It’s quite clear that the Yankees are planning to have Gleyber Torres become an infield mainstay this year. Whether that’s immediately on Opening Day or by some time in the middle of the season, Torres is expected to become the starting second or third baseman by year’s end. Torres is the team’s top prospect and one of the best in all of baseball and probably would have reached the majors last year had he not suffered a freak elbow injury while sliding into home plate. Fortunately, his recovery should allow him to be ready by spring training.
Even though there’s plenty of warranted excitement regarding Torres’s talent and the timing of his return, the Yankees should have a contingency in place if something goes awry. For as great of a prospect Torres is, there’s still a lot that can go wrong in a player’s rookie campaign. I don’t enjoy being the one to rain on everyone’s parade, but it’s fair to expect the Yankees to have an alternative ready at the season’s outset. The Yankees should try to do something similar to what they did for Greg Bird last season when they signed Chris Carter as a reserve coming off of Bird’s shoulder recovery. Obviously, Carter was a complete flop, but the Yankees’ intent and thought process was appropriate. The team shouldn’t be shy to try something like that again to protect Torres. Doing so before the season starts would be preferable, as scrambling at the trade deadline would be costly.
This offseason has been notoriously slow, so it’s not alarming that the Yankees currently don’t have any sort of backup plan in place for both the keystone and hot corner. That said, it doesn’t seem like the team is overly worried about the infield as it stands:
“We are not prioritizing any one thing, we are ready to go with what we have got,” general manager Brian Cashman told The Post. “We are open-minded to opportunities whether they be positionally or pitching. We are not prioritizing to add to the youth competition at third and second over the rotation option. We will take any opportunity to improve the club. If it makes enough sense, we’ll execute it.”
Cashman said part of trading Starlin Castro and Chase Headley this offseason was a belief in the young group that remains. He noted a lot of teams decide to go with young players “for better or worse.” But these Yankees have championship aspirations and if the youth doesn’t work instantly they would have huge holes from the outset.
Maybe that’s just GM-speak. Cashman doesn’t want to reveal his hand, of course. After all, Cashman said something similar about Bubba Crosby way back in 2005. Not that Crosby was some special prospect – far from it, in fact – but this wouldn’t be the first time that Cashman has stated his intention to go in-house while doing otherwise later. Thus, I wouldn’t be worried about the Yankees standing pat around the diamond. Rather, I think the question is: will Cashman acquire one or two infielders?
I believe the answer to that question is one fielder, and the reason is twofold: one, payroll management; and two, the belief in Torres. When it comes to payroll, this might be a situation where less is more. The front office might be willing to spend for one infielder, but two might be too much especially if ownership requires sufficient breathing room under the luxury tax threshold. That would mean extensive playing time for Ronald Torreyes, Tyler Wade, or Miguel Andujar. As it pertains to Torres, obviously the club’s internal evaluations are glowing, which makes it more likely that one additional acquisition is enough.
From my perspective, obtaining just one infielder isn’t enough. Ideally, the front office would do the following:
- Add one full-time starter at second or third base, whichever of the two positions the team feels Torres is less likely to wind up at. Let’s assume that the team is grooming Torres to play second base, so the team would acquire a primary third baseman.
- Add one stopgap player at the position the Yankees are grooming to play Torres at. Following the assumption from the first point, this would be an infielder capable of playing second base.
If I had my way, a reunion with Todd Frazier on a one-year deal would complete step one. Yes, I know, Manny Machado is probably the true ideal scenario at third, but that seems incredibly unlikely. For step two, signing someone like Howie Kendrick or Neil Walker on another one-year pact makes sense. Of course, this is all a lot easier said than done for a myriad of reasons.
Even though the scenario I’ve envisioned wouldn’t be simple to pull off, let’s focus on why I believe it’s a wise plan. The purpose is a bit more important than the hypothetical names that the Yankees wind up getting. These two moves would accomplish a few things. One, it would provide the Yankees stability at third base. Although Andujar has a lot of upside, he’s also a rookie and isn’t known for his defensive chops. Frazier should offer league average performance, something the Yankees can’t count on Andujar (or Torres) to provide just yet. Further, Kendrick or Walker would be strong safety nets at second base. Look, Torreyes is extremely likable and Wade has some potential, but the idea of the two platooning for a big chunk of the season if Torres isn’t ready makes me nervous. Besides, if Torres grabs second base by the horns, Kendrick or Walker would be excellent bench options.
Nobody likes to hear that there’s a chance a top prospect won’t fulfill his potential immediately. It’s reality, though. Many prospects struggle in their first opportunity at the big league level before figuring things out a year later. If Mike Trout and Aaron Judge scuffled to start their careers, Torres can too. That’s why the Yankees need to have adequate fallback options around the infield, especially on a team that is expected to contend in 2018. It’s not that the Yankees should expect Torres to be bad, but rather, it would be a hedge against Torres not being a significant contributor until 2019. If that comes to fruition, then the Yankees can survive the course of the year without needing to make a desperation upgrade over Torreyes/Wade at the trade deadline. If Torres winds up being great immediately, then great! That would make the stopgap player solid bench depth. High expectations for Torres are absolutely merited, but that doesn’t mean the Yankees shouldn’t be prepared for a detour along the road to hopeful stardom.
(Photo credit: Kim Klement / USA Today)