If we were to imagine the ideal Yankees infield for this season, I can’t imagine it looking much different than right now. Gleyber Torres, a consensus top-ten prospect in baseball, will likely win the second base job. Miguel Andujar, the 59th best prospect by Baseball America, will likely win the third base job. Greg Bird is a lock for first base, and Ronald Torreyes will be the roaming utility man.
The Yankees added one more player to the mix, signing Danny Espinosa to a minor league deal as a non-roster invitee to spring training, with the chance to win the second base job. I’ll say right out of the gate that I highly doubt he would win said job, unless there’s some weird scenario where he wins second base and Gleyber Torres wins third; in that case, Andujar has a horrific spring.
In the most likely scenario the choice will be to carry him as the backup spot instead of Torreyes, and there I can see some merit. First, though, it’s important to note how much Espinosa has been declining over the past few seasons:
It’s pretty much every red flag before a player’s subsequent departure. Yet, there are three silver linings in here. The first one is that Espinosa is only 30 years-old, not some grizzled veteran. Players generally decline at this age but it is important to remember that he was still worth 4 fWAR from 2015-2016, and largely because of the second silver lining: his defense is still very good.
Among all second basemen and shortstops from 2015-2017, Espinosa ranked first and ninth, respectively, in UZR/150 (for what it’s worth). He also, more accurately in defense of him, was in the top-ten of second basemen in Inside Edge fielding for plays from 1-40% probability.
The third silver lining, of course, is that Espinosa is not the last option, and it likely means the Yankees have faith in what they have. The benefit is that the Yankees likely trust Torres and Andujar to hold down their respective positions, with the only other signaling that they don’t trust them fully is the possible signing of Todd Frazier.
All else being equal, though, this will be a competent infield. I doubt it is the facet of the team that is the strongest—it might even be the weakest—but the upside of two top prospects taking the reins, and Bird taking first base after an explosive postseason, means that the infield holds the potential to be in the upper quartile in the league despite the question marks. I’m hoping I don’t regret saying that, or in some bizarre world Espinosa wins an infield spot, but I’m confident on betting against it.
Yankees fans love to scoff at signings like this (and rightfully so, because there is a lot to criticize in Espinosa’s game), but what it really means is that Brian Cashman is confident in what he has. That was also the case in 2017 with the myriad of starting spots going to young players, and I think it worked out alright.