Yankees facing a conundrum at third base with bloated contract in the way

josh donaldson, yankees
Sep 28, 2022; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; New York Yankees third baseman Josh Donaldson (28) throws a ball to first base for an out against the Toronto Blue Jays during the third inning at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Yankees can’t possibly be confident in Josh Donaldson starting at third base this upcoming season, can they? While Donaldson did have a fantastic defensive year in 2022 at 33 years old, hosting a .961 fielding percentage, seven defensive runs saved above average, and seven outs above average, his offensive quality is a major vulnerability.

Donaldson is now 34 years old with $21 million left on his bloated contract with a $6 million vesting option for the 2024 season. In other words, general manager Brian Cashman is on the hook for an egregious amount of money, all for the sake of acquiring Isiah Kiner-Falefa as a stopgap shortstop, which ended up biting the team in the butt. However, sitting a $21 million player on the bench may not be justifiable from Cashman’s perspective, meaning he could wind up starting at third base once again in 2023.

The Yankees need to start DJ LeMahieu over Josh Donaldson at 3B:

Starting Donaldson would be the wrong move since the team still hosts Gleyber Torres at second base and expects Oswald Peraza to win the starting shortstop battle. If we have to choose between Donaldson and DJ LeMahieu, the easy choice is DJ. Having dealt with a toe injury last year that ended his season prematurely, LeMahieu still ended up hitting .261 with a .357 OBP, 12 homers, and 46 RBIs across 125 games. He finished with a 116 wRC+, 12.4% walk rate, the highest in his career, and a 3.0 WAR.

Considering those numbers represent a down year for LeMahieu, we should expect him to find his groove in 2023. His Steamer projections have him playing 102 games, likely a result of the toe injury that seemingly didn’t require surgery. He’s expected to hit .274 with a .352 OBP, 10 homers, and 44 RBIs with a 119 wRC+. Defensively, LeMahieu was stellar on the hot corner, earning a .992 fielding percentage with seven defensive runs saved and four outs above average in just 385.2 innings. To post such tremendous defensive numbers in that sample size is impressive.

The Bombers have LeMahieu on a long-term deal until 2027, having signed a six-year, $90M deal in 2021. At 34 years old, he’s just as much a veteran as Donaldson but offers far more quality as a contact hitter.

Conceivably, DJ will be the team’s lead-off batter since they don’t have an alternative. Andrew Benintendi was viewed as another option, but he took his talents to the Chicago White Sox.

It is possible that Cashman finds a way to offload Donaldson‘s deal or at least a portion of it to another team. However, they will likely have to give up prospects or include him in a more prominent package to convince another team to take him and his baggage. Donaldson was wrapped up in a few touchy situations last year, notably with White Sox infielder, Tim Anderson.

Donaldson won’t offer elite offense at this point in his career, despite having better projections for the upcoming season. His defense is expected to even out after a stellar campaign, but at $21 million, there’s no way he can justify that price tag. If Cashman can find a way to move him by spring training, it would be a stroke of genius.