Oft-injured second baseman Brian Roberts (Chatham, 1998) has agreed to a one-year, $2 million contract with the New York Yankees, ending his 13-year major league run with the Baltimore Orioles.
Roberts, 36, a two-time American League All-Star and a lifetime .278 hitter, immediately becomes the leading candidate to replace departed All-Star second baseman Robinson Cano, who left the Yankees after nine seasons to sign with the Seattle Mariners for $240 million over 10 years. Free agent Cano turned down a seven-year, $175 million offer from the Yankees, who missed the playoffs for only the second time in 19 years. Seattle hasn’t made the postseason since 2001.
The Yankees have not confirmed the deal with Roberts, first reported by Fox Sports, but multiple sources say it will be worth $2 million plus incentives and will become official after Roberts passes a physical exam.
Roberts, son of Mike Roberts, manager of the Cape League champion Cotuit Kettleers, has been plagued by injuries in recent years, sidelined by several concussions, back and hip injuries and a hamstring injury suffered just three games into the 2013 season that required surgery. He played in only 115 games in the first 3 1/2 years of a four-year, $4 million contract that expired this past season, making him a free agent.
But after coming off the disabled list in late July 2013, the switch hitter batted .249 with eight home runs and 39 RBIs in 77 games, the most he’s played since 2009 when he batted .283, hit 18 home runs and led the majors with 56 doubles in 159 games.
A healthy Roberts is virtually a shoo-in for the second base job, although the Yankees are said to also have interest in free agent infielders Michael Young and Mark Reynolds.
The Yankees’ current depth chart lists infielder/outfielder Kelly Johnson atop the list of second base candidates. The left-handed hitting Johnson batted .235 in 118 games for the Tampa Bay Rays this past season with a .305 OBP and a .410 slugging percentage. He hit 16 home runs and drove in 52 runs.
Behind the 31-year-old Johnson is Brendan Ryan, who earlier this month signed a two-year contract with a mutual option for 2016. Ryan, also 31, is primarily a shortstop and gives the Yankees a backup to Derek Jeter, who has spent more time on the disabled list than in the field lately. The free agent hit .192 in 87 games for Seattle in 2013. In 783 games spread over seven big league seasons, his batting line is .237/.299/.320 with 19 homers, 187 RBIs and 288 runs scored.
Also penciled in as a second base candidate is utility man Eduardo Nunez, who has limited big league experience at second. Nunez, 26, has played just 20 games there in parts of four big league seasons with the Yankees. He is primarily a shortstop and has also been used at third base and in left and right field.
Roberts’ new teammates include seven former Cape Leaguers on the Yankees’ current 40-man roster – pitchers Preston Claiborne (Falmouth, 2007/08), David Huff (Chatham, 2004/05), David Phelps (Falmouth, 2007), David Robertson (Yarmouth-Dennis, 2006) and Adam Warren (Brewster, 2007; Chatham, 2008), first baseman Mark Teixeira (Orleans, 1999) and newly acquired center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury (Falmouth, 2004). And, of course, manager Joe Girardi played at Cotuit in 1984.
Roberts is among Baltimore’s all-time leaders in stolen bases (third, 278), doubles (fourth, 351), runs scored (seventh, 810) and hits (10th, 1,452).
In 1984, when his dad managed Wareham to a West Division championship, then-7-year-old Brian got his first taste of Cape League baseball as a bat boy for the Gatemen. He is thought to be the only player to progress from Cape League bat boy to major league All-Star.