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Why did the Yankees trade for Rougned Odor?

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The Yankees are prioritizing payroll over defense, and it shows.

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New York Yankees v Toronto Blue Jays Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

The Yankees’ decision to trade for Rougned Odor, a talented, but historically streaky hitter who was designated for assignment by the Rangers, is puzzling. Although the strategy of acquiring underperforming players who are talented and undervalued has paid off before for the Yankees, Odor isn’t an obvious fit for any of the Yankees’ unmet needs. As a second baseman, adding Odor to the team further confuses a disjointed infield made up of guys who on most nights are manning a position that they don’t typically play.

The addition of Odor to the roster also meant a demotion for Tyler Wade. While Wade doesn’t contribute much offensive value, he was the only true backup infielder on the team. That is a worthwhile asset to have when Gleyber Torres, the starting shortstop, continues to struggle when it comes to making routine plays. Considering the Yankees’ injury history and the new extra innings rule, Wade’s versatility and speed aren’t negligible, either.

In all likelihood, the Yankees wouldn’t have traded for Odor if they weren’t hell-bent on avoiding the luxury tax hit by way of creative accounting. Having a player take up a roster spot when he isn’t an upgrade to what the team already has is a pretty clear-cut example of the Yankees’ payroll taking priority over putting together the strongest possible roster. As The Athletic’s Lindsey Adler pointed out, Yankee fans “don’t care about the front office saving George’s son, Hal, a few bucks.” They care about what Hal’s father, The Boss, prized above all else: winning.

Ballplayers (and most professional athletes, really) thrive on consistency and routine. Repetition and preparation are key elements to success in baseball—any player will tell you that. It’s easy to wonder if shuffling the lineup and infield on a daily basis is hurting the Yankees. That said, how much can you fault a player for not looking graceful and deft at fielding a position he doesn’t typically play? I imagine it’s more difficult for the players to focus on doing their job when their job is trifold and not clearly defined.

If the team re-signed DJ LeMahieu to play second base, why did they trade for Odor? Why swap out Mike Ford at first for someone like Jay Bruce, who was ostensibly a good presence to have in the clubhouse, but nonetheless a natural outfielder who turned out to be weeks away from retirement? It’s still early in the season, but the Yankees’ focus on optimizing their payroll has hurt the team’s synergy and defensive strategy. Why demote Tyler Wade when Gleyber Torres has yet to look fully comfortable at shortstop?

The team’s approach to roster construction is fundamentally flawed. The Yankees aren’t getting big home runs right now, which means the team must prevent errors in close games from costing the Yankees wins. Until they start hitting, the Yankees need to do the little things right in order to be competitive. It would be one thing if the difference in defensive value among Odor, Wade, and Torres wasn’t huge, but it is. Using Statcast’s Outs Above Average metric to compare their defensive skill to one another highlights this not-so-small gap:

STATCAST Outs Above Average (2020-2021)

Name Lineup Position Attempts Success Rate Estimated Success Rate OAA
Name Lineup Position Attempts Success Rate Estimated Success Rate OAA
Tyler Wade 2B 55 87% 83% 3
Rougned Odor 2B 138 76% 77% -1
Tyler Wade SS 50 74% 70% 2
Gleyber Torres SS 175 73% 76% -5

Torres’s questionable defense reared its ugly head again on Saturday afternoon against the Rays. In the top of the seventh, the Yankees were still in the game with a chance to win. With two outs, Gleyber Torres had a chance to end the inning by tagging out Manny Margot when he made a run to steal second base.

However, even with a solid throw from Kyle Higashioka, Torres couldn’t handle the tag and the ball skipped under his glove. The Rays then went on to hit a two-run homer. The go-ahead blast felt especially deflating, as the inning could have been over were it not for Gleyber’s subpar defense. If Wade was in the game at shortstop with Torres at second and Odor on the bench, maybe that doesn’t happen.

It’s hard to know where the Yankees should go from here. The infield is a mess. They need to find a solution.