The New York Yankees have a few big position battles preparing to unfold during spring training, notably at shortstop and even third base. The team is keen on letting Isiah Kiner-Falefa battle it out with Oswald Peraza and Anthony Volpe, but the hot corner is a bit more intriguing given Josh Donaldson remains on the roster, and DJ LeMahieu is headed toward a full recovery from his toe injury.
LeMahieu has been working diligently down in Tampa the past few weeks to ensure he is 100% for the regular season. So far, things seem to be trending in the right direction, meaning Donaldson’s services could become obsolete, mainly since he’s owed $21 million for the 2023 campaign.
It is no secret that the Bombers have been looking to offload Donaldson for months now, but considering his baggage and the steep decline in offensive contributions, it is a difficult sell.
“Their preference almost certainly is to move Donaldson, who is owed $21 million this season and a $6 million buyout on his $16 million mutual option for 2024. Torres, however, probably is of greater interest to clubs. He asked for $10.2 million in arbitration, and is under club control through 2024. The Yankees offered him $9.7 million.”Per The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal.
The Yankees can’t spend elsewhere if they manage to get rid of Josh Donaldson:
Donaldson doesn’t only count $21 million in salary this year, but he hosts a $25 million luxury tax salary, so offloading his deal would help clear some of that additional financial allotment.
Obviously, general manager Brian Cashman would prefer to avoid the $6 million vesting option for the 2024 season, but it’s unlikely he manages to offload that number in addition to his bloated deal.
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There’s a genuine possibility that Cashman fails to find a suitor for Donaldson, despite coming off a defensive season that nearly won him a Gold Glove. At 37 years old, his offensive stats took a nose dive, hitting .222 with a .308 OBP, 15 homers, and 62 RBIs. He hosted a 97 wRC+, the first time he dipped below 117 since 2012. He also posted a career-high 27.1% strikeout rate with a 9.9% walk rate, the first time since 2012 he dipped below double digits in that category.
Considering Donaldson pimped a few fly balls he thought would leave the park, it is clear his power metrics are not where they once were. In 2022, his hard-hit rate dipped to 43.2% from 52.7% in 2021. After enjoying a 17.4% barrel rate, he recorded a 9.8% barrel rate, his lowest since 2018.
At this point, hoping that Donaldson resurrects his bat is an optimistic viewpoint. It’s possible he turns things around slightly and hits for average, but the Yankees can feel confident about his defensive qualities. Nonetheless, he can’t play shortstop at a high level, and Gleyber Torres is situated at second base. That only leaves the hot corner, and the Yankees simply can’t leave DJ LeMahieu out of their lineup on an everyday basis. Some may argue that having a $21 million player on the bench is malpractice but pick your poison since DJ is also earning a hefty amount but has far more offensive value.