that cost the 2012 team games? Could the depth provided by an Eric Chavez allow for a false sense of security?
Maybe. Chavez isn’t a bad backup at this point in his career. He’s fragile, but playing once a week he should stay healthy. He’s no longer a Gold Glove defender, but statistically he’s performed reasonably at the position of late. He OPS’d .676 last season, well below league average but at or above replacement level. But the Yankees already have, or had, that kind of player. Eduardo Nunez OPS’d a more robust .698 last season, stole 22 bases, and while his defense was far below average he was able to fill in at short, third, and in the outfield. Given another year to adjust to the big league level there’s almost no question Nunez would be a more capable short to mid term fill in.
There’s also some additional depth here. Ramiro Pena should be nowhere near the starting lineup, what with his career .554 OPS, but he’s a more than capable defender at third and short, a good baserunner, and a young, cost controlled talent. Brandon Laird is, like Pena, far from perfect as a long term option. After a strong 2010 season AA, Laird struggled at Scranton last season and hit under .200 during a cup of coffee in the big leagues. But he’s got some power, plays third, first, and left field, and he’s 24. Can Pena or Laird measure up to Chavez? The answer is likely no, and the upgrade might be worth $900K plus incentives. The question is whether another option was needed with Nunez, Pena, and Laird already in the fold.
Again, though, the greatest risk with Chavez is that the Yankees give him an expanded role. Chavez played in 58 games last season. This was out of necessity, with Alex Rodriguez missing 40% of the season. Chavez is a better option than Pena or Laird in the short term and hopefully Rodriguez can stay relatively healthy going forward. But if Rodriguez is to miss significant time next season, and this is possible, the Yankees need to make a move. To me, this move signifies a lack of confidence in Nunez as a short term third base option. If Chavez is expected to fill in for any extended period of time, the results could be disastrous.
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