The New York Yankees have a difficult sequence of events ready to unfold during spring training. Manager Aaron Boone will have to decide on his starting infield for the 2023 season based on a few spring training games with drastic implications at third base and shortstop.
Rumors have been bubbling to the surface all off-season, notably regarding Gleyber Torres at second base and a potential trade that may send him in a different direction. Torres was floated at the trade deadline last summer, but the Yankees decided to hold on after a bounce-back 2022 season.
Now, those rumors have quieted, and Torres seems to have a cemented job moving forward. Still, there’s always a possibility that Brian Cashman finds a good trade opportunity and pulls the trigger, given they have a log jam in the infield.
Alternatively, the Yankees could end up trading Isiah Kiner-Falefa if he loses the starting shortstop job, offloading the $6 million on his contract and potentially utilizing that financial flexibility to sign a left-fielder.
Offloading Donaldson would be the preferred strategy, but they may not be a team willing to take on a portion of his $21 million salary and the baggage that comes with his personality. The Bombers may be stuck with Josh for one remaining season until he hits free agency, but he might end up being an expensive bench player that fills in at third base when DJ LeMahieu isn’t available.
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Projecting the Yankees’ 2023 starting infield:
1B: Anthony Rizzo
At the very least, the Yankees know that first baseman Anthony Rizzo will offer consistency and likely better numbers with the shift ban. At 33 years old, Rizzo hit .224 with a .338 OBP last season, smacking 32 homers with 75 RBIs. His Steamer projections have him hitting .241 with a .339 OBP, 27 homers at 80 RBIs with a 125 wRC+.
Rizzo is a perfect Yankee, offering leadership qualities and a solution on a renewed two-year, $40-million contract with a club option in 2025. He’s got the first base position locked down, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he LeMahieu shifts over frequently to give him rest and Donaldson gets the call at third base.
2B: Gleyber Torres
As stated above, Gleyber Torres is coming off of a bounce-back season, hitting .257 with a .310 OBP, 24 homers, and 76 RBIs. Finally returning to the double-digit category regarding home runs, Torres is looking to compound his success as a slugger.
Defensively, he put together his best year at second base. He enjoyed 1082.2 innings, hosting a .985 fielding percentage and nine defensive runs saved above average. Torres no longer presents a liability on defense, which is a significant factor for the Yankees keeping him around.
SS: Oswald Peraza
While management has been promoting Isiah Kiner-Falefa and his qualities recently, Oswald Peraza still holds the advantage at shortstop. The young prospect enjoyed just 18 games of action with the Yankees last season, hitting .306 with a .404 OBP, one homer, and two RBIs with a 15.8% strikeout rate. The sample size is far too small to make any generalizations, but his numbers will likely see a massive reduction in efficiency this upcoming season. However, at the very least, the Yankees know he will offer elite defense.
With Peraza winning the shortstop job, IKF becomes the odd man out and a prime trade candidate. General manager Brian Cashman has already stated that teams have inquired about IKF this winter, but he is keen on the veteran competing with Peraza for the starting shortstop job.
“Ultimately, we’re just not ready to make those types of commitments. We do like Kiner-Falefa. We think there’s value there. I know that other teams that are contending knocked on our door about [Kiner-Falefa] this winter, as well. And we do have these young pups that we are really excited about pushing up the ladder, but that doesn’t mean we have to make any commitment to anybody in December or January.”
Per Joel Sherman of the New York Post (Paywall):
4.) DJ LeMahieu
The Yankees simply can’t leave DJ LeMahieu out of their plans, especially since he’s been working diligently to rehab his toe this off-season. The latest reports indicate that LeMahieu will be 100% for opening day, but at 34 years old, there’s no telling how many games he can muster in 2023.
“He looks healthy, whether it’s in the weight room or on defense or hitting. He’s pushing it with everything, and he’s able to do it. If you didn’t know how last year ended, you wouldn’t think anything of it, but we all saw that.’’According to Dan Martin of the New York Post.
Over 125 games last season, he still managed to hit .261 with a .357 OBP, 12 homers, and 46 RBIs, despite dealing with the toe injury that significantly impacted his numbers down the stretch. Defensively, he played 385.2 innings at third base, enjoying a .992 fielding percentage with seven defensive runs saved and four outs above average.
If the Yankees want to relegate Donaldson to the bench, they can trust DJ to offer solid defense on a daily basis and the team’s best lead-off option.
For what it’s worth, I believe the Yankees would prefer to offload Donaldson and keep Kiner-Falefa around, given his versatility. He’s capable of playing third base and shortstop, whereas Donaldson is simply a hot corner option and can’t offer any defensive versatility elsewhere.
At a cheaper price point and a Gold Blove to his name at third, IKF might end up being traded simply because the Yankees can’t move Donaldson.