Yankees preparing for change at third base after Donaldson injury

josh donaldson, yankees
Mar 18, 2023; Dunedin, Florida, USA; New York Yankees third baseman Josh Donaldson (28) fields the ball for an out against the Toronto Blue Jays in the third inning during spring training at TD Ballpark. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Yankees won a three-game series against the Philadelphia Phillies on Wednesday afternoon, enjoying a 4–2 victory despite a misty forecast that produced less-than-desirable playing conditions. The chilly weather and rainy day can produce muscle cramps and tightness, which is exactly what starting third baseman Josh Donaldson experienced.

Donaldson ended up leaving the game with apparent hamstring tightness, and while manager Aaron Boone indicated that the injury shouldn’t be severe, hamstring issues are always a fickle beast.

Donaldson could miss a few weeks recovering from the injury, leaving the hot corner open for the taking. The Yankees have a few obvious solutions, Isiah Kiner-Falefa and DJ LeMahieu.

Kiner-Falefa won a gold glove at third base several years ago, playing a maximum of 366.1 innings in a single season there, hosting a .957 fielding percentage with seven defensive runs saved and five outs above average. IKF looked far more comfortable once he took over at third during Wednesday’s game, but his offensive liabilities continue to leave their mark. He has failed to get on base over 10 plate appearances, but he’s made some decent contact which suggests he should start to heat up a bit with more reps.

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The best option for the Yankees is DJ LeMahieu:

Another option would be LeMahieu, who enjoyed 385.2 innings on the hot corner last year, posting a .992 fielding percentage with seven defensive runs saved and four outs above average. He is by far the more productive offensive player, starting the year hitting .300 with a .364 OBP, one homer, and two RBIs across 22 plate appearances.

LeMahieu seems to be back to his normal self, and the Yankees are extremely excited about his contributions. Of course, they will be looking to mitigate fatigue with him throughout the duration of the year, especially after fending off a toe injury that might’ve required surgery if not for his diligent rehab process.

DJ is a trusted defensive asset that generally plays second base and first base. Still, the Yankees may ask Oswaldo Cabrera to begin moving around as a utility piece, opening up an outfield spot. This could make way for Aaron Hicks and Giancarlo Stanton to experience more reps. In fact, Kiner-Falefa may rotate a bit to the outfield, which he’s done to open the year.

I don’t necessarily think the Yankees will situate an everyday starter on the hot corner but rather move pieces around and continue to change the lineup based on favorable pitching matchups and getting all of their players involved to keep them in flow.

Nonetheless, the best option objectively is DJ LeMahieu, since the Yankees want to have his bat in the lineup every day. He is by far the best player in terms of overall efficiency to take over as the full-time starter.