The Yankees cannot make the absurd decision to trade former All-Star infielder

MLB: New York Yankees at Kansas City Royals
Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

With the Yankees reeling from a mediocre 82-80 season where they missed the postseason and saw their offense plummet toward the bottom of the league, improving their lineup has become a priority. Hal Steinbrenner, the owner of the team, mentioned himself that run-scoring was their biggest downfall in 2023, and yet rumors of the Yankees listening in on offers for Gleyber Torres persist. Now, listening to offers on any player is a good idea; you never know what teams will offer, and there are deals you simply cannot refuse.

That being said, the $15 million arbitration in Gleyber Torres’ walk year cannot force the Yankees into making a decision that not only signals an odd money-saving move for the highest-valued franchise in baseball but, more importantly, makes the offense significantly weaker.

The Ascent to One of Baseball’s Top Hitters in the Infield

MLB: New York Yankees at Kansas City Royals
Sep 30, 2023; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; New York Yankees second baseman Gleyber Torres (25) hits an RBI single against the Kansas City Royals during the sixth inning at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Gleyber Torres’ 2021 season left a lot to be desired, and there were very real conversations about whether his role on the team would be secured going forward. On Opening Day in 2022, the Yankees sat Gleyber for DJ LeMahieu and newly acquired third baseman Josh Donaldson, but since that point in time, Torres has been one of the best hitters at his position. Between 2022 and 2023, Torres has hit 49 HRs and posted a 120 wRC+, which ranks him in the top three in both metrics for second basemen.

2023 was the second-best season of Torres’ career, which now spans six years, as he launched 25 HRs and posted a 123 wRC+ en route to a 3.2 fWAR in his age-26 season. While the Yankees were subpar, Torres certainly wasn’t, as he was the team’s best hitter outside of Aaron Judge and combined his solid power tool with much-improved contact abilities. After striking out 22.6% of the time in 2022, Torres would cut that down by 8% to 14.6%, and that had a lot to do with a toe-tap he implemented with two strikes.

In the second half, Gleyber Torres incorporated a permanent toe-tap in those counts, and the results were staggering:

  • Before All=Star Break (Two-Strike Counts):
    • .249 wOBA
    • 87.3 EV
    • .191 BA
  • After All-Star Break (Two-Strike Counts):
    • .320 wOBA
    • 90.5 EV
    • .257 BA

This switch sparked an incredible stretch where, after the All-Star Break, the 26-year-old infielder would slash .302/.374/504 with a 144 wRC+ and 12 HRs, doing everything he could to get the Yankees back on track at the plate. It’s a bat that the Yankees would have a lot of issues trying to replace, as none of the free agent infielders posted a higher wRC+ than Torres in 2023, and among second-baseman who was better at the plate this past season, none of them seem to be on the trade market.

Mookie Betts, Luis Arraez, Ketel Marte, Marcus Semien, and Ozzie Albies are staying put for the 2025 season, and those are the only qualified hitters at the position with a better wRC+. Unless you think Jose Altuve is leaving Houston to sign with the Yankees after the 2024 season, you’re out of luck finding a suitable upgrade. Furthermore, the Yankees, who are often criticized for striking out too much, would be foolish to trade their best contact hitter in 2023 to save some cash or open up opportunities for younger players on the team.

Considering the Yankees currently do not have a left-handed infielder ready to take over at second, would trading a hitter with a 115 wRC+ this past season against right-handed pitching not hurt the Yankees plenty as well? Right-handed pitching was their Achilles heel, and this free-agent class isn’t necessarily stacked with left-handed hitters who can take Torres’ place.

Another issue the Yankees had came from a lack of durability, and Gleyber Torres played 158 games last year and 140 in 2022. Oswald Peraza has spent some time on the IL this past season, DJ LeMahieu has had two season-ending injuries in 2021 and 2022, and Anthony Rizzo just suffered a concussion that cut his season short. The Yankees simply cannot afford to have more variance in terms of injuries, and while an unforeseen play could put any player on the IL, there aren’t red flags with Torres’ health.

If there’s anything people can knock Torres for, it’s the poor glove and base running, but should that be enough to cause the Yankees to cut ties?

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Is Gleyber Torres Part of the Yankees’ Future Plans?

MLB: Kansas City Royals at New York Yankees, gleyber torres
Jul 23, 2023; Bronx, New York, USA; New York Yankees second baseman Gleyber Torres (25) rounds the bases after hitting a two-run home run against the Kansas City Royals during the first inning at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John Jones-USA TODAY Sports

One of the biggest questions that fans have regarding Gleyber Torres is whether he’ll be here long-term in the pinstripes. Reports would indicate that the team isn’t interested in handing him an extension, and he could enter a free-agent market where other teams scoop him up. 2024 could be the last season Gleyber Torres ever plays with the team, and that’s assuming they don’t decide to trade him beforehand. It’s a question that’s loomed over the head of the organization and the player for quite some time, but what’s the right call?

For 2024, Torres is projected to have a 122 wRC+ and 3.9 fWAR, making him one of the best second basemen in baseball heading into the season, according to Steamer. The Yankees aren’t going to find a 120 wRC+ infielder who is cheaper and more durable than Torres, so they’ll have to gamble on his replacement or just stay with him for the course of the season. I think that’s the right call; the team can always re-evaluate in free agency and conclude he’s a core part of the team, and it’s not as if the lack of an extension will persuade Gleyber if the money is there.

Next season will be his age-27 season, and if the Yankees sign him to a six-year deal in the following winter, it will take him through his age-34 season. As a limited defender, his -17 OAA at second base could limit his overall contract, but it would still be a nine-figure deal in all likelihood. Thus far, Torres has netted $110.7 million in value through his first six seasons on FanGraphs, and that’s factoring in a COVID-shortened 2020 season and the weird experiment with Torres at shortstop.

If Torres is capable of remaining roughly a 3 WAR player, paying him about $18 million a season for six years sounds extremely enticing, as paying $6 million per WAR is a pretty good deal. Projecting a player’s production is inherently fickle; Gleyber Torres is a great example of that. Entering 2020, it looked as if Torres would ascend into a 130-140 wRC+ hitter and a superstar, and he fell off hard for two straight seasons. Fast-forward to this past season, and he just set a career-high in xwOBA (.361) and could improve more in 2024.

The story of Gleyber Torres in a Yankee uniform is one that the team shouldn’t close ahead of the 2024 season. This team needs his bat, and a lot of the skills he possesses are ones we’re going to ask the Yankees to look for in free agency. If the offense is going to be dynamic, young, and potent, Gleyber Torres undoubtedly needs to be a part of that. As much as I like Oswald Peraza, he still is an unknown, and as much as DJ LeMahieu improved in the second half, he’s still on the wrong side of 30.

If the goal of the offseason is to improve offensively, then trading a 26-year-old second baseman with a 120 wRC+ bat would only hinder their ability to accomplish what they’re seeking to achieve.