The state of the Yankees' infield
After Monday’s improbable, come-from-behind walk-off against the Twins, Aaron Judge described the 2021 Yankees’ season as a rollercoaster, a testament most fans would wholeheartedly agree with. The undisputed favorite in the American League just three weeks ago, the Yanks are losers of 12 of their last 17 games; though they are still in possession of the second wild card spot, the surging Blue Jays have overtaken first and the Red Sox, Mariners, and Athletics are inching closer every day. Looking to right the ship, Aaron Boone has recognized one of the major issues that has plagued his club all season: the infield defense.
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Monday marked Gleyber Torres’ first appearance at second base since September 29, 2019, and per Boone, that will be the norm for the remainder of the season. His 18 errors at shortstop this year rank fourth in all of baseball, trailing only Bo Bichette, Javier Baez, and Fernando Tatis Jr. -- with four of those coming in the last week alone, the Yankees could not dwell on this decision any longer. Third baseman Gio Urshela will become the primary shortstop, while DJ LeMahieu once again takes over at the hot corner. Though Urshela has just 155 career innings at the position under his belt, we’ve all seen the things he is capable of with the glove and thus should not be concerned.
Torres was candid about his defensive struggles: “I didn’t really do a good job at short. I made too many errors and I feel the way we are right now we can't make any errors,” he said prior to Tuesday’s game. It’s no secret the 24-year-old is more comfortable and confident at the keystone, and he expressed excitement to return to the position he manned during both of his All-Star campaigns (2018-19). Boone shared this sentiment, telling reporters he is positive Torres can be “a really good second baseman.” The nature and timing of these comments suggest that this is more than a temporary arrangement, bringing the state of the infield into question heading into the 2022 season.
Should Brian Cashman look outside the organization to fill the void at shortstop, he will have no shortage of options -- barring extensions, Marcus Semien, Corey Seager, Carlos Correa, Javier Baez, and Trevor Story will all hit the market as part of an unprecedented free agent class. For a team that clearly values staying under the luxury tax threshold, adding any one of these players likely puts a reunion with first baseman Anthony Rizzo out of play. While this would open the door for Luke Voit to reclaim his everyday role, Urshela would then become the odd man out. With a whopping 17 players arbitration eligible this winter and Urshela due for a raise on his current $4.65 million salary, it’s fair to wonder if the Yankees would consider trading the soon-to be 30-year-old to address other areas of need, especially following a season in which his offensive production has plummeted compared to his prior two campaigns. Keep in mind: Anthony Volpe, the game’s #15 prospect according to MLB Pipeline, is lighting up the lower minors and could be an answer in the Bronx in just a few short years.
As the regular season comes to a close, the Yankees will take the 17 games they have remaining to evaluate their new-look defensive alignment. In the short term, Boone and Co. will hope it is strong enough to propel them into October. Beyond that, nothing is set in stone and the questions will only continue to mount as the Hot Stove begins to burn.