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How the Yankees’ confidence in Gleyber Torres at shortstop gradually waned

Once presumed to be the future at shortstop, Gleyber Torres’ time as the primary starter there appears to be over.

New York Yankees v Cleveland Indians Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

When it comes to player health and performance, the Yankees keep their cards close to the chest. It’s not the most transparent organization — and there is nothing inherently wrong with that — but in press conferences Aaron Boone tends to sugarcoat performance concerns and describes injuries in vague terms. Luke Voit had “foot stuff.” Aaron Judge wasn’t in the lineup because of “lower body soreness.” Considering how much the Yankees value privacy, monitoring what the team discloses publicly and how the front office chooses to reveal certain information can be an interesting exercise.

Gleyber Torres has been a cornerstone of the Yankees’ long-term plans ever since the team traded for him in 2016. Since then, the organization has invested a lot in developing him. For several years, the organization’s scouting report on him remained clear: Gleyber’s talent is special, the Yankees value his place in the organization and believe his potential as a player is as high as can be. Reality forced the Yankees’ unwavering confidence in Torres to bend by the end of the 2021 season, when Torres’ defensive struggles at shortstop had become too prolonged for the organization to sugarcoat. This season was Torres’ fourth year in the big leagues and his regression is something the Yankees have struggled to explain to the public. At this point, it’s getting harder to chalk up his miscues to the growing pains commonly associated with young players who are still developing.

In the face of criticism, and often underachieving, the Yankees have reiterated their support of Torres as the team’s starting shortstop time and time again. But the team’s decision to move Gleyber back to second base and statements about Torres that Boone made at the end of the season differed in tone from their past expressions of total confidence.

Torres hasn’t looked completely comfortable for two consecutive seasons now, and it would be disingenuous for the Yankees to characterize his defensive miscues — or his -10 OAA, one of the worst in MLB — as an aberration. When Yankees GM Brian Cashman announced in August that Torres would be moving back to second base, it marked a turning point in the way the Yankees’ front office publicly talks about Torres. While Boone’s upbeat nature typically allows him to put a sincerely positive spin on nearly anything, there came a point in 2021 when Boone’s optimism sounded hollow. The Yankees’ departure from expressing anything but full confidence in Torres’ ability to play shortstop stood out to me.

I decided to map out chronologically the Yankees’ public statements on Gleyber’s infield positioning. When reviewing the statements in this way, a rough timeline of the Yankees’ support for Torres playing shortstop emerges.

March 29th, 2017 - Before the start of the 2017 season, Cashman said on The Michael Kay Show that Gleyber wasn’t the Yankees’ starting shortstop just yet, but his time was coming.

March 18th, 2018 - Boone says the Yankees want Gleyber Torres to split time in Triple-A between second base and shortstop, according to a tweet by Bryan Hoch.

May 26th, 2018 - “[Gleyber] just kinda has that feel that most special players have,” Boone tells Ken Rosenthal in a pregame interview.

Oct 12th, 2018 - Cashman says Gleyber Torres is “by far the best player for consideration that we have,” when discussing internal candidates to replace shortstop Didi Gregorius, who had undergone Tommy John surgery.

January 5th, 2019 - Brian Cashman states the organization’s plan for the Yankees’ infield, per a YES Network tweet. The team envisions Troy Tulowitski will be the starting shortstop for the upcoming season.

February 28th, 2019 - In an interview for MLB Network Radio, Boone suggests that several players, including Torres, will start at shortstop for the Yankees in 2019.

Oct 14th, 2020 - “We’re going to evaluate all circumstances” when it comes to Gleyber Torres at shortstop, Brian Cashman says. “If we feel something is a better way to go, we’ll discuss that.”

After the 2020 season, the Yankees continued to express support, albeit less enthusiastically, for Torres as the Yankees’ shortstop. The organization seemed to become more comfortable with admitting his defensive shortcomings at the position, while still reiterating his ability to play short in a competent manner. The Yankees also mention the possibility that there could be better options.

February 26th, 2021 Aaron Boone on how Gleyber Torres has looked at shortstop in spring training: “If anything at this point it’s subtle because it’s just work. Gleyber, when he’s really synced up defensively, has a lot more range than people think.”

August 3rd, 2021 - “I had my hand in every cookie jar out there,” Cashman says, when asked by WFAN Sports Radio if he looked to get a new shortstop at the trade deadline.

September 13th, 2021 - The Yankees decide to move Torres back to second base, citing the possibility that his struggles at shortstop were affecting his focus and performance at the plate.

So, what does Torres’ future with the Yankees look like? Right now, it’s hard to read the tea leaves. But it’s also hard to know how much trade value he has, following what amounted to the worst offensive season of his career. Tracing the tenor of the Yankees’ public statements about Torres makes it clear the organization has given up on trying to clean up his defensive play at shortstop. If he does have a future with the Yankees, it will likely be at second base. The Gleyber at shortstop experiment failed, and even the Yankees accept so now.