Way back in mid-October, the Yankees decided the status quo of being knocked out of the postseason as early as possible was something they wanted to continue to do as an organization and so they gave Aaron Boone a new contract. A month after that, Boone went on CC Sabathia’s podcast to speak about the 2021 season. Aside from saying the obvious, “As you might imagine, I don’t look at my mentions on my Twitter,” Boone said a lot on the podcast.
Yesterday, I broke down Boone’s statement of “I make the lineup,” which did nothing other than make me feel at ease about the team’s failure to meet expectations since he became manager because it makes perfect sense that someone who uses the process and strategy to create a lineup he described would fail to meet expectations. Today, I want to look at Boone’s admission of the Yankees needing a shortstop.
“We’re gonna need a shortstop. So however we get there, that’s going to be the interesting thing of the offseason.”
Gleyber Torres’ error on Sept. 12 of last season against the Mets on Sunday Night Baseball was the final defensive miscue straw for a player who to that point had seemingly so many straws you’d think he hated turtles and the ocean.
After sitting by and watching Torres boot routine plays since the start of the shortened 2020 season (a season in which he arrived at Spring Training 2.0 out of shape and effectively sent his career into a downward spiral), Boone finally announced Torres would be moving back to second base permanently. Torres’ error led to a Yankees loss at the most inopportune of time, and no one knew at the moment, but three weeks later, the difference between hosting the wild-card game and going to Fenway Park ended up being one win. One single win. In a regular-season full of losses (70 of them for the 2021 Yankees) there were dozens of games the Yankees blew, gave away and laid down for, so it’s not like Torres’ last-ever error at shortstop for the Yankees was the one that led to them going to Boston on Oct. 3, but it certainly helped.
During Sunday Night Baseball on Sept. 26, Alex Rodriguez said he spoke to Marcus Thames before the game and Thames told him when Torres was called into Boone’s office to find out he was moving back second base “his face lit up and it was like a 2,000-pound gorilla was lifted off his back.” If that’s the reaction Torres emitted from being moved off of shortstop and back to second, why wasn’t the move made much earlier in the season? Boone has been praised for his communication skills and so-called ability to connect with and understand his players, and yet he couldn’t sense Torres was unhappy at short and the position was taking a toll on him at the plate, in the field, physically and mentally? Instead it took 40 regular-season games and seven postseason games in 2020 and 108 regular-season games in 2021 for the Yankees to decide to improve the most important position in the infield.
By finally giving in to the fact Torres can’t play shortstop (the same way the organization finally gave into the fact a lineup full of right-handed hitters couldn’t succeed), the Yankees moved him back to second where he played during the 2019 and 2020 seasons and became a budding superstar who looked appeared to be on his way to being a a middle-infield, middle-of-the-order presence for the Yankees for the next decade-plus.
In 1,088 plate appearances between 2018 and 2019, Torres hit .275/.338/.511 with 62 home runs and 167 RBIs. He finished third in the 2018 AL MVP voting despite making his major league debut until the end of April, received MVP votes in 2019 and was an All-Star in both seasons.
In 676 plate appearances between 2020 and 2021, Torres hit .256/.337/.366 with 12 home runs and 67 RBIs. A player who along with DJ LeMahieu tried to carry the Yankees to an ALCS win over the Astros in 2019 had gone from budding superstar to reclamation project, losing his position along the way.
The last time Torres was a good hitter at the plate, let alone a feared hitter, he was 22. He’s now 25. That’s not to say he’s old. It’s to say it’s been a really long time since Torres was worthy of screwing up the entire roster to make sure his bat stays in the lineup. But the Yankees are accommodating Torres as if he’s still the 22-year-old from going on three years ago, and the accommodation is screwing up the entire infield and roster construction.
Moving Torres to second means LeMahieu is no longer at second and I’d rather have the three-time Gold Glove-winning second baseman playing second base than changing positions daily just so a really bad defender and a no longer valuable bat can be an everyday player. As currently constructed, Torres will play second, LeMahieu will play third, Gio Urshela will play short and Luke Voit will play first. I can’t fathom that being the infield once a new CBA is signed and teams are allowed to sign free agents and make trades again, but then again, these are the Hal Steinbrenner Yankees and it wouldn’t surprise me if he had “Status Quo” tattooed in calligraphy across his shoulder blades. “Running it back” with the same roster in 2022 like Brett Gardner suggested he hopes the Yankees do immediately after their wild-card game loss is a real possibility. It’s probably the most likely outcome. Under the current roster setup, LeMahieu moves to a position he’s a lesser defender at and Urshela moves to a position he’s a lesser defender at. All so Torres be can be a New York Yankee.
And Torres will be a New York Yankee. Not because he’s deserving of it anymore, but because he’s still young and inexpensive, and mostly because the Yankees still likely believe he can get back to being the player he once was (the Gary Sanchez theory) and because his value and stock now resemble that of Facebook. (Sorry, Meta.) The only hope the Yankees would have in moving Torres would be in a change-of-scenery type of deal.
Earlier in the offseason I saw the idea of a Torres-for-Cody Bellinger swap mentioned somewhere. I will personally drive the 3,000 miles to Los Angeles and pick Bellinger up myself if the Dodgers would be willing to do that trade, which they wouldn’t be. While Bellinger might have been a less productive hitter than Torres these last two “years,” he still had two monster postseasons and helped the Dodgers win the 2020 World Series. And if the Yankees are banking on Torres returning to his 2019 form when he finished 17th in AL MVP voting and hit 38 home runs with RBIs and posted a OPS, well, Bellinger in 2019 hit 47 home runs with 115 RBIs, posted a 1.035, won the NL MVP and a Gold Glove. So yeah, I’m ready to make the cross-country drive.
Well, before the Yankees pulled the plug on Torres as an option at shortstop, they reportedly tried to trade for Trevor Story at the 2021 deadline. So the Yankees knew Torres wasn’t the present or future at shortstop as recently as July 31 and yet he remained at the position for another six weeks in the middle of a postseason race. If the Yankees were willing to make Urshela the everyday shortstop for the rest of the 2021, it should have been done much earlier than Sept. 13 in Game 144 of the season.
The Yankees would only need Urshela to play shortstop for 19 regular-season games and then however long the postseason would last (it lasted nine innings), and then they would have a free-agent class Story, Corey Seager and Carlos Correa available to them. You never want to need an everyday shortstop (especially if you’re the Yankees and supposedly competing for a championship every year), but if you’re going to need one, needing one after the 2021 season might be the best time in history to do so.
All the Yankees would need to do to add one of those three to their everyday lineup for the foreseeable future would be outbid the other 29 teams. They wouldn’t need to trade away prospects, just spend money. The resource they have a greater advantage of than every other team in the league and the resource they make more of than every other team in the league. But with Steinbrenner publicly admitting he’s personally working to lower the league’s luxury-tax threshold rather than increase it, which would be in his team’s best interest when it comes to success on the field, it’s unlikely the two remaining options in Story and Correa become Yankees. (Seager signed a 10-year, $325 million deal with the Rangers before the lockout.) Add in the Yankees’ top (Anthony Volpe) and No. 3 (Oswald Peraza) being shortstops, and there’s a better chance the Yankees give a nine-figure contract to either Story or Correa.
Prepare yourself for either a full season of Urshela, who the Yankees were so reluctant to let play shortstop everyday that they wait until the 144th game of the 2021 season, or a one-year stopgap with someone who’s an average to above average defender at the plate, but will a near-automatic out at the bottom of the lineup. Get ready for a bottom third of Gardner, Kyle Higashioka and the stopgap shortstop on many days in 2022.
There’s much more to break down from Boone’s offseason appearance on Sabathia’s podcast.
Yesterday: Aaron Boone: ‘I Make the Lineup’
Coming on Monday: Aaron Boone: ‘Do We Look Largely Similar to What We Looked Like Last Year?