By Chad Jennings
For the Yankees, there’s no question what to do about choosing an everyday first baseman. Or, if there is a question, it’s not one with many answers. The team made its choice six years ago when it committed to Mark Teixeira. He has full no-trade protection, and there’s too much invested these next two years to simply cut ties.
Barring something unforeseen, Teixeira will be at first base on Opening Day. And he’ll probably be hitting in the middle of the order. And the Yankees will simply have to trust – or, perhaps simply hope – that the power he showed in this season’s first three months will return and maintain through a full season.
Question is, what to do about his backup.
Last year, the Yankees really had no concrete backup plan at first base. They had the vague idea that Kelly Johnson should be able to play first base occasionally, but Johnson didn’t meet expectations in any way, and so the Yankees were left with Brian McCann and Francisco Cervelli getting a combined 16 starts at first base.
Neither had previously played the position, and together they started nearly 10 percent of the time.
1. Let the catchers do it again
Actually, McCann didn’t look too bad at first base last season. Cervelli’s had some scattered infield experience through the years and generally looks surprisingly passable. Both John Ryan Murphy and Austin Romine have seen some infield time in the minor leagues. The Yankees could simply go into the season thinking of their catchers as their backup first basemen. Would be a solid way to give either Cervelli or Murphy a few more at-bats, which might be a plus considering the offensive potential they’ve shown.
2. Teach someone to play first
We already know the Yankees have talked to Alex Rodriguez about getting a little bit of time at first base next season, presumably in a backup role. I suppose a case could be made for asking Carlos Beltran to do the same (though a similar plan with Alfonso Soriano was quickly discarded last spring). A guy like Jose Pirela, who will be coming to camp with a little bit of first base experience, could be another relatively inexperienced option. In theory, this “make A-Rod do it” plan seems to make sense, but Johnson showed at times that learning first base on the fly isn’t always smooth or easy. This is the plan that didn’t work too well this year.
3. Carry a second first baseman
This would be a pure first baseman. Might even be a guy like Kyle Roller, this year’s Triple-A first baseman who has a pretty bad glove but has shown a pretty good left-handed swing. Although he’s never generated much prospect attention, Roller hit .283/.378/.497 in Triple-A this season, and he was able to hit both lefties and righties. Any pure backup first baseman would surely have to show enough bat to occasionally start at designated hitter.
4. Make first base a utility-man priority
Problem with carrying another pure first baseman on the bench is that it limits the team’s flexibility. The Yankees have a DH spot and four bench roles, and given the team’s age and injury concerns, flexibility is a real plus. In their search for a Rodriguez alternative at third base, the Yankees could certainly prioritize finding someone who has also played first base (a guy like Casey McGehee has played quite a bit of first; Chase Headley has played a very little bit; Pablo Sandoval used to do it several years ago, Aramis Ramirez has never done it). Another version of this solution would be an outfielder/DH with first base experience. Maybe Michael Cuddyer? Michael Morse? Buy really low on Corey Hart? All of these option come with cost issues. How often would they play, and how much is that worth?