For the first time in nearly four years, there is stability in the infield. That doesn’t mean it’s great, especially considering how great it was in the Derek Jeter/Alex Rodriguez era, but there is at least that stability. No more Luis Cruz’s, no more Brent Lillibridge’s, and no more Eduardo Nunez’s. There are everyday starters.
That doesn’t mean it won’t be in flux very soon, because even though we got so used to the dynasty years, the average team without franchise players is susceptible to incredible amounts of variation. This team is no different. Currently under contract in the infield is: Chase Headley until the end of 2018, Starlin Castro until 2019, and Didi Gregorius until 2020.
Now, consider another possibility. In the coming years, there are also some prospects coming down the pipe: Gleyber Torres and Jorge Mateo immediately come to mind. Let’s imagine a world where they come up and are major league capable, and current players follow their projected path. What’s next?
It’s a fair warning to say that this is purely hypothetical, but these types of hypothetical scenarios are what you talk about in the dead of winter. First, let’s assume that Headley declines at an average rate, about a half-win a year, Gregorius holds steady at about 2.5 wins a year, and Castro continues to be worth about a win and change. Big assumptions, I know.
Now there are the scenarios where either Mateo or Torres stick at the big leagues, or both. In the case where Mateo sticks, there are a few ways that could go down: he could either make a change to the outfield, or he would displace Castro. He likely wouldn’t be big league eligible until 2018 or mid-2019, so it would be after the departure of Headley and while Castro is on his way out. That could force Castro to third temporarily, or Gregorius. Either way, it looks like there would easily be room on the roster.
In the case of Torres, it’s not entirely clear. He will probably make his debut near the end of this season or the beginning of 2018, so all of the infield will be tenured at that time. That would create a conundrum. You have to keep Gregorius, because he’s your best player currently in the infield, and you’ve devoted a decent chunk of change to Castro and Headley.
That would mean a possible trade, which Brian Cashman has alluded to, or it would mean forcing one of them into a part-time role. If we assume a half-win decline for Headley in particular, that means that he would have to ride the bench for the remainder of his contract, pushing Torres to third because of his plus arm.
If both of them stick, it would almost force a Mateo move to the outfield, because it’s nearly impossible to have all of Gregorius, Mateo, and Torres in the same infield, unless they kept Mateo in the outfield until Castro’s contract expired or he became so poor that it only made sense.
Even doing this brief mental exercise, it’s clear that while an infield glut wouldn’t be the end of the world and it would certainly be temporary, it’s still something to think about for the future. Depending on the degree of confidence Cashman has in Torres and/or Mateo succeeding, it could force his hand to deal one of Castro or Headley, kind of like what he did with Brian McCann, even if it meant they wouldn’t get much back. Sometimes a small return, salary relief, and the roster spot, is worth it.
It also really shows how much could change in two years, and the many alternative universes the future holds. Hey, there could be one where neither pans out and they increasingly rely on these current guys to succeed. We just don’t know. Either way, this is a good problem to have for the Yankees, because even though they may have to make some long term decisions about their infield in the near future, at least the alternatives discussed aren’t like the ones we discussed a few years back, which were just a shade better than abysmal. The crunch will likely come, and I embrace it.