The New York Yankees are going to give Josh Donaldson the starting gig at third base. Manager Aaron Boone said last week that he envisions JD being in the lineup at the hot corner most nights.
Donaldson was a very good fielder in 2022 but is declining offensively and slumped to a 222/.308/.374 line with 15 home runs and a 97 wRC+ in 546 plate appearances.
Boone also said that Anthony Rizzo will start at first base, and Gleyber Torres is likely to be the regular at second. Shortstop will probably be an open battle between Isiah Kiner-Falefa, Oswald Peraza, Anthony Volpe, and perhaps another dark horse candidate.
What about DJ LeMahieu? Even while playing just 125 games because of injuries, he managed to put 3.0 fWAR and finish with a 116 wRC+ and a Gold Glove. He was one of the most valuable Yankees in 2022 and remains a top player, even if he will never show the power he had in 2019 again.
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The Yankees should minimize Donaldson’s playing time
He is expected to rove between first base, second base, third base, and designated hitter to keep a near-everyday role. Rizzo and Gleyber will likely sit a game or two per week to accomodate LeMahieu, but Donaldson figures to sit the most in theory.
Still, the Yankees should be making LeMahieu the starter at third base and limiting Donaldson’s at-bats as much as possible. They can’t have a declining 37-year-old who had his worst statistical season in recent memory last season, with a .682 OPS and a 27.1 percent strikeout rate. He was even worse in the playoffs.
Per Bryan Hoch of MLB.com, LeMahieu said that he’s all-in for his ‘rover’ role, playing first, second, and third base. “I’m excited. I really like playing different positions and moving around. I think it fits my skill set well and helps our team.”
He does excel at all positions, and that’s why he just won a Gold Glove as an utilityman, but the more the Yankees can hide Donaldson’s bat, the better. He could theoretically return to the level he showed in 2021 with the Minnesota Twins, but time is unforgiving, and remains undefeated. Evidently, he has entered the decline phase of his career.
The Yankees have other players that can fill that super-utility role. They are making a mistake in not giving LeMahieu most of the playing time at third.