The New York Yankees needed massive reinforcements during the 2022 off-season, given they had to make decisions on players like Gary Sanchez and add more pitching support to the rotation. They once again instilled faith in Luis Severino, who enjoyed a great bounce-back season after dealing with three consecutive years of injury-riddled play.
While general manager Brian Cashman made a few great moves along the way, one terrible decision stands out above the rest, which is still impacting the team during the playoffs, compromising two spots in the batting order and arguably the most important defensive position.
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Trade between Yankees and Twins:
When the Yankees acquired Isiah Kiner-Falefa, most believed he would be an upgrade at shortstop. He had won a Gold Glove on the hot corner several years prior and offered solid contact hitting, something the Yankees had struggled with in the past.
However, his inconsistent regular season and frequent inability to field routine ground balls made him a vulnerability in an otherwise strong infield.
IKF finished the regular season hitting .261 with a 31.4% on-base rate, hitting four homers and 48 RBIs. He stole a career-high 22 bases, but after playing in just three games against the Cleveland Guardians in the ALDS, manager Aaron Boone benched him in favor of Oswaldo Cabrera and Oswald Peraza.
Many clamored about Peraza getting more regular season opportunities to prepare for a potential postseason appearance, but the Yankees refused to give him enough playing time. They tossed him in against the Houston Astros in Game 2 of the ALCS, in which he struggled offensively — an expected result.
Kiner-Falefa was always thought to be a stopgap at short, but his lack of power and polarizing defensive play ended up biting Cashman in the butt at the end of the day. They can’t trust him as an everyday shortstop moving forward, so they may look to feature him on the hot corner and insert Oswald Peraza at SS during the 2023 season. There is an argument to make that IKF should be released, given his 85 wRC+, indicating he was 15% worse than the average MLB player. He is arbitration eligible for 2023, so he should make a pretty penny after earning $4.7 million for the 2022 season.
The Yankees were hoping to get a bit of juice out of Josh Donaldson, but at 36 years old, his MVP days are well behind him. This isn’t the same Donaldson that hit .297 with a 37% on-base rate and 41 homers back in 2015. His average plummeted to .222 this season with a 30.8% on-base rate, including 15 homers and 62 RBIs. Over eight games in the playoffs this year, he’s hitting .200 with a 37.5% on-base rate. He’s managed to get on base at a decent clip, but he’s striking out at 40.6%, an egregious number that is unsustainable.
Considering the Yankees are paying Donaldson the same amount that Justin Verlander is earning with Houston, who is in line to win the Cy Young award this year, you can clearly see the polarizing nature of Cashman’s decision. Unfortunately, he was forced to take on the massive deal to acquire IKF, sending a quality defensive third baseman on his way, who arguably offered more value than Donaldson this season.
The Yankees also acquired Ben Rortvedt in the three-player acquisition, but he hasn’t made an impact on the top team this year, having dealt with a myriad of different injuries. He could play a defensive role during the 2023 season, but traditionally, he’s been a lackluster offensive piece.
This season, Sanchez finished with a .205 average, 28.2% on-base rate, 16 homers, and 61 RBIs. His numbers look eerily similar to his time with the Yankees, but sending him on his way was the right move at the end of the day. Sanchez needed a change of scenery, and the Yankees ended up with José Treviño, who graded out as the best framing catcher in baseball this year.
The biggest regret was sending Gio Urshela on his way to Minnesota. The 31-year-old infielder earned just $6.55 million this season and is arbitration eligible in 2023. He hit .285 with a 33.8% on-base rate, 13 homers, and 64 RBIs. His 119 wRC+ shows how much better he was than IKF all around. Defensively, he finished with a .983 fielding percentage over 1,144 innings, committing just six errors. Compared to Donaldson, Urshela was better across the board.
Looking at the trade in hindsight, this might be one of Cashman’s worst deals during his tenure. He has overspent on some big-name free agents, but plugging two essential infield spots with lackluster talent or past their prime players wasn’t exactly a World Series-caliber move.