The third base position remains a big question for the Yankees heading into the 2023 season. Currently, they still have Josh Donaldson on the roster, despite his $21 million salary hit and $6 million vesting option for the 2024 season.
General manager Brian Cashman has been trying to offload his deal for months now, but there haven’t been any takers, given his massive reduction in efficiency and character baggage.
Donaldson is coming off a season where he featured fantastic defensive numbers but struggled in the batter’s box. Across 132 games and 546 plate appearances, he contributed a .222 average, .308 OBP, 15 homers, and 62 RBIs. He recorded his career-high 27.1% strikeout rate and, for the first time since 2012, fell below a double-digit walk rate at 9.9%.
However, on the hot corner, he earned a .961 fielding percentage with 12 errors over 902.2 innings. That was good for seven defensive runs saved above average and seven outs above average. In fact, it is surprising he didn’t win a Gold Glove award for his contributions there, but the Yankees still don’t feel confident rolling with him, given his salary implications and clear power falloff. His hard-hit rate fell below 50% for the first time since 2018, landing at 43.2%.
Cashman has obviously maintained his confidence in the veteran, but the writing is on the wall that Donaldson shouldn’t be trusted as an offensive piece moving forward, which could be reason to feature one of the team’s young prospects at the position.
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The Yankees could slot in whoever loses the shortstop position battle:
Currently, the Yankees expect to curate a position battle at shortstop between Oswald Peraza, Anthony Volpe, and Isiah Kiner-Falefa. If IKS ends up losing, it is possible he’s traded, but he did win a Gold Glove at third base several years ago, indicating he could transition over if need be. The team is also confident that DJ LeMahieu could fill the hot corner with quality defense, despite coming off a toe injury that ended his season prematurely. The 34-year-old played 385.2 innings at third base in 2022, posting a .992 fielding percentage with just one error. He posted seven defensive runs saved and four outs above average, clearly showcasing his defensive quality.
Nonetheless, there’s a strong argument to make that if Volpe wins the shortstop battle right out of spring training, the Yankees should shift Peraza over to the hot corner. He displayed superior athleticism at shortstop over a small sample size last season and has solid arm strength to boot.
Alternatively, they could move Peraza or Volpe to second base, but you could argue that Gleyber Torres is more valuable than Donaldson, so one of them has to sit on the bench or end up traded. Torres obviously has the most value in that scenario, so trading him could be in the cards if Volpe comes out of the gate on fire.
Volpe has always been the team’s long-term solution at shortstop, meaning Peraza could be the odd man out. However, his elite defensive projections should offer him to earn an opportunity at another spot, and the third base position could make the most sense.
Peraza’s Steamer projections have been playing 66 games next season, hitting .249 with a .308 OBP, eight homers, and 31 RBIs with 10 stolen bases. Alternatively, Donaldson is expected to hit .226 with a .318 OBP, 15 homers, and 51 RBIs. Both have a similar wRC+ at about 105, but going with a youthful prospect with a legitimate future on the team seems like a more progressive move.