Yankees still have a $25 million problem at third base

josh donaldson, yankees
Apr 1, 2023; Bronx, New York, USA; New York Yankees third baseman Josh Donaldson (28) hits a solo home run against the San Francisco Giants during the eighth inning at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Yankees are still weak at several positions offensively, one of them being on the hot corner where veteran Josh Donaldson currently resides. Donaldson is coming off arguably his worst season as a professional at 36 years old, hitting .222 with a .308 OBP, 15 homers, and 62 RBIs across 132 games and 546 plate appearances. Ultimately, the regression he experienced from 2021 to last year was significant.

Manager Aaron Boone stated his confidence in Donaldson, suggesting that he is a prime bounce-back candidate. His Steamer projections have him hitting .225 with a .316 OBP, still poor numbers that even closely compare to his prime numbers. It is becoming obvious that Donaldson is well beyond his best and trying to extract any last value from his youth.

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The Yankees haven’t seen any signs of life from Josh Donaldson:

To open his account this year, Donaldson is hitting just .133 with a .188 OBP, one homer, and one RBI across 16 plate appearances. The sample size is tiny, and those numbers will elevate, but his slow start certainly isn’t what the Yankees wanted to see — notably his 37.5% strikeout rate. Defensively, he’s been fine, which was expected after a borderline Gold Glove 2022 season.

However, with a $25 million luxury tax salary hit, Donaldson is not carrying his weight, and the Yankees may have a better infield strategy they can implement. Getting DJ LeMahieu in the lineup is essential, but he’s been utilized as a utility piece to start the year, moving around to help mitigate fatigue.

At some point, there could be an argument that Cabrera should fill that role, and DJ can shift over to the hot corner permanently, where they can exercise his offensive qualities instead of praying Donaldson offers something at 37 years old with a skyrocketing chase rate.

LeMahieu has historically been a solid third baseman, enjoying 385.2 innings at the position last year, hosting a .992 fielding percentage with just one error. He posted seven defensive runs saved above average and four outs above average, suggesting that he can take over the job at any point if the Yankees feel as though Donaldson is more of a liability than a solution.

One way or another, the team needs a long-term option there after Donaldson’s contract inevitably expires.

Most would agree that LeMahieu has had a relatively slow start offensively this year, but he is still hitting .294 with a .333 OBP, including a homer on Tuesday against the Philadelphia Phillies. His 33.3% strikeout rate is not an indication of his quality, and we should expect the number to continue dropping significantly over the next few weeks.

I wouldn’t expect manager Aaron Boone to make any big changes soon, but Donaldson’s poor start is just a continuation of his tough 2022 numbers. Unless he can turn things around, at some point the Yankees may have to shift their strategy, if not target a potential trade acquisition to help them the rest of the way, but we are still a few months away from that conversation.