The New York Yankees Have Holes to Fill
The New York Yankees may have one of the deadliest lineups in the Major Leagues, but currently, have two holes in their infield. With Starlin Castro and Chase Headley on new teams and Todd Frazier exploring free agency, how might the Bronx Bombers fill those roles?
The New York Yankees executed the biggest blockbuster of the offseason thus far, acquiring National League MVP Giancarlo Stanton from the Marlins in exchange for second baseman Starlin Castro and a pair of low-level prospects. The club followed that up by dealing third baseman Chase Headley to San Diego in a salary-cutting move.
The deals create a pair of gaping holes in New York’s infield and lineup. Let’s take a look at how the team might fill those spots.
Gleyber Torres was the prized prospect coming over to the Yankees in the deal that sent Aroldis Chapman to the Cubs at the 2016 trade deadline. The 20-year-old is currently New York’s number-one ranked prospect, and he is number-two overall in Major League Baseball.
Before the two trades, General Manager Brian Cashman had announced that Torres would compete for the starting third base job in spring training. But the deal to send Starlin Castro to Miami as part of the package to acquire Giancarlo Stanton created a path for Torres to become the team’s starting second baseman in 2018.
Although he was drafted as a shortstop and played there exclusively while in Chicago’s minor league system, Torres has played 25 games at second and 15 at third since being acquired by the Yankees. The highly regarded prospect is known to have great hands and a plus arm, so he projects to be a top defensive infielder.
In 374 professional games, Torres batted .288/.368/.426 over 1,611 plate appearances. He rates high for his speed and was successful in 64 of 102 steal attempts. His power has been developing as well, as he drilled three home runs in 11 Arizona Fall League games. Overall, he has 26 homers, 208 RBIs, and 218 runs scored at all professional levels.
Torres was only recently added to the 40-man roster in preparation for the Rule 5 Draft, so he has yet to appear in a big league game. The Yankees front office has rebuffed numerous efforts to pry him away, and he appears to be part of the club’s long-term plans. Many will eye Torres as a potential Rookie of the Year candidate from the moment he plays his first big league game. He remains the leading in-house candidate for either infield opening.
When Managing General Partner Hal Steinbrenner spoke after the season about the talented players in the Yankees system who are on the precipice of making an impact in the big leagues, he mentioned Miguel Andujar. Steinbrenner specifically pointed to Andujar’s improved defense at third base. Cashman echoed those statements when addressing the opening at third following Headley’s departure.
This development could prove to be a big factor in the Yankees’ plans moving forward. Andujar contributed heavily to a Bomber’s win in his major league debut at the end of June when he went 4-for-4 with a walk and four RBIs in five plate appearances. He was sent back down to Triple-A after the game to continue working on his defense.
Although Andujar was one of the September call-ups, he didn’t see much action. New York had acquired Todd Frazier at the trade deadline to take over at the hot corner with Chase Headley shifting to first base.
With Headley traded and Frazier a free agent, Andujar has emerged as the top in-house candidate to take over at third. He will compete for the job in spring training unless the team brings someone in from outside the organization.
Andujar has spent six years in the Yankees system, while also playing in the AFL and Winter League. In 652 games, he has slashed .270/.320/.401 with 51 homers, 349 RBIs, and 318 runs scored. He turns 23 in March.
The guy many Yankees fans want to see in pinstripes manning third base is Manny Machado. The three-time All-Star topped thirty homers in each of the last three seasons for Baltimore, and the 25-year old seems to be a perfect fit for the Bombers.
The Orioles seem intent on dealing Machado, who is in the final year of his contract. Extension talks have broken down, and the Birds appear resigned to losing Machado one way or another. Although it was reported that Baltimore had taken him off the trade block, this could just be a negotiating tactic to extract a better offer from the Yankees or other would-be suitors.
It had also been reported that the Orioles were not willing to trade Machado to the Bronx, either because of owner Peter Angelos’ animus toward the Yankees or simply because most teams are reluctant to trade stars within their division. The reasons for this are obvious, but so is the desire to get as much value back as you can when trading away a player.
While many teams covet Machado, the Yankees have the deep farm system required to outbid anyone. The question is, how much are they willing to give up in order to secure a one-year rental?
Lifelong Yankees fan Todd Frazier was acquired by the Bombers at the trade deadline from the Chicago White Sox as part of the deal that also brought David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle to the Bronx. Frazier instantly became a fan favorite and clubhouse leader, and he helped the Yankees get to within one win of the World Series.
Now a free agent, Frazier is said to be seeking a multi-year deal. Although his charismatic personality and veteran presence would be a huge plus on a basically young team, statistically he was only slightly above league average last year. Frazier’s production has steadily declined from his 2014 peak, when he was 3.2 Wins Above Average and 5.3 Wins Above Replacement.
Other In-House Options
In addition to Torres, Cashman has announced that Tyler Wade, Ronald Torreyes, and Thairo Estrada are also candidates to take over at second base.
Ronald Torreyes entered the 2017 campaign as the Bomber’s utility infielder but ended up starting 85 games because of injuries to Castro and Didi Gregorius and Headley’s early-season slump.
A beloved member of the clubhouse, Torreyes posted below-average numbers, and his weaknesses were exposed once he started playing every day. Torreyes seems to be a better candidate to resume his utility job rather than assume a starting role.
A former top-ten prospect, Wade exceeded his rookie limits during the 2017 season, mostly riding the bench. He did get 63 plate appearances with the big league club over 30 games, slashing .155/.222/.224 with zero homers and two RBIs. The light-hitter has batted .275 at all levels in 586 professional games.
Although he was drafted as a shortstop and has seen the majority of his playing time there, Wade has also played 115 games at second, 14 at third, and 29 in the outfield. Realistically, Wade seems to be in line for a utility spot if Torreyes gets hurt or wins a starting job.
The 21-year-old Thairo Estrada has played 376 games over five years in the Yankees system, but none above Double-A. Following the 2017 season, Estrada posted an .811 OPS — better than his .734 career average — in 20 Arizona Fall League games.
He has played 211 professional games at short, 134 at second, and 50 at third. Estrada was only recently added to the 40-man roster in preparation for the Rule 5 Draft. Although he was announced as a candidate to compete for a starting infield spot, I don’t think it’s realistic to expect him to skip Triple-A entirely and make the jump to The Show.
What Moves are Likely?
Unless the Yankees decide to keep him in the minors for a couple of weeks in order to manipulate his service time, Gleyber Torres is expected to be in New York’s Opening Day lineup. I would like to see him manning the keystone, with Andujar at third.
If the Yankees do decide to manipulate service time — the way the Cubs did with Bryant and the Angels did with Trout — Torres and Andujar would start the year in the minors, regardless of their performance during the spring training competition. In that case, we would probably see Ronald Torreyes and Tyler Wade in the Opening Day starting lineup, with Thairo Estrada along as the utility man. The latter two would then be demoted and replaced by Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar.
Will the Yankees go that route? It’s hard to predict. They did not do it with Judge, Sanchez, Montgomery, or Severino. They could have if they wanted to, but they didn’t.
But What about Machado?
I’d love to see Machado in the Yanks’ Opening Day lineup manning the hot corner. But at what price?
If Ninja Cash can get the deal done for a handful of low-level prospects, then great. By all means, get it done. But if acquiring Machado will require New York to part with two or three of its top prospects, as some writers have speculated, I would pass.
One of the great thrills of recent years has been to watch the emergence of homegrown talents like Judge, Sanchez, Severino, Bird, Montgomery, Green, and Clint Frazier. Judge, Sanchez, and Severino have exploded into full-blown stars, while the rest are still blossoming. Do you really want to see Chance Adams, Estevan Florial, and Justus Sheffield starring for the Orioles for the next half-decade?
I certainly don’t, especially not for a one-year rental of Machado. I would rather watch with great enthusiasm to see if Andujar can become the next Machado, right before our eyes.
The Bombers are not in “win now or bust” mode, as they were when the Core Four were in decline and the front office was hoping to squeeze one more championship out of the group. The Yankees have a solid foundation of young talent that is poised to compete for many years to come. There is simply no compelling reason to mortgage the farm in order to win in 2018. The team is just not that desperate.
Return of the Toddfather?
Another option would be for Cashman to see if Todd Frazier is willing to return via a team-friendly one-year deal, ala CC Sabathia. The Toddfather’s salad days are clearly behind him. But he could still bring great value to the team while fulfilling a boyhood dream of helping his favorite team win the World Series.
Frazier could push Andujar in a spring training competition, as well as serve as his mentor. If Andujar does well, Frazier could slide into a backup corner infielder role.
This job may prove to be critical, due to the injury-prone Greg Bird at first base. The Yankees struggled mightily to get production out of that spot in the lineup while Bird was sidelined last year.
If all else fails, the Yankees will still get a shot at Manny Machado when he hits free agency next year.