With the winter hot stove lit, the rumor mill continues to churn at full speed. Already, we’ve seen a handful of big contracts signed, with Eduardo Rodríguez, Justin Verlander, and Noah Syndergaard each signing eight-figure deals. Still, the Yankees have yet to dip their toes into the star-studded free agent pool.
New York has no shortage of deficiencies they have to address this winter, including shortstop, center field, starting pitching, and first base. Shortstop is the most glaring area of need, as the team has no starter on the depth chart following Gleyber Torres’ move off the position. Luckily for the Yankees, there will never be a better opportunity than now to fill that gap. Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, Marcus Semien, Trevor Story, and Javier Báez headline the most talented shortstop free agency class we have ever seen, and are ever likely to see. With GM Brian Cashman having met with representatives for all five players, it’s assumed that one of the quintet will be manning short for the Bombers in 2022.
However, on Wednesday Matthew Roberson of the New York Daily News reported that the Yankees would pass on the biggest ticket names — Correa and Seager — and instead prefer to sign a stopgap shortstop while awaiting the big league arrivals of top prospects Anthony Volpe and Oswald Peraza. He cited the massive deals the top free agents are likely to command and their effect on the upcoming decision on an Aaron Judge extension as motivations behind this course of action.
Well, I’m here to tell you that this is a terrible idea. The Yankees cannot let prospects dictate their plans at shortstop. They cannot let an artificially-capped budget have the final say once again on the quality of the product on the field. And most importantly, they cannot afford to miss out on a potentially franchise-altering talent.
Today, however, the aspect of this whole situation I’d like to focus on is that the Yankees don’t need to treat the shortstop decision in such a binary fashion. The choice doesn’t need to boil down to Correa/Seager vs. a one-year bargain buy stopgap. There are other options on the market who offer star-caliber-ceiling production without requiring the term and dollar commitment that a Correa or Seager would.
For starters, consider what signing a stopgap would entail. Right now, the names being floated as possible candidates include Andrelton Simmons, José Iglesias, and Freddy Galvis. That’s not just unappetizing — that fails to address the problem of a lack of value coming from short that precipitated this entire situation.
I’m not sure the people who are clamoring for Simmons realize just how bad he is at the plate. Like, I cannot hyperbolize enough how unplayable Simmons has become as a regular starter. The shortstop with occasional pop is long gone. Among all position players with at least 450 plate appearances, Simmons finished dead-last in ISO (.051) and tied for the second-lowest fWAR (-0.5). At that rate, the Yankees could keep Torres as the full-time starter at short and he’d still be worth two more wins! If anything, this should convince even the most stubborn that no amount of brilliance with the glove can make up for offensive incompetence.
As for the other two options, both Iglesias and and Galvis are marginally better with the bat, but aren’t slick enough with the glove to offer any meaningful improvement over Torres. Iglesias was long known as one of the best-fielding shortstops in the league, but has backslid significantly of late. In 2021, he was worth -21 DRS and -10.3 UZR/150. Guess what? That’s worse than Gleyber across a similar sample size. OAA paints a slightly more flattering picture — that of a league-average fielder — however it’s clear Iglesias is no longer the defensive wizard he once was. Galvis on the other hand consistently ranks at or below league-average fielding short, and while his bat is the most palatable of the three stopgaps, he routinely sits in the bottom quartile of most Statcast hitting metrics.
Thus, we begin to see how adding a stopgap creates more problems than it solves. That is why I’d like to propose a different path for the Yankees to take if they are indeed out on Correa and Seager. None of Semien, Story, or Báez are projected to cost nearly as much as the Correa or Seager in terms of years and dollars, but each still represents an upgrade both offensively and defensively over the Torres and the stopgap trio.
Semien just clubbed 45 home runs en route to a third-place MVP finish, all while playing stellar defense between second and short. At 31 however, he will likely have the term of his next contract capped well short of years Correa and Seager may command. Story regressed both offensively and defensively in his walk year — though that may have been the result of a lingering shoulder injury — and some speculate he may even be available on a one-year pillow contract. Báez is a whiff-happy slugger, but his late-season offensive resurgence with the Mets paired with his unchanged status as one of the premier fielding infielders in the game make him a massive upgrade over the trio of pure stopgaps.
The best part is that signing any of the three would not interfere with future plans regarding Volpe and Peraza (not that signing Correa or Seager would either, but the Yankees seem to think so). I didn’t want to focus too much on this point, but it still bears repeating: Volpe and Peraza should have no bearing on Yankees’ shortstop plans this winter. Assuming they fulfill their top prospect statuses in the next few years — of which there is no guarantee — having a surplus of good players at one position is a good problem to have. It gives the team the quality depth they have lacked these last couple seasons.
Plus, Semien, Story, and Báez all have circumstances that facilitate Volpe and Peraza’s arrivals perhaps more than Correa or Seager. Semien is better-suited for second, allowing Volpe or Peraza to step into their natural position. Story might be signed to a short enough contract that if he flops, it’s no big deal, and if he regains his form, the Yankees suddenly have an All-Star on their hands and payroll flexibility to boot. Báez can be plugged anywhere around the infield, and will likely be affordable enough to let the Yankees spend elsewhere this winter or set aside money to extend Judge.*
*For the record, I fully believe that the Yankees can sign Correa/Seager and still extend Judge; it’s not an either/or situation, as the Yankees appear to be approaching it.
I suppose the one silver-lining in all of this is that the Daily News is the only outlet reporting this shortstop change-of-heart, so perhaps this is all a bunch of hand-wringing over nothing. However, if the Yankees are dead-set on signing a stopgap at short, there are far better options than Andrelton Simmons, José Iglesias, or Freddy Galvis. Marcus Semien, Trevor Story, and Javier Báez are all upgrades over that trio and over the Yankees’ current shortstop situation, and all three would allow the team to maintain a level of flexibility — both towards payroll and prospects — that a Carlos Correa or Corey Seager may not.
Or they could just sign Correa or Seager. That would work, too.