Right now, the prevailing sentiment regarding the Yankees’ roster is that it’s set, and with good reason. By signing Gerrit Cole, the Yankees did about as much as they could to ensure that last season’s primary weakness would now profile as a strength. The roster’s lone hole was filled, and there was much rejoining.
One position group still stands out, however. The team’s infield, while not a weakness, is noteworthy for its relative state of flux. The Yankees certainly have plenty of interesting players to cover the four positions on the dirt, but when compared to the rest of the club, the infield just feels as though it’s settled on slightly shakier ground.
Consider the team’s outfield at present. Giancarlo Stanton, unless he surprisingly opts out of his contract after 2020, is tied to New York for the next eight seasons. Aaron Hicks’ contract is guaranteed through 2025, with a team option for 2026. Aaron Judge has only just started the arbitration process, cannot become a free agent until after 2022, and qualifies as a prime candidate to eventually re-up for an even longer term, given his outstanding abilities and status as face of the franchise.
The Yankees also have a strong core of pitchers that will likely take the mound in the Bronx for the foreseeable future. Most obviously, Cole could stick around for a decade, what with his nine-year deal that could swell to a full 10 years. Luis Severino is signed for three guaranteed seasons, plus a team option in 2023. I’ve argued the Yankees should consider extending James Paxton and Masahiro Tanaka, but even if both walk after 2020, the team has any number of young pitchers who won’t see the light of free agency for several years, chief among them Jordan Montgomery, Deivi Garcia, Jonathan Loaisiga, and more.
Even the bullpen sports some level of long-term security. Aroldis Chapman’s new contract runs through 2022. Zack Britton’s deal may as well, depending on how the Yankees handle the tricky clause in his contract. Chad Green and Luis Cessa stand three and four years, respectively, from free agency. The only relievers nearing free agency are Adam Ottavino, signed for the next two years, and Tommy Kahnle, who must pass through two more arbitration years. This, again, doesn’t touch on the younger pitchers whom the team can control well into the next decade, like Ben Heller, Stephen Tarpley, and Mike King, among others.
Contrast that stable of outfielders and hurlers with the players on the diamond. Only Gleyber Torres looks like a definite, long-term building block. Outside Torres, who admittedly has the look of a future superstar, the infield has virtually nothing set in stone. Most prominently, surprise star DJ LeMahieu can hit free agency again after 2020. He and Torres combine to form an excellent middle-infield duo, but that pair could break up in a mere nine months.
Should LeMahieu depart, the Yankees are left with a number of talented players who nonetheless come with question marks. At first base, Luke Voit and Mike Ford intrigue with their bats. I’m personally a strong believer in Voit’s skills at the plate, and Ford already appears to have established a baseline as a cogent big-league hitter. Yet Voit’s miserable finish to the season, which saw him post a .657 OPS over the final month before sitting out the team’s ALCS defeat, paints a picture of a team that isn’t quite sold on him as their starter. Given both Voit and Ford’s status as late bloomers, it stands to reason the Yankees might not be completely committed to either as long-term performers.
The third base situation is even more muddled. If Gio Urshela plays like he did in 2019, he’s a definite starter for as long as he’s in New York. It’s impossible to expect that level of play, though, not with Urshela’s career 57 OPS+ before last year. Urshela’s defense provides him a reasonable floor, but if his offense regresses to the extent current public projections expect it to, he’s more of an average player than a franchise cornerstone.
This leads us to Miguel Andujar, whose future has long felt uncertain. After missing virtually all of 2019 with injuries, it’s now difficult to peg Andujar’s value. Is he a highly-talented young hitter? A butcher in the field whose defensive liabilities consign him to second-division starter status? Who’s to say?
To reiterate, none of these players are bad, and none of them are even particularly close to free agency. They just form an uncertain group, one that lacks the surefire performers the other position groups on this team can boast. The Yankees simply cannot feel completely certain that any of their infielders other than Torres will play at an above-average level in 2021.
This may not prove to be much of a concern. If Voit hits as he did in the first half of 2019, and if one of Urshela or Andujar are capable of providing solid overall production at the hot corner, then the Yankees will be just fine on the infield. Torres might have enough starpower himself to ensure that any infield that surrounds him with competence will fit on a championship team.
There are no guarantees, however. Whereas every other position group has multiple, long-term stars, the infield has just one. We’re mostly picking nits here, poring over the least-strong part of a roster made up exclusively of strengths. Even so, the Yankees’ infield is relatively in flux going forward, and the situation is worth monitoring as the 2020 season draws closer.