Friday, February 22, 2019

Yankees Infield Puzzle Revolves Around Gleyber Torres

Now that Manny Machado is out of the equation, the New York Yankees have a bit of a puzzle to solve in the infield. The additions of Troy Tulowitzki (and the promise made to him that he will be a shortstop) and DJ LeMahieu further complicate things. And then what happens when Didi Gregorius comes back? Obviously, the Yankees can cut ties with Tulowitzki when Didi returns since they are only on the hook with him at league minimum. But that is not the case with LeMahieu. The latter is considered insurance if Miguel Andujar does not improve defensively. A large part of this puzzle, though, is what exactly the Yankees think of Gleyber Torres moving forward.

The first question is whether Torres is a second baseman or a shortstop. Do the Yankees see Torres as their second baseman in the coming years or the successor to Didi at short? As much as Andujar's defense was dissected a season ago, Torres did not exactly light up the defensive stats. He did better than Andujar, but his defense was far less than what was expected.

In fairness to Torres, he did look like a special defender when he first got the call to play full-time. He had that glorious month where he was hitting everything in sight and was making special plays in the field at second.  Then it sort of went away. There were questions about his concentration and he stopped making highlight reels and started adding errors.

My feeling was that he was not right physically the second half of the season. You could kind of see it in his body language. That first month and a half, he was exuberant and there was a twinkle in his eyes. The second half showed far fewer smiles. But there is more to talk about then just the perception of his body language.

If you look at his range numbers in the minors compared to his range numbers on the Yankees in 2018, there is no comparison. There was a significant drop in his range. If the body language argument leaves you limp, then the drop-off of range should provide better circumstantial evidence.

Other than his stint on the disabled list, his health was never really mentioned after Gleyber Torres returned. But I still insist he was not right. A drop-off in his offensive production and his defense certainly manifested itself in the latter months of the season.

It will be instructive to see what he looks like early in 2019. If his health is better than it was in the second half, we should see more range and a more athletic infielder like he was in the minors. If I am totally off here and what he showed in 2018 was what he is, then he certainly should not be considered shortstop material. LeMahieu was the highest rated second baseman defensively in 2018. It is hard to fathom taking that guy and making him a super utility player. Not for $24 million anyway. But LeMahieu is nowhere near the offensive player Torres is and his numbers away from Coors in his career are in the .700 OPS range. He will not replace Torres at second for that reason.

Both Torres and Andujar are going to be fabulous offensive players for years to come. The team did not sign Manny Machado. To justify that decision, Andujar needs to be given a chance to show his hard work will pay off and that he can be a serviceable third baseman anchored there for years to come.The Yankees have shown strong interest in signing Didi Gregorius to an extension which means that second base will be where Gleyber Torres will play if the former's deal gets done.

For those reasons, LeMahieu should not take away much of either's playing time. Andujar cannot improve his defense or prove improvement by not playing defense and Torres is still hoped upon to be a star player on both sides of the ball.

Much to my delight (sorry if you disagree), the Yankees have said "no thanks" to Machado and have shown commitment to developing this strong young core. The team's leadership just needs to stay calm and try not to muck it up.