The Yankees' handling of their shortstop position has generated plenty of discussion since the beginning of last year’s off-season, and fairly so. Looking at the path the team has taken and appears ready to continue to take, it’s worth looking back at a similar situation that the organization was faced with, a few years ago, and the similar choices it made then.
Brian Cashman opted to bring in Isiah Kiner-Falefa as the shortstop for this ball club in 2021, and regardless of how much the team tries to sell you on the fact it believes in IKF as an everyday option in the future, one thing is pretty clear. The Yanks have a lot of depth and high-end quality in the minors the shortstop position. The team’s top prospect has been Anthony Volpe for some time now, but entering this past season, Volpe was nowhere near ready to contribute at any point in the ‘22 campaign. Oswald Peraza was closer, but not quite the same caliber of prospect, while Oswaldo Cabrera entered 2022 without top prospect shine.
It was transparent that the Yankees chose to roll with IKF for the near future as the team’s shortstop, while Volpe developed in the minors, and best-case scenario still sees him only being able to play in the bigs in the second half of 2023.
The decision to roll with Kiner-Falefa meant the Yankees didn’t go after the likes of Carlos Correa and Corey Seager on the free-agent market, and at this point, nothing indicates that this stance will change much with another huge class at the shortstop position. Correa is re-entering the market, joined by Xander Bogaerts, Trea Turner, and Dansby Swanson.
It’s a scenario we’ve actually seen play out not long ago. Here is a 2018 quote from Brian Cashman regarding at-the-time free agent, Bryce Harper.
Brian Cashman indicated that Bryce Harper isn’t a fit for the #Yankees. Said the team already has six outfielders and that playing Harper at first base isn’t realistic.— Bryan Hoch (@BryanHoch) December 10, 2018
This is not an article to lament the mistake of not signing Harper. However, here are a few facts about the Yankees at the time.
- Even in his first year in pinstripes, Giancarlo Stanton had already played the majority of his games at DH, and it has become clear in later years that the organization is more than happy to make him close to the everyday DH, prioritizing his bat and health.
- Even with Aaron Judge and a then very promising Aaron Hicks coming off a strong 2018 campaign, there was still a hole in left field.
- Said left field was covered by a thirty-four-year-old Brett Gardner, coming off a .690 OPS season.
- Gardner was serving as the stopgap for a certain highly-touted prospect, one Clint Frazier
The Yankees are repeating history by passing on elite talent, which is guaranteed to bring a significant improvement to this team, because of organizational depth, and high-end minor-league talent.
Whether or not they should’ve signed Harper or one of the top shortstops currently available, is a separate point. But the notion that they passed up on potential impact moves to leave the path clear for Frazier and now Volpe is less than ideal (there’s a tangential but similar point to be made about the team’s choice to roll with Miguel Andújar rather than make a serious offer for Manny Machado.)
Apart from the enormous pressure the team puts on these young players, it’s also a disservice to the team’s chances of winning now to operate like that. The club has left wins on the table, and at the end of the day, it’s not like either signing would completely block the young talent. Gleyber Torres had a nice bounce-back season, but he isn’t an elite player to the point that Volpe wouldn’t win a job at second if he lives up to all the hype, and Josh Donaldson was a disappointment at third base. Both can be free agents within two seasons, and neither is a lock to play out the remainder of their contracts as Yankees.
The key thing is that there are way too many variables to become this passive and complacent when you have one of the top budgets in the sport, a window to win right now, and the opportunity to acquire elite talent with years of prime production left in the tank. The Yankees are right that they have a good roster and depth at up-the-middle positions, but that doesn’t mean that they should sit on the sidelines when clear opportunities to pursue franchise-altering players arise. It’s a lesson they could’ve learned years ago, but they may be close to repeating the mistakes of the past.