Instead of Chasing Headley, the Yankees Should Consider Jed Lowrie

At first glance, the free agent third-baseman cupboard certainly appears bare outside of Chase Headley.  But, this is a misperception.  What about the players who can play multiple infield positions?

What about Jed?

Jed EDITED

According to Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle, Jed Lowrie has let it be known that he is willing to play second base, third base, and shortstop but that he is looking for a multi-year commitment.

Under the circumstances, Lowrie may actually be a perfect fit for the 2015 Yankees.

Admittedly, Lowrie is coming off of a subpar season, but this actually works in the Yankees’ favor because Lowrie’s asking price will be somewhat suppressed.  For example, had Lowrie become a free agent after his 2013 stellar season with the Oakland Athletics, which went largely unnoticed (.290/.344/.446/.791 with 15 homeruns and 75 RBI), he would have been talked up as a much ballyhooed free agent and required a much stronger (both in dollars and years) commitment.  Instead, Lowrie finds himself as a mid-tier free agent in 2014.

If the Yankees choose not to pay Headley’s purported (and crazy) asking price, the Yankees would do well to strongly consider Lowrie as a short term investment for the reasons outlined below.

It may surprise some to know that, from a statistical standpoint, Lowrie would not be much of an offensive downgrade from Headley.   Comparing their prior five seasons (2010-2014) is revealing:

BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+ HR
Lowrie .265 .333 .418 .750 106 52
Headley .266 .350 .412 .762 117 72

(statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference)

When assessing these numbers, one should also bear in mind two facts.  First, Headley’s statistics are buoyed by his monstrous 2012 season.  Second, Headley’s advantage in home runs does not seem so disproportionate when considering that his total was amassed while getting almost 800 more plate appearances than Lowrie.  Their career numbers do not suggest that Headley holds much of a power advantage over Lowrie.  (Headley has averaged 1 home run every 42.7 plate appearances whereas Lowrie’s ratio is 1 to 45.3.  Generally speaking, Headley would be good for roughly one additional home run per full season.)  It is not unrealistic to think that Lowrie could be just as productive as Headley next season.

After speaking with various agents and general managers, John Heyman of CBS Sports believed that Lowrie would command a three year, $27-30 million contract.  The monetary difference between signing Lowrie instead of Headley (reportedly, four years, $65 million) is much starker than any potential drop off in offensive production between the two players.

Lowrie’s ability to play multiple positions is also an asset that should not quickly be dismissed. If the Yankees signed Lowrie to be the everyday third-baseman, he could also back up Didi Gregorius at shortstop and can serve as a safety net for Rob Refsnyder at second base.  Factor in Martin Prado’s ability to play third base and the corner outfield positions, and the Yankees will have a roster with much greater positional flexibility than in previous years.

Joe Girardi will therefore have his chance to do his best Terry Francona impression.  (If you don’t know what I am referring to, check out the 2013 and 2014 Cleveland Indians roster and take note of how Francona mixed-and-matched his position players throughout the seasons.)

Indeed, since the Yankees have a number of players that Joe Girardi will like to rotate through at designated hitter (Mark Teixeira, Carlos Beltran, Alex Rodriguez), having players on the roster who can start at different positions will not just be beneficial but will, in fact, be a necessity.

The major downsides to signing Lowrie are his injury history, as he has only accumulated 500 or more at-bats twice in his career, and his mixed reputation as a defensive shortstop.  The silver lining is that the seasons where he had over 500 at-bats were his last two.  Additionally, the Yankees would not be relying on Lowrie as an everyday shortstop; he would only be asked to spell Gregorius.  In fact, if Gregorius’s struggles against left-handed pitching continues (.184/.257/.233/.390 career hitter against lefties ), the switch-hitting Lowrie could serve as a great option to form a platoon (.283/.345/.431/.776 career hitter against southpaws).

Considering all the factors, a match between Lowrie and the Yankees makes sense.  Signing Lowrie will cost less and require fewer years than signing Headley and will ultimately provide the team with some much needed flexibility in the infield.

All that having been said, whether Lowrie (who owns a home near Houston) would consider coming to the Bronx is information that this lowly blogger is not privy to.

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