Yankees facing a daunting situation at third base

josh donaldson, yankees
Aug 17, 2022; Bronx, New York, USA; New York Yankees designated hitter Josh Donaldson (28) react after being hit in the arm by a pitch during the fourth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Yankees committing to Josh Donaldson at third base for a second consecutive season may incite a riot among the fan base. Donaldson was a borderline Gold Glove defensive player on the hot corner in 2022, but his offensive contributions were lackluster.

Despite having an electrifying career full of home runs and impeccable offensive qualities, Donaldson is not the same at 37 years old. Josh isn’t putting up 40% on base rates anymore, as he once accomplished back in 2016. His numbers have slowly deteriorated, hosting at 30.8% on base rate and a .222 average last season across 132 games. He hit 15 homers with 62 RBIs and a 27.1% strikeout rate, the highest in his career.

With his numbers diving off a cliff, management is still confident he can elevate his game and return to his baseline average. Across his career, Donaldson has hit .265 with a .361 OBP and a 20.7% strikeout rate. Those numbers are seemingly behind him, having failed to crack a .260 batting average since 2017 and not reaching a 36% on-base rate since 2020, the Covid abbreviated season, which shouldn’t necessarily count.

“For a guy that’s had as long of a career as he’s had and has done things offensively that you know that he has,” Lawson said, “for him to still be motivated says a lot about him as a person. … I fully expect for him to have this bounce-back season.”

Via Brendan Kuty of The Athletic.

The Yankees have a big choice to make at third base:

The Yankees have a big decision to make, especially since Donaldson is set to earn $21 million with a $25 million luxury tax salary. Offloading his contract, or even a portion of it, would go a long way toward the Yankees spending elsewhere, but other teams aren’t interested in an aging infielder that comes with tons of baggage.

There’s a strong argument that DJ LeMahieu should take over at third base this upcoming season since the 34-year-old is 100% healthy and working diligently to prepare for the campaign. Since Gleyber Torres has second base locked down for the time being and shortstop will be determined via position battle, the Yankees simply can’t leave LeMahieu out of the equation.

Utilizing Donaldson as a depth piece is more realistic since DJ enjoyed 385.2 innings at third base last season, hosting a .992 fielding percentage with seven defensive runs saved and four outs above average.

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DJ is three years younger than Donaldson. Despite finishing his 2022 season on a down note, he still managed to hit .261 with a .357 OBP, 12 homers, and 46 RBIs. LeMahieu is the team’s primary leadoff man and one of their best contact hitters, making him a cornerstone when healthy.

Despite that, general manager Brian Cashman and the coaching staff continue to instill confidence in Donaldson, who seems to have lost any leverage regarding a starting position. Paying $21 million for a player to sit on the bench and act as a reserve is certainly a tough pill to swallow, but that is a consequence of making risky trades to bolster other positions.

While all signs point toward Josh riding the pine to start the year, management is speaking as though he has a starting position locked up. Nonetheless, that would suggest LeMahieu will play a different role, which I can’t imagine to be realistic given his value as an offensive piece.

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