A question about the Yankees’ infield in the offseason

Last week, MLBTR released our annual salary projections for arbitration-eligible players. Only among the class Juan Soto, Pete Alonso AND Vladimir Guerrero Jr. had a higher number than Gleyber Torres. Matt Swartz of MLBTR projects that the Yankee second baseman will receive a salary of $15.3 million in his final year of control of the club.

Torres earned this high rating thanks to his consistent hitting over five-plus seasons in the major leagues. For his career, he’s batting .267/.334/.454, has just over 3,000 plate appearances, and has been above-average in five of his six campaigns. Last season was typical for the right winger. Torres scored 25 goals with a slash line of .273/.347/.453 in 672 plate appearances. He walked at a good 10% pace while striking out only 14.6% of the time, the lowest rate of his career.

The glove is less reliable. Early in his career, Torres was a well below average defender in a defensive position. He received fair but poor marks for defensive runs saved and above-average outs at second base. Torres is in no danger of leaving the keystone. However, the bat has a profile.

Even with a projected salary of around $15 million, Torres is not a no-bid candidate. He’s an above-average regular who would immediately be the best available player on a barren, slow center field team if the Yankees inexplicably released him. It’s quite common for teams to consider good trade scenarios, but not for elite players entering their final seasons of club control at high projected salaries. This is a more realistic possibility.

Trading veterans with more than five years of service is not just a move made by non-competitors. Blue Jays (Teoscar Hernandez), brewers (Hunter Renfroe) and Twins (Gio Urshela) all made moves like this last offseason and still made the playoffs. Toronto awarded Hernández a cheap right-handed reliever Erik Swanson and to free up space on the pitch for a more defense-oriented group through later acquisitions Daulton Varsho AND Kevin Kiermaier. Milwaukee and Minnesota made their moves mainly with salary in mind, although the Brewers did bring in a reliever Elvis Peguero as part of Renfroe’s comeback.

It’s clear that the Yankees are not operating under the same financial constraints as the Brewers or Twins. However, both teams could also part with a solid veteran who was a regular on the team because they believed a young pre-arbitration player could step up in the near future. Milwaukee had prospects on the field Joey Więcer AND Frelick Hall on the cusp of the big leagues. The Twins were expected to turn third base into a second-year player Jose Mirandawith the previous first overall pick Royce Lewis the opportunity to play in goal mid-season after returning from anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) surgery.

For the Yankees, the biggest question may be whether they believe the 23-year-old Oswald Peraza is able to take on this mantle. Peraza, who debuted in late 2022 with a solid performance in 18 games, spent most of last season with the Triple-A team. His hitting line in 300 plate appearances was a solid .268/.357/.479. The Yankees remembered him when they were eliminated from contention in late August. Peraza ran around the pitch regularly for five weeks, but to no avail. At the end of the year, he hit just .198/.236/.306 in 33 games.

It would be easier for general manager Brian Cashman and his office to name Peraza for an everyday role in 2024 if he took advantage of that opportunity. However, there is still an argument that this is their best course of action. Peraza is out of options, so the Yankees can’t send him back to Triple-A. (There would certainly be calls for his dismissal if they tried to remove him from the 40-man squad). He will need to be on the major league roster unless the Yankees unexpectedly don’t trade him. If they hope he can play above average at some point, it makes sense to give him consistent playing time.

That could come at third base, where Peraza spent most of his time in September. This year, the Yankees have had a rotten .221/.294/.361 slash from this position. This includes below average work since release Josh Donaldsonimpending free agent Isiaha Kiner-Falefa and Peraza himself. DJ LeMahieu he was the second player with extended action in this position. The 35-year-old had an average season in the league overall, despite solid play in the second half.

If the Yankees continue to view LeMahieu as an everyday player or land a free agent hot corner, e.g. Jeimer Candelario, keystone becomes the obvious position for Peraza. The organization is stuck Antoni Volpe at shortstop in an average offensive season. Defensively he has performed better than most expectations and seems to be firmly entrenched in this. Anthony Rizzo he is expected to return to first base, where LeMahieu saw most of his reps in the final month of the season.

There is enough infield talent that the Yankees could look to trade for Torres. New York has a lot of roster issues. There are questions at both positions on the pitch opposite Judge Aaron. Injuries or lost years for each of them Carlos Rodon, Nestor Cortes, Luis Severino AND Frankie Montas (the latter two of which are headed to free agency) revealed the depth of their rotation in 2023. Their catchers contributed almost nothing offensively.

New York will need to address some of these shortcomings via free agency. Shopping Torres is another potential avenue for improving another area of ​​the lineup. As the Hernández, Renfroe and Urshela trades show, the value of a trade with one relatively expensive season of a solid regular isn’t much. While Torres is arguably the best player of this group, he will also likely be the most expensive.

However, currently the commercial attractiveness is greater than in the middle of the season. If the Yankees trade Torres in the offseason, the acquiring club could make him a qualifying offer at the end of next season, thus entitling them to compensation if he leaves in free agency. This would not be possible if Torres were dealt at the deadline next summer, as teams can only grant a QO to a player who has spent the entire season on their squad.

The demand for center infield solutions may also never be higher. The second base class of free agents includes: Hello Merrifield, Ameda Rosario AND Adam Frazier. For teams looking to move up at a key level – the White Sox, Mariners and Tigers can all fit that description and have near-term salary cap space – the trade market is the clearest path.

Whether any team would be willing to make a strong enough offer for the Yankees to part with their second-best hitter won’t be known until the offseason. New York’s offense was a disaster when the referee went on the injured list. Replacing Torres would weaken things further unless they directly swap him for a similarly productive outfield bat. Cashman and his staff have considered various trade scenarios for Torres in the past and have yet to reach a deal they find compelling. If they feel that Peraza deserves a similar extended look to the one they gave Volpe this year, they will be able to explore the market again this offseason.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports.

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