For all the attention on Alex Rodriguez, the Yankees face a myriad of potential other issues.
What if Stephen Drew is a flop in his conversion from shortstop to second base?
Drew, who turns 32 on March 16, played second for the first time after the Yankees acquired him from the Red Sox last July 31. The Yankees re-signed him to a one-year, $5 million free-agent contract, expecting him to provide stability at second while the team tried a younger player, Didi Gregorius, 25, at short.
Scouts, though, already are raising questions about Drew, both offensively and defensively. Obviously, it’s still early in spring, too early to judge. But Drew is coming off a season in which he batted .162 with a .536 OPS after missing spring training and holding out until May 21.
The Yankees have younger options at second, Jose Pirela, 25, and Rob Refsnyder, 23. But the combination of a rookie at second and Gregorius at short would leave them with two unproven players up the middle. They need Drew to bounce back, and they need it to happen quickly.
A PERFECT FIT FOR OLIVERA, BUT …
The Padres probably will not land Cuban free-agent third baseman Hector Olivera if his contract exceeds $70 million — the price that his agents are telling clubs they expect to receive, according to executives from two teams involved in the bidding.
Still, it’s easy to understand why Olivera intrigues the Pads, who reportedly bid about $25 million for Cuban infielder Yoan Moncada. The team’s infield remains a significant question, and Olivera figures to go straight to the majors if healthy. That is no small “if” — the player, according to Yahoo! Sports, has a UCL issue, a claim that Olivera’s agents have denied.
The Padres also are short on infielders in their farm system; their top infield prospect, shortstop Trea Turner, eventually will join the Nationals as a player to be named in a trade. Olivera is a better bet to succeed than Will Middlebrooks, at least based on the interest he is drawing from major-league clubs. And third base, in general, is a difficult position to fill.
AROUND THE HORN
• Wrote recently about how second baseman Dee Gordon could be an exciting addition for the Marlins. The Dodgers like their end of the trade, too — and not just second baseman Howie Kendrick, whom they acquired from the Angels for one of the players they obtained from the Marlins, left-hander Andrew Heaney.
In fact, the Dodgers expect another player from the Marlins — righty reliever Chris Hatcher — to play a significant role in their bullpen this season. Hatcher, 30, averaged 9.6 strikeouts and only 1.9 walks per nine innings last season, and was effective against both right-handed and left-handed hitters.
• Teams looking for another starter figure to scout the Braves, who do not figure to keep all three of their veterans on minor-league contracts – righty Chien-Ming Wang and lefties Eric Stults and Wandy Rodriguez.
Stults can exercise an out on April 3, shortly before the season starts, according to a source with knowledge of is contract. Wang’s out is not until July 1, while the potential of Rodriguez to escape his deal — and when — is not known.
• Not only are the Nationals a powerhouse at the major-league level, but they’re also deep enough in prospects that — at least in theory — they could replace all of their potential free agents from within.
Turner and second baseman Wilmer DiFo project as the double-play combination of the future (Nats shortstop Ian Desmond is entering the final year of his contract; second baseman Yunel Escobar is not). Michael Taylor could step in for Denard Span in center, and right-handers Lucas Giolito and A.J. Cole loom as potential replacements for Jordan Zimmermann and Doug Fister.
Will all of those players succeed? Probably not. But the Nats are well-positioned to go with young, inexpensive talent at one or more spots, allowing them to spend on other, more veteran players if necessary.