The New York Yankees have a problem at third base, and the most interesting part about the debacle is that they have a clear-cut solution which should be getting everyday reps at the position.
Currently, Josh Donaldson is the cemented starter. While he’s still recovering and preparing to return from a hamstring injury, the Yankees are keen on returning his job without hesitation. Donaldson is coming off his worst season as a professional in 2022, hitting .222 with a .308 OBP, hitting 15 homers with 62 RBIs. He enjoyed a career-high 27.1% strikeout rate and dropped below a 10% walk rate for the first time since 2012.
Despite changing his batting stance this spring, Donaldson has started the year on a down note, hitting .125 with a .176 OBP, slapping one homer across 17 at-bats. Of course, the sample size is small, and he could turn those numbers around, but based on his most recent struggles, that would be an overly optimistic perspective.
The Yankees have a clear-cut solution at 3B:
The reality is simple, Donaldson is beyond his prime, and at 37 years old, earning $25 million to provide less than adequate offensive numbers is simply unacceptable. If the Yankees want to be a serious World Series contending team, Donaldson cannot be considered an everyday starter, especially with a solution already on the roster.
In Josh’s absence, the Yankees have relied on DJ LeMahieu to pick up the slack, and at 34 years old, he’s having a tremendous start to the 2023 season. Across 12 games and 51 plate appearances, LeMahieu is hitting .283 with a .353 OBP, hitting two homers with six RBIs.
In fact, LeMahieu, despite not being considered a power hitter, has the team’s highest exit velocity on average. Yes, you heard that right. DJ is hitting the ball harder than Aaron Judge, which is undoubtedly exciting and proves his clean bill of health.
LeMahieu was coming off a toe injury that ended his 2022 season prematurely, but those issues are well behind him, and he’s ready to contribute at a regular clip. Defensively, he has a perfect fielding percentage at third base across 62 innings, already posting three defensive runs saved above average and two outs above average.
LeMahieu featuring on the hot corner allows Gleyber Torres to stay at second base and Anthony Volpe to man shortstop without any disruption. First base is manned by Anthony Rizzo, which would theoretically push Donaldson into a reserve role, allowing DJ to move around the infield if need be.
However, if the Bombers want to feature their best lineup every day, LeMahieu starting at third is the obvious choice. There’s even an argument to make that Oswald Peraza would be a better fit on a hot corner, despite not enjoying any reps there during his minor-league tenure. Seeing Oswaldo Cabrera move around to new positions seamlessly, who’s to say that Peraza can’t make the transition effectively and offer a bit more youth?
The Yankees recently called up Peraza following Giancarlo Stanton’s hamstring injury, but they are fully committed to sending him back down once Donaldson returns. Some may view that decision as malpractice, but the Yankees can’t justify benching a $25 million player, which would make their trade with the Minnesota Twins last year a complete bust.