The Yankees have struggled to get much, if any, production from third base, as they rank 24th in fWAR (0.1) and 27th in wRC+ (77) at the hot corner. They need a big fix at the position, as both DJ LeMahieu and Josh Donaldson look as if they’re lost cases at the plate.
One of the Yankees’ priorities at the trade deadline needs to be figuring out their infield as if they continue to get lackluster production from there, the uncertainty of Aaron Judge‘s injury could spell the end of the Bronx Bombers’ postseason chances.
That being said, the Washington Nationals are almost guaranteed to sell this trade deadline, and the NL leader in fWAR amongst 3B could become available.
The Case For Jeimer Candelario
With the Yankees’ struggles at the hot corner well-documented, it’s fair to start asking how the Yankees could address the position. While at first, the initial thought would be to add a left-handed infielder, it would better suit them to get switch-hitters. The Yankees’ 93 wRC+ against RHP is suboptimal, but so is their 97 wRC+ to LHP. Candelario has a subpar 67 wRC+ on the season against LHP, but his career wRC+ against LHP is 104, which is above average. He’s seeing RHP extremely well with a 133 wRC+, giving him a season wRC+ of 117.
The Yankees again have struggled mightily as an offense, posting an ugly 94 wRC+, which is the 10th worst mark in baseball. A team .296 OBP and 7.0 fWAR is embarrassing, and this group needs improving. The third base position is the one with the most uncertainty, as their best player there currently might be DJ LeMahieu, but he’s been brutal at the plate. Isiah Kiner-Falefa has had fun moments, but he’s also a poor offensive player. Josh Donaldson has received the most blame, and that’s because his contract is the highest and his performance has been the worst.
It’ll have to get better for Donaldson before it gets worse, and this is where the need becomes apparent for the Bronx Bombers. Jeimer Candelario currently ranks 24th in all of baseball in fWAR, and among 3B, he’s second behind Jose Ramirez.
One could argue that Candelario should start for the National League, and his services are likely to be available on a Washington Nationals team that’s very much still rebuilding. Candelario doesn’t have the incredible power or speed tools that you typically see from an All-Star caliber position player, but his strong overall game and balanced approach at the plate would appeal to the Yankees and their fanbase.
One of the biggest issues I have with the Yankees as an offense is how little they grind out at-bats, as they’re 29th in the league in total pitches seen.
Now granted, the better of an offense you are, the more at-bats you get as you get more runners on base, and the Yankees do rank 29th in Plate Appearances as well, but that only further pushes the narrative that the Yankees don’t reach base enough and don’t see enough pitches. If they want to compete in the postseason, strong plate discipline goes a long way, and so does the ability to work consistently long appearances.
At 4.01 Pitches Per Plate Appearance, Candelario is one of the better hitters in the sport at having longer at-bats, something that would make him a strong middle-of-the-order candidate.
Candelario is an aggressive hitter with a 35th Percentile Chase Rate, but above-average contact skills and an extremely high in-zone swing rate allow him to take advantage of his swings more times than not. He still walks at an 8.4% clip which is solid, with low strikeout rates as well, he’s someone to rely upon to put a ball in play, a role DJ LeMahieu used to serve well.
Unlike other contact hitters, however, Candelario provides strong in-game power with a .471 SLG% and .210 ISO, but this isn’t solely because of his 10 HRs, in fact, it has a lot to do with doubles.
Yankee Stadium isn’t a great ballpark for doubles, but the Yankees still remain one of the worst teams at hitting them in baseball. Jeimer Candelario is tied for 3rd in all of baseball with 24 doubles, and add on two triples and the aforementioned 10 long balls, and you have someone who’s likely to finish in the top 10 in XBH. Despite the Yankees ranking top 5 in HRs, they’re just 14th in SLG% as a team, and this XBH shortage is part of it.
Being a 117 wRC+ hitter, Candelario is certainly not a superstar bat, but for what he could provide for this lineup, he’s an excellent complimentary piece.
The Yankees may still be searching for their consistent leadoff hitter, but the middle of the lineup will likely remain Judge-Rizzo-Stanton. Candelario as the 5th hitter in that lineup, gives them a consistent contact bat with good power and a platoon advantage against whoever they’re facing. When we look at the importance of contact in the 5th spot, let’s look at the most frequent PAs with RISP:
Now this doesn’t always reflect where the best hitters should hit, as while the cleanup hitter gets more RISP opportunities than the second hitter, the second hitter gets significantly more plate appearances to outweigh that drawback. In Candelario’s case, we know that after the 4th spot, the lineup is just an order of the worst hitters with not as much regard for handedness, but having a switch-hitter to protect Stanton is nice, and having someone with great contact skills to share a high burden of the RISP opportunities will come in handy as well.
Having a runner on 3rd one-man-out situation can be the difference in going to extra innings with added chances to win or going home, and even in an analytical world, data still suggests that contact is a valuable skill. We also know that Candelario is capable of generating extra-base hits, and so in a situation where there’s a runner on first, he’s also a threat to hit a double or HR to drive a runner in, and while he isn’t top-of-the-line in terms of his contact or power skills, both are good enough for him to yield strong results at the plate.
The last aspect of his offensive game that’s extremely enticing is his tendency to pull flyballs, especially as a left-handed hitter. Pulled barrels and pulled flyballs are excellent ways to get the most out of your raw power, and while Candelario has an above-average Max Exit Velocity (111.3 MPH), he struggles to consistently barrel the baseball or reach high exit velocities. With a 36.8% Pull% and 66.7% Pulled Barrel%, Candelario is going to routinely get strong results when he elevates the ball, and coupled with an elite Sweet Spot Rate (38.4%), he’s an extremely smart hitter that allows him to have great in-game power with strong contact numbers.
Adding Value Outside of the Batter’s Box
Jeimer Candelario has absolutely dazzled with the glove this year, putting together a season where he should compete for a Gold Glove while setting career highs in a variety of defensive metrics. On the surface, his 26th Percentile Arm Strength wouldn’t inspire much confidence in his defensive abilities, but his range and instincts allow him to quickly track down groundballs at the hot corner. Thus far on the season, he has +4 DRS, +2.0 UZR, and +7 OAA at third, ranking top 10 in all of baseball in those metrics.
It’ll be hard for him to outpace the likes of Ke’Bryan Hayes in the NL or Matt Chapman in the AL, but he’s certainly one of the better defenders at his position. The Yankees have performed well defensively at 3B, ranking 10th in DRS, 13th in UZR, and 10th in OAA, but Candelario would certainly make them a lot better there. It’s clear that the Yankees value defense at the position, and I don’t believe they’re in a position to take a step back there either. Their pitching is their identity, and while they need bats, if it comes at the cost of hurting their pitching as well, it’ll have to come for an elite-level bat, which Candelario is not.
With the struggles the Yankees have had as a team defensively compared to last season, while they’re 7th in DRS, they’re 14th in OAA and 28th in UZR. They need to improve their defensive numbers as a whole to have crisper play and more consistency on that end, as every run they allow is a significant blow to their odds of winning. We saw how a blunder by IKF in centerfield cost Clarke Schmidt a run that ended up sending the game to extra innings, where the Rangers would respond with a two-run shot, and the Yankees would go quietly in the 10th.
Had IKF come up with that play, the Yankees could have won 2-1, as that was the final out of that inning, and they could be in a little more secure wild card situation than the one they’re currently in. The margin of error is razor thin for this team considering their offensive struggles, and while Jeimer Candelario would look to improve the offense, a 110-115 wRC+ bat isn’t going to do much to get Giancarlo Stanton or DJ LeMahieu going.
The Yankees need to remain strong fundamentally even when they’re lacking in talent, but with that established, how exactly would the Yankees go about acquiring the Dominican-born infielder?
Making a Realistic Trade for the Yankees
There are a few things you have to establish before making a trade, and that’s assessing a player’s contract and years of control on top of their production.
Given that Candelario had a down year in 2022 and is only under control for the 2023 season, I imagine that his price tag won’t soar too high. He’s making $5 million, so the Yankees and Nationals could work something out where the Yankees throw in an extra prospect for the Nationals to cover the Luxury Tax bill and allow the Yankees extra financial flexibility at the deadline.
Another thing to pay mind to here is the Rule 5 Draft, as the Yankees would likely move names who are eligible for the draft this offseason as they could net value for them instead of losing them for nothing. With that established, a fair deal for Candelario feels like no more than a three-prospect trade, with both prospects ranking outside of the organization’s top 10. The Nationals could also use help at any and all levels, so I don’t imagine they’re particularly picky about the level a player is at in MiLB.
The Nationals would get three prospects in this deal who have performed well on the season or flash some upside, starting first with Juan Carela. The 21-year-old Dominican-born righty has a wipeout slider and strong changeup to go with his sinker, and on the season, he has a 3.03 ERA and 30.5% K% in High-A with the Hudson Valley Renegades. He’s due for a promotion to Somerset soon, and as he’s eligible for the Rule 5 draft, the Nationals would be more likely to roster him than the Yankees.
He could find himself with a decent sample size in Double-A come season’s end, where Washington could potentially view him as a 2024 call-up with just how good his stuff can be. He’s pitching effectively while going deeper into games than ever before, averaging over six innings a start over his last five and striking out 31.7% of batters in the process. Couple that with a 1.97 ERA and 2.93 FIP, and we’re starting to see Carela blossom into a true starting pitcher. They’ve dealt out of their MiLB pitching depth before, and the emergence of some top arms in the system would soften the blow of losing Carela.
Blas Castano has struggled as a starter and looks better-suited for a reliever role, as he’s recently transitioned back to the bullpen. In his last four relief outings, he’s tossed 6.1 innings of one-run baseball with nine strikeouts to just one walk, and his stuff is promising. His sinker sits between 93-96 MPH with a strong changeup and the occasional slider and cutter. If he can continue to evolve in a reliever role, we could see him in MLB by 2024, and like Carela, needs to be rostered in order to be protected from the Rule 5 Draft.
This is the type of arm the Yankees would lose in that draft, and thus trading him is a way to get value in return for what is an interesting depth piece. The final player of this trade is T.J. Rumfield, acquired in the trade that sent Nick Nelson to Philly after the 2021 season. Rumfield has begun to hit his stride with his new swing, as he’s hitting for more power with fewer strikeouts, and the Yankees are seeing him really put it together. Since the start of May, Rumfield has a 143 wRC+ and 11 HRs in 35 games, and this is after hitting just four HRs in his entire MiLB career up to that point.
He turned 23 on May 17th and isn’t Rule 5 eligible until 2024, but his strong contact, walk, and power skills make for an interesting profile that the Nationals could bite on. The package provides enough upside with Carela/Rumfield with a safer prospect in Castano who seems to inch closer to MLB viability, and the Yankees, in return, get their starting 3B for the rest of the season. With a strong performance, Candelario could take a deal to stay in New York or find a pretty penny elsewhere, similar to Andrew Benintendi.
If one thing is clear, it’s that the Yankees need help at the hot corner, and they need it fast. Jeimer Candelario isn’t a household name or a star, but he could be that quick remedy to a position that the Yankees have failed to get enough out of. It’ll take a lot more than him to steady a ship that doesn’t have its captain steering it, but it’s definitely a help. For the Yankees, they’ll have to hope that the moves they make this deadline can finally get them to that 28th World Series Championship.