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Middle infield trade candidates

Tyler Wade is once again being relied upon to be the team’s utility guy, able to play the middle infield positions, as well as the outfield if need be.  Wade’s defense and speed have never been in question but to this point in his career he has not been able to show much competence with his bat in order to cement his status as a solid major league player. 

The Yankees should be ready seek a replacement on the open market before the trade deadline on July 31.

Here are a few players that might be worth a shot should the “Wade Plan” fail.

Eduardo Escobar

Escobar is in the final year of his contract with the Arizona Diamondbacks and is slated to make $7 million for the 2021 season.  If the Yankees were to make a trade for him at the deadline, his luxury tax hit would be about $2.37 million.  The Yankees are about $5.85 million below the luxury tax threshold as of now, so the rest of Escobar’s contract would not interfere with the front offices goal of staying under the penalty line. 

As for where he would fit on the roster, Escobar has experience at all three of the four infield positions (SS, 2B, and 3B).  Most of his games since coming to Arizona in 2018 have been at third base and he hasn’t played shortstop since his trade from Minnesota.  He played 185.2 innings at shortstop in Minnesota in the first half of 2018 and his UZR rating -20.2.  It’s not a surprise that the Diamondbacks decided that playing him at shortstop was not a great idea but at least he could fake it there in an emergency.  Plus, the Yankees tried Gio Urshela at shortstop in spring training (for reference, Urshela has 0.1 UZR rating at shortstop). 

Escobar has 95 games in his career at the keystone which isn’t a whole lot in a ten-year career but he does have a 0.1 UZR rating there and is considered his secondary position behind third base.   What can he do on offense though?  Going into his age 32 season this year, Escobar has shown some ability with the bat.  His best two years were in 2018 and 2019 where he put up a wRC+ of 117 and 108 respectively.  His slash line from those two years combined is .270/.327/.501.  In 2020, however, he struggled hitting .212/.270/.605.  The silver lining is that his walk rate and strikeout rate remained basically the same as they were in ’18 and ’19 so the shortened season could have hurt Escobar.  The Yankees should keep an eye on him as potential middle infield help for later this season.

Adam Frazier

Since the Yankees just locked up DJ LeMahieu and have been experimenting with moving Gio Urshela around the infield, the possibilities at the deadline have opened up.  If the Yankees want to they can bring in a player that plays only one of the infield positions and use LeMahieu and Urshela to shuffle around in order to accommodate that player.  Enter Adam Frazier. 

He’s still arbitration eligible and his tax hit would be about $1.46 million in 2021 (if traded at the deadline).  The Pirates aren’t likely to compete this year and they just completed a huge deal with the Yankees for Jameson Taillon so they’ve already scouted the Yankees minor league system in depth.  Like Escobar, 2020 was a subpar year for Frazier.  He only hit .230 last years after never hitting lower than .276 the previous four seasons.  His plate discipline statistics don’t explain the sharp drop in average.  His strikeout rate was right around his career average (13.6% vs 15.2%).  His walk rate was right at his career average. (7.4%).  His batted ball data however might be the key.  His hard-hit percentage in 2020 dropped to 25.3% from 31.7% in 2018/2019. 

Frazier also traded in some of his line-drives for groundballs last year and since he’s about league average, that was not a good thing.  His line drive rate/groundball rate in 2019 was 29.1%/40.1% compared to 26.3%/44.0% in 2020.  Nobody expects him to hit like DJ LeMahieu but if he can get back to hitting around .270 with an OBP around .335, that could work as a utility player. 

On defense, he’s pretty much just a second baseman at this point.  In 2019 he played all of his 142 games at second base and last year spent some time in left field.  His UZR rating at second base was 7.7 and 22.3 in left field but that was only in 14 games.  If the Yankees want to bring him on board in July, it’s going to require moving LeMahieu to third base and Urshela to shortstop.  This wouldn’t be permanent, just in the games that Gleyber Torres sits and Frazier plays.  The ability to play left field is a plus, too, so if the Yankees look for an upgrade it might be in the form of another trade with Pittsburgh.

Brandon Crawford

If the Yankees are looking for a full-time shortstop at the deadline, they should make a call out to the west coast and see if the Giants would want to make a deal to send fan-favorite Brandon Crawford to the Bronx. 

Crawford is in the final year of a six-year, $75 million deal with San Francisco and like the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Giants aren’t competing this year.  Crawford isn’t the same player he was during the championship years but he’s still useful on both sides of the ball.  His defense has slipped some and at this point in his career he is slightly below average on defense.  His UZR rating in 2020 was -1.5 but he has played all his games at shortstop in his career.  He was a gold glove defense from 2015 and 2017 and those were the last years where his defense was still elite.  His UZR rating during those years was 35.8 combined.  Starting in 2018, his defense dropped to below league average. 

It’s possible that a slightly below league average shortstop could play second and third base adequately enough to serve in a utility role but the Yankees would have to have that conversation internally before approaching Crawford with the idea.  For reference, Tyler Wade’s UZR rating has been -0.5 since coming into the league so Crawford would be at least equal on the defensive side of the ball. 

Offense is the reason the Yankees would look for Wade’s replacement, though.  Crawford is a left-handed hitter with a career .250/.317/.392 slash line while playing all of his home games in the cavern that is Oracle Park.  Despite that, 2020 was Crawford’s best offensive season.  He hit .256/.326/.465 with eight homeruns, 28 RBIs, and 26 runs scored.  That was in 54 games and if he got on a hot-streak after the deadline it’s not a stretch to imagine a higher batting average while playing in ballparks like Yankee Stadium, Fenway Park, and Camden Yards. 

Crawford’s tax hit would be about $4.24 million if a trade were to be made making him a bit more expensive than Escobar and Frazier, but he also has a higher ceiling on defense and offense than both of those players.  Again, he is a fan favorite in San Francisco which could make pulling off a trade a bit harder but it’s not like he is their version of Derek Jeter. Crawford is also Gerrit Cole’s brother-in-law, so that certainly doesn’t hurt if the Yankees were to look for insight on Crawford.

Bring his left-handed swing and league average defense to New York would make him a better hitting version of Tyler Wade, but with less speed on the base paths and with a larger contract.  That said, his playoff experience and left-handed swing could be just what the doctor ordered to help the Yankees get over that World Series hill.