With Gleyber Torres’s inability to handle the position and the team’s decision to designate Tyler Wade for assignment to create room on the 40-man roster, the Yankees have exactly one player on the roster who they feel even remotely confident playing shortstop — third baseman Gio Urshela. Fortunately, the timing could not be better for Brian Cashman, as this winter’s free agent class includes the best assortment of shortstops to hit the market, well, ever.
At the top of that free agent class is former Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager. In many ways, you can’t find a better fit for the Yankees 2022 lineup than the two-time All-Star and 2016 Rookie of the Year Award winner. As a lefty bat with power who walks a lot (his 11.7 BB% ranked in the 84th percentile, slightly below Aaron Judge’s 11.8 percent), he’s the archetypal Yankees hitter. On top of that, he slashed .306/.394/.521 last year. That batting average and on-base percentage would have led the 2021 Yankees by almost 20 points (Judge’s .287 average and .373 on-base percentage led the team), while his slugging percentage would have been second behind only Judge — moreover, his 147 wRC+ was itself almost equal to Judge’s 148. Despite a high whiff rate (28.1 percent), Seager strikes out only 16.1 percent of the time, 50th best in the major leagues in 2021 and better than any shortstop currently available.
Simply put, adding Seager to the middle of the order would provide an instant jolt to a lineup with a 101 wRC+ that struggled to score runs.
Oh, and let me remind you he does all that from the left side of the plate. Given how much we know the Yankees love to put at least one left-handed hitter near the top of the lineup, that’s not insignificant, especially when you consider the fact that — at the moment — the only two lefty bats on the roster are switch-hitter Aaron Hicks, who played only 32 games last season, and Joey Gallo, a power bat who is more comfortable batting lower in the order and historically has hit better when he does. Slotting Corey Seager at the top of the lineup, in between Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, would be a vast upgrade over either of these two.
Detractors will, unsurprisingly, point to Seager’s lackluster defensive metrics at shortstop. Statcast records a definitive step back defensively in 2021: after accruing 5 Outs Above Average from 2017 through 2020, he was worth -6 this past year. FanGraphs’ Defensive Runs Saved and UZR/150, meanwhile, have never been a fan of his work, as aside from the 2017 season, they have consistently given him negative ratings (his 0 DRS in 2021, in fact, represents the second-best score of his career). While defensive metrics tend to be extremely fickle, when they all tell the same story, there’s at least some grain of truth to it, and the story they all tell is that Seager is a below-average defender at short.
Given Torres’ struggles at shortstop this season, it’s understandable to be wary of bringing in another weak defender to man the position. The thing is, the real problem wasn’t that Torres didn’t field the position well, it’s that he produced neither at the plate nor in the field. If Torres had a 147 wRC+ in 2021, we would be saying that the Yankees needed to add a bat, preferably an infielder, but not necessarily a shortstop. But he didn’t — Seager, however, did.
The other major concern surrounding Seager is his durability: he’s only played more than 130 games three times, and he hasn’t played more than 145 games since 2017. His injury history is extensive, but in truth, also overblown. Seager missed most of the 2018 season with a right UCL sprain that required Tommy John surgery, and he underwent arthroscopic surgery on his hip while he was out. A hamstring sprain kept him out for roughly a month the following year. Earlier this year, he missed more than two months with a fractured right hand after being hit by a pitch. Yes, all these injuries add up to a large number of games, but with the exception of the elbow injury — which hasn’t bothered him at all since the surgery — none of these are nagging injuries, and he hasn’t had a real soft-tissue injury in two years. Going forward, I’m not all that concerned about his injury history.
“But what about the Yankees’ shortstop prospects?” you might ask. Yes, it is true that the farm system’s strength is at shortstop: two of the top three prospects, Anthony Volpe and Oswald Peraza, are shortstops, and both Peraza and Oswaldo Cabrera — the 16th-ranked prospect — finished the season at Triple-A Scranton. It’s also true, however, that prospects break your heart: Torres and Clint Frazier were two of the game’s top prospects, after all, and now the former lost the shortstop job and the latter his roster spot. If one of them develops, Seager simply shifts to third, where his bat still plays (his 147 wRC+ was better than all third basemen in 2021) to make room. It’s a good problem to have, but it’s not one we can count on, either, so it’s not one to explicitly worry about just yet.
So far this winter, the reports surrounding Seager and the Yankees have been conflicting. Since the beginning of the offseason, Brian Cashman has been adamant that the team needs to address the shortstop position. Last month, Jeff Passan predicted that Seager would be the Yankees’ shortstop in 2022, while last week, Jon Heyman reported that the Yankees were in on Seager. Contradicting that came a report from Matthew Roberson of the New York Daily News that the team preferred a stopgap to one of the big shortstop options on the market.
At this point in time, it’s hard to predict what will happen, but I can tell you what should happen: back up the money truck, Hal, and bring Seager to the Bronx.