After achieving a series sweep against the Cincinnati Reds, the New York Yankees find themselves in a favorable position with a day’s break at the start of the week.
The Yankees have made significant strides in the AL East, even as the Tampa Bay Rays maintain their top spot in the division.
Just a week ago, the Yankees trailed by 8.5 games, but now they sit 5.5 games back in third place, just behind the Baltimore Orioles.
As the Yankees prepare to compete against Baltimore, who have shown remarkable improvement this season, they’ll embark on a three-game series starting Tuesday.
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The Yankees have found their rhythm:
Recently, the Yankees have made several notable changes, including trading for outfielder Greg Allen and designating Aaron Hicks for assignment, despite the remaining $30 million on his contract.
Hicks was contracted for two additional years following the 2023 season, but manager Brian Cashman demonstrated that he values the roster spot over individual players. In this case, Hicks was an underperforming veteran outfielder failing to contribute offensively.
The Yankees may consider a similar course of action with third baseman Josh Donaldson, who is owed $25 million for the season at 37 years old.
Donaldson, who arrived alongside Isiah Kiner-Falefa and Ben Rortvedt in a major trade with the Minnesota Twins, has been a net negative for the team.
Last year, Donaldson posted a .222 batting average with a .308 OBP, 15 home runs, and 62 RBIs. His 27.1% strikeout rate was the highest in his career, and his walk rate dropped below 10% for the first time since 2012.
Despite a 97 wRC+, Donaldson’s defensive metrics significantly boosted his overall performance. In 2022, he was a Gold Glove-caliber third baseman, boasting a .961 fielding percentage, 7 defensive runs saved, and 7 outs above average over 902.2 innings.
Donaldson has had a slow start this year, playing in just five games and hitting .125 with a .176 OBP and a 35.3% strikeout rate.
Despite these numbers, Manager Aaron Boone remains optimistic that the veteran infielder can stage a comeback this season. However, with Donaldson already missing 49 games and counting, the Yankees have adapted their infield and found an effective lineup.
To fill the gap left by Donaldson, DJ LeMahieu has primarily taken up the third base position. The 34-year-old is hitting .258 with a .331 OBP, contributing five home runs and 18 RBIs.
LeMahieu has demonstrated excellent defensive skills, achieving a .987 fielding percentage and saving two runs at third base over 248.1 innings. He should remain the starting player, as he should have been from the start of the season, but Donaldson’s return suggests LeMahieu could revert to a utility role.
With Gleyber Torres enjoying a strong offensive season and Anthony Rizzo off to an excellent start, there is no need for Donaldson to resume a starting role. Chris Kirschner of The Athletic suggests that Donaldson may also be designated for assignment, as his value is declining and his offensive output hit a career low in 2022.
As Donaldson recovers from a hamstring injury, he suffered a further setback by cutting his finger at home while assembling something for his daughter. This delays his return even more.
The Yankees may see the return of Giancarlo Stanton and Donaldson simultaneously, but Donaldson’s value pales in comparison to Stanton’s unmatched power as the team’s primary designated hitter.
If the Yankees choose to keep Donaldson, he should serve as a backup at third base rather than an everyday starter.
Considering he will need to rebuild his form and essentially restart his season, it will take him weeks to regain his offensive rhythm. This delay is less than ideal given the Yankees’ current winning streak.