No matter how you splice it, shortstop was a hole for the Yankees in 2022, pretty much by design. Acquired as part of the blockbuster March trade that brought Josh Donaldson to the Bronx, Isiah Kiner-Falefa was the very definition of a stopgap, a relatively cheap veteran who would be replaced as soon as one of the top prospects — Oswaldo Cabrera, Oswald Peraza, or Anthony Volpe — was ready to take the job.
He pretty much played to the back of his baseball card, with his 85 wRC+ just three points off his career 82, and his 10 Defensive Runs Saved matching his 2021 total with the Rangers. Even so, however, not only did he disappoint a fanbase that was clamoring for Peraza or Cabrera to take the job down the stretch, his defensive struggles late in the year and in the postseason led to the Yankees benching him in the most critical games of the season.
At the moment, it seems like the Yankees are planning to go with in-house candidates up the middle next season, with Hal Steinbrenner even saying to the media that he wants Peraza and Volpe at second and short soon. If things change and the Yankees opt to jump into the deep end of the shortstop market, former Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts might just be the ideal target.
It’s hard to imagine, but Bogaerts has been in the league now for ten years, having made his debut at just the age of 20 playing both shortstop and third base down the stretch during Boston’s 2013 out-of-nowhere championship run. For the first few years of his career, he was a serviceable regular, a below-average defensive shortstop with a solid bat. Starting in 2018, he began to show the potential that made him one of the best young shortstops in the game. Since then, he’s consistently ranked among the league’s premier players at the position. His 22.4 fWAR from 2018 to 2022 trails only Francisco Lindor and Trea Turner among shortstops, while his 134 wRC+ is bested only by Fernando Tatís Jr. There’s a good reason he’s been an All-Star in the last three full seasons (remember, 2020 did not have an All-Star Game) and has won a Silver Slugger in three of the last four.
Defense has been the one major flaw in Bogaerts’ game, as heading into 2022, he had accrued -55 Defensive Runs Saved and -39 Outs Above Average over the course of his career. Then, suddenly, everything changed: across 1249.2 this past year, he was worth 4 DRS and 5 OAA, ranking in the top 10 among shortstops with at least 1000 innings this season. While that’s encouraging in itself, what’s more encouraging to me is how he got there.
There is, in my mind, absolutely no way that Bogaerts reaches the end of his next free agent deal as a shortstop. Like Cal Ripken Jr. and Miguel Tejada before him, Bogaerts will almost certainly shift to a less physically demanding position, such as third base, in order to keep him in the lineup as he gets older. If he were to sign with the Yankees, that move could even be sooner rather than later, as the team has the three aforementioned prospects ready to take on starting roles. Fortunately, according to Statcast’s Outs Above Average data, it looks like Bogaerts will fit in there just fine.
This is the Statcast data of all balls fielded by Bogaerts since the start of the 2018 season. While obviously the sample size is relatively small, he has shown himself to be more capable “in the role of the 3B” than he has “in the role of the shortstop.” This doesn’t mean, of course, that he’ll definitely be a great third baseman, but it does bode well for the potential future move there.
On paper, the Yankees and Bogaerts seem like a match made in heaven: a contender with a need at shortstop and a corner infield spot to move him to as he gets older. While I don’t think that Hal Steinbrenner is willing to open his checkbook wide enough to bring him in, adding Bogaerts this winter would be a big move to go all-in on the current squad, a move that is absolutely needed even if the team can bring back Aaron Judge.