Nick Carfardo of the Boston Globe reported a few days ago that the Yankees, along with the Red Sox and Dodgers, might be willing to offer Pablo Sandoval a five-year, $100 million contract. Brian Cashman had a more honest quote about Alex Rodriguez during his media tour yesterday after receiving a new three-year contract.
“I don’t think you can assume he can play third base,” Cashman said. “With his age and missing a full year and how it affected Derek [Jeter] and Mark Teixeira. … In the chair I sit in, it’s safer to assume this is something he might not be able to do the whole year.”
This leaves Sandoval and Chase Headley as the best free agent options. Sandoval has been one of the free agents that I have been an advocate of. Headley's WAR was 4.4 last year compared to 3.0 for Sandoval. However, much of that is tied to Headley's defense. FanGraphs had him at 21.6 runs above average on defense and a 20.9 UZR. We know defensive measurements are very subjective, and Headley is a good defender and has been throughout his career. That said, it will be very hard for him to repeat that kind of production with the glove.
Sandoval is the better hitter, and that is where the Yankees need the most help. He hit .279/.324/.415 last season with a .323 wOBA and a 111 wRC+. Like Headley coming from San Diego to New York last season, Sandoval should enjoy an uptick in his numbers at Yankee Stadium coming from spacious AT&T Park.
Sandoval's last 2 seasons have been down since winning the World Series MVP in 2012, although still plenty good. Sandoval's line drive rate has remained steady at 20.95 percent the last two seasons, but his BABIP was down from his .313 career mark to .301. There might be a correction and more good luck on his way soon.
Sandoval is only 28 years old and should still have some good prime years left. His weight has always made him an injury concern, but he has played 141 and 157 games the last two seasons. Sandoval's weight has also led some to believe he is worse than he actually is on defense. He has a positive career UZR of 10.5 and 16.2 runs above average. He's not a defensive liability in the mold that Hanley Ramirez would be at shortstop.
Based on his spray charts, Sandoval is not a guy who you can shift for even when he bats lefty and that is something you definitely have to consider in this day and age of MLB strategy. He has also always been a solid contact hitter with a career .276 batting average and a 13.6 percent strikeout rate.
Headley would be a cheaper option and a very good one as well. He showed that he can handle New York and reportedly enjoyed it here very much. He had a great .378 OBP for the Yankees with a 118 OPS +. His 2013 season was not as bad as it was made out to be following his MVP caliber 2012.
The Yankees really cannot go wrong with either Sandoval or Headley. Sandoval is a rare prime age free agent and one of the players at the top of this class that I would take a chance on. Headley should come at a decent value. With these two attractive options available, the Yankees will need to pounce and make Rodriguez mostly a DH and part-time fielder.