An Easy Decision for the Yankees: Benching a $25 Million Infielder

MLB: Seattle Mariners at New York Yankees
Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Yankees may need to make a hard decision after another disappointing performance from infielder Josh Donaldson in Thursday night’s game against the Seattle Mariners.

The veteran player, who commands a $25 million paycheck, now boasts a dismal .127 batting average with a .200 OBP for the season, numbers that cannot be ignored.

The Decline of Josh Donaldson

Despite recording impressive metrics such as a 48.9% hard-hit rate, 22.2% barrel rate, and a 91.3 mph exit velocity, Donaldson’s slugging metrics cannot compensate for his underperformance forever. His batting average and on-base percentage are among the worst in the league, reflected by a 62 wRC+ that suggests he’s 38% below the performance of an average MLB player.

Boone, the team’s manager, commented on Donaldson’s struggle, “It’s about him being more precise at the ball, because I do feel like there’s some pitches that he’s in a position to impact and kinda going through a stretch of just missing.”

Donaldson’s performance in June doesn’t provide much hope either, with a .128 batting average, a .208 OBP, and a .654 OPS. Moreover, he hasn’t made a hit in his last four consecutive games, and his record shows only two hits in the past nine games.

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A Tough Scenario for the Yankees and the Absence of a Ready Replacement

“This is part of playing in New York,” Anthony Rizzo acknowledged after Thursday’s game, which saw Donaldson face jeers from fans. He added, “We want to be at our best every single day. … It’s definitely not a lack of effort.”

However, the timing isn’t perfect for a possible replacement. Oswald Peraza, who could have been an ideal call-up option, has been nursing an injury in Triple-A, rendering him unavailable.

Peraza has an impressive record in Triple-A with Scranton, hitting .292 with a .360 OBP, including 11 homers and 24 RBIs across 34 games. He has shown his readiness for the big leagues with an average of a home run every three games and excellent defense.

An Uncertain Future

The predicament is compounded by DJ LeMahieu’s equally poor performance, with a .228 average and a .286 OBP. The team is thus facing a dearth of viable options.

One feasible short-term fix could be to shift LeMahieu to third base, replacing Donaldson until Peraza is fit to step in. However, keeping the 38-year-old Donaldson on the bench essentially wastes a roster spot. The Yankees can’t demote him to Triple-A or stomach DFAing him after already eating a substantial amount of money from the Aaron Hicks debacle.

There could be an avenue to send Oswaldo Cabrera back to Triple-A and promote Peraza, but general manager Brian Cashman hinted that Peraza still needs to “finish off his development.” This remark seems baffling, considering Anthony Volpe’s recent poor performance.

Decisions made in spring training, such as giving Volpe the shortstop job and blocking Peraza from the MLB level, now appear ill-judged, especially as Peraza continues to excel with Scranton.

As Donaldson’s contract expires after the 2023 season, the Yankees will likely let him go, freeing up $25 million. This would provide an opportunity for a new direction at third base. The question then arises: will Peraza be the future third baseman, or will the Yankees leverage his value in a trade deal to bolster another position? Only time will tell.