The popular narrative around the Yankees’ 2021 offseason has been to bring back DJ LeMahieu, keep Gleyber Torres at short, and address the pitching. I would have zero issues with the Yankees doing that. It’s obvious and it’s relatively simple, so sure.
But what if the Yankees went in a different direction? What if DJ is too expensive, the team is really not happy with Torres at short, and they have a chance to acquire another team’s best player — or second-best — player, one who would shore up shortstop defensively while maintaining offensive firepower? Let me introduce you to Trevor Story.
Story’s 28, and won’t turn 29 until November 2021. He’s been a better hitter over the past three seasons than Francisco Lindor, who has certainly garnered the most attention this winter, and while Lindor’s defense is better, Story’s had one average defensive season and four good ones. That makes him a much better defender at a key position than the Yankees’ incumbent. On total value over the past three years, Lindor has put up 13.7 fWAR, Story 13.4, and Torres 5.8, despite Torres notching only 300 fewer plate appearance than either Lindor or Story.
Trevor Story is also entering his final year of team control, and the Rockies are looking to tear the team apart. Eno Sarris reported this week that they’re open to trading their star shortstop. He’s due to make $18.5 million this year, the last year of a two-year deal he reached with the club to avoid arbitration. That’s probably less money than Lindor will make and right around what LeMahieu will make, all while being four and a half years younger, playing a more important defensive position, and playing that more important position better over the past two seasons, than the Yankees’ MVP.
The Yankees have mainly prioritized three offensive factors in their position players: hit the ball hard, hit it in the air, and hit it to right field. They’ve especially prized this approach in right handed hitters, since dead-pull lefties at Yankee Stadium get eaten alive by the shift. It’s this approach that has made stars out of guys like LeMahieu, Luke Voit, Aaron Judge, etc.
These are the right handed-hitters who played for the Yankees in 2020, and their past three seasons worth of groundball rate, hard-hit rate, and opposite-field rate (the three things the Yankees target on offense). Obviously, you want that first column as low as possible, and the next two as high as possible. Luke Voit and DJ LeMahieu were brought to the Bronx because Brian Cashman felt that their mix of hard-hit rate, combined with going to right field, would make them stars at Yankee Stadium. Trevor Story fits smack dab in the middle of those two hitters.
The other metric that I’ve started to fall in love with is the distribution of exit velocity. For example, a player like Gary Sánchez has a lot of extremely hard contact, and a lot of extremely weak contact, which is one reason why his performance has been so streaky and volatile. A player who is less streaky, like LeMahieu, has a much smoother distribution.
Trevor Story’s career exit-velo distribution is far closer to a player like LeMahieu than a player like Sánchez. You can see a relatively smooth incline, and other examples can be referenced in the linked posts above. Story is an incredibly high-floor player, and moving him to Yankee Stadium only plays up his offensive ceiling.
The trouble is that he’s going to cost quite a bit. A high offensive floor, plus the obvious benefit of moving to Yankee Stadium, plus his defensive competence, plus his $13 million hit ... I’m not a guy who does specific player proposals, because that’s a great way to get yourself ratio’d, but while Story isn’t going to cost quite what Lindor does, he’s going to cost close to Lindor’s price tag. Acquiring him also likely means letting DJ go, which is a hard pill for any Yankee fan to swallow. Torres would likely slide over to second, where Brian Cashman has admitted that he’s better defensively anyway.
Trevor Story is among the most underrated players in baseball. Lindor, Fernando Tatís Jr., Corey Seager; these guys are great players, and they occupy a lot of the conversation around best shortstop in baseball. Trevor Story is in that conversation too, and when have the Yankees ever benefitted from taking a guy who hits the ball hard to right field out of Coors and into the Bronx?