When news first broke that the Yankees rejected a trade proposal for Luis Castillo that included Gleyber Torres, my immediate knee-jerk reactions were those of dismay and disappointment, though not necessarily surprise. Jon Heyman reported that the Reds offered to trade Castillo for a package of Torres plus others, and while we do not know who the additional piece are, it is a fairly safe assumption that Torres’ inclusion was the sticking point of the proposal. The Yankees’ rejection appears swift and decisive, but should it be so? Should the Yankees in fact consider their stance on Gleyber’s tradability more seriously?
Many in the Yankees universe - Brian Cashman included - are all too quick to label Gleyber as untouchable. Indeed, two seasons ago the Tigers asked for Gleyber Torres when the Yankees inquired about Matthew Boyd, and (rightfully) were promptly rejected. However, given the dearth of viable starting pitchers on the Yankees roster and red flags that have cropped up in Torres’ production, I would argue that Cashman’s insistence on Torres’ (un)availability should be revisited.
Ever since he was acquired from the Cubs in exchange for Aroldis Chapman, Gleyber Torres has seemed fated as a career middle infielder for the Yankees. His prospect pedigree, rapid ascent through the ranks, and instant impact upon reaching the majors all reinforced the notion that the young stud was one of the future faces of the franchise, destined for a long, successful tenure in pinstripes.
Questions have surfaced in the years since about his defensive capabilities, physical fitness, and sustainability as a shortstop vs. second baseman, but he has received steadfast support from manager and GM. Now that DJ LeMahieu has signed to be the team’s second baseman for the better part of the next decade, we have to operate within the framework that Gleyber is locked in at short, but is he really the best man for the job?
His deficiencies in quality of contact would suggest perhaps not. In all three of his major league seasons, Torres has turned in slightly-below-average batted ball numbers. His average exit velocity and hard hit rate do not predict All-Star-level production. He may have experienced a power surge in 2019, but that jump coincided with the introduction of a juiced ball. Despite these warning signs in the batted ball department, Torres is a marquee young talent with national name recognition, making him the perfect coveted centerpiece to swap for a bigger prize.
Then there’s the bit about his defense. Given the amount this topic is covered around these parts, it would be redundant for me to regurgitate the same bunch of numbers that all tell the same story: since his major league debut Gleyber has been one of the worst defensive shortstops in the game. As my colleague Joshua Diemert and I discussed: if Gleyber was slugging at a 125-130 wRC+ clip, I wouldn’t give a rat’s rear end how porous his glove is, but once he starts leveling off in the 100-110 wRC+ range, the defense becomes an existential issue.
All of this would appear to suggest that Torres is not quite as irreplaceable as some would lead you to believe. On the contrary, I would consider Torres to be fungible. There is a straightforward route to replace if not better his production come next winter, when the likes of Corey Seager, Trevor Story, Carlos Correa, and Javier Baez - and perhaps even Francisco Lindor (albeit unlikely) - are set to hit the open market. Yes, each would require a substantial investment, but Torres is not getting any cheaper, and the Yankees may be uniquely positioned to spend big next offseason if they are successful in their quest to reset the luxury tax penalties this winter.
Returning to the Castillo rumors, the Yankees would be hard-pressed to find another starting pitcher of his ilk on the free agent or trade markets, doubly so at his bargain price. His $4.2 million price tag for 2021 would not push the Yankees over the $210 million threshold. Not often are you offered the chance to bring in an ace-caliber pitcher with multiple years of team control. The Yankees may not have a better opportunity to capitalize on Torres’ inflated trade value, which sits at a relative zenith and is likely to decline as his years of team control dwindle while his salary rises.
Only months ago, this talk about trading Torres would have sounded blasphemous to my own ears. Teams just do not give up established, young impact players with years of affordable team control. But now that the Yankees are faced with a bleak starting rotation, only a few million in wiggle room below the luxury tax threshold, questions about Torres’ long-term production offensively and defensively, and the potential for an upgrade at short come next winter, the organization should think long and hard as to whether Gleyber offers more value to the team in pinstripes or as the headliner of a blockbuster trade.