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25 Smartest Moves of the Past 25 Years: Yankees trade for Gleyber Torres

Trading for Gleyber Torres was always worth it. Now, the question is how to unlock the hitter from 2019.

Texas Rangers v New York Yankees Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

As the 2016 trade deadline approached, it was clear that the Yankees were going nowhere fast. They sat at 44-46 after losing the first two games back from the All-Star break, 9.5 games behind the division-leading Orioles and also trailing Boston and Toronto. So they did what would have been considered unthinkable in prior years — they punted on the rest of the season and became sellers at the deadline.

It wasn’t just their position in the standings that motivated this decision. New York was in possession of the most coveted prize of the trade deadline: high-leverage relief. Armed with Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller, the Yankees had the ability to dictate the fates of playoff contenders while also restocking their uninspiring prospect pool.

That’s exactly what they did, sending Chapman to the Cubs for a package headlined by top prospect Gleyber Torres. Six days later, they sent Miller to Cleveland for a quartet of players, including top prospect Clint Frazier. In one fell swoop, the Yankees had retooled their farm system, adding a pair of top-30 prospects who could potentially become cornerstones of the franchise of the future. Not to mention, the two pitchers dealt would play large roles on their respective new employers, facing off in the World Series.

Trade Details: INF Gleyber Torres, RHP Adam Warren, OF Billy McKinney, OF Rashad Crawford to the Yankees; LHP Aroldis Chapman to the Cubs

Transaction Date: 7/25/2016

NYY stats (to date): 436 games, .268/.338/.456, 74 HR, 234 RBI, 217 runs, 113 wRC+, 7.5 fWAR, All-Star 2018-19

Torres tore it up in the minors after the trade, vaulting himself to consensus top-five prospect status. And when the Yankees traded Starlin Castro and others to the Marlins for Giancarlo Stanton, Torres appeared ticketed to be the team’s starter at second base in 2018. Despite this, the Yankees saw fit to hold him down at Triple-A long enough to secure an extra year of team control, finally calling him up for his major league debut on April 22nd.

Gleyber didn’t look back after that call-up and exceed all expectations his first year in the majors. In 123 games, Torres batted .271/.340/.480 with 24 home runs and 77 RBI. He graded out as the sixth-best offensive second baseman in the league by wRC+ (121) among players with at least 450 plate appearances. This performance earned the 21-year-old an All-Star nod in his debut second and a third-place AL Rookie of the Year finish.

The production provided by Torres alongside fellow rookie Miguel Andújar at the bottom of the Yankees’ batting order created a circular lineup, leaving no soft landing spots for opposing pitchers, and it powered the team’s playoff push. What’s more, the emergence of these two studs appeared to lock down half the Yankees’ infield at a team-friendly cost for years to come, in theory allowing ownership to approve spending on other upgrades.

With Didi Gregorius scheduled to miss the first half of the 2019 season while recovering from Tommy John surgery, Torres deputized as starting shortstop and acquitted himself well enough. It was on the offensive side that he really exploded, shattering the ceiling of what many thought possible for the young infielder (and brutalizing the now-downtrodden Orioles in the process).

Torres finished the year slashing .278/.337/.535 with a team-leading 38 home runs and 90 RBI in 144 games. He placed fifth among all qualified shortstops with a 125 wRC+ earning a second straight All-Star selection. Suddenly, people were starting to talk about Torres as a perennial All-Star and MVP candidate.

While Torres’ first taste of the October baseball went reasonably well — a 4-for-13 showing against the Red Sox in the 2018 ALDS — the 2019 postseason is when the legend of Clutch Playoff Performer Gleyber Torres was truly born. Torres went 5-for-12 in the ALDS against the Twins, including a 3-for-4 statement with a home run in the series-clinching Game 3 in Minnesota. Torres opened the following series against Houston with a massive 3-for-5 night with five RBI to power the Yankees’ 7-0 victory over the Astros. He finished the series 7-for-25 with a pair of homers, evoking images of another certain Yankees shortstop known for his contributions in the postseason.

Carrying the hype of his freshman and sophomore campaigns into 2020, Yankees fans were understandably excited to see what Torres would do next. Then the pandemic struck, with Torres entering camp “out of shape” according to GM Brian Cashman. The troubles only snowballed from their, and Torres’ 2020 numbers could not have looked more different than the previous season. The power had completely evaporated as he limped to the finish line batting .243/.356/.368 with only 3 homers and 16 RBI in 42 games.

Torres managed to save face with another impressive postseason run, re-instilling some hope in fans that the Gleyber of 2019 could be recovered. After a 5-for-7 masterclass in the three-game Wild Card series against Cleveland, Torres went 5-for-16 in the ALDS against the Rays, including a colossal two-run shot to extend the Yankees’ lead in Game 4.

One of the issues that arose from Torres’ offense drying up is that it laid bare his defensive deficiencies. Every season he has routinely ranked among the worst defensive middle infielders, but this tends to get camouflaged when you’re launching close to 40 dingers in a season.

Thus, entering the 2021 season, all of the focus was on Torres’ defense and if he could handle the responsibility of full-time shortstop duties. The answer, as it turns out, was no, with Cashman declaring after the season that Torres was out as the team’s starting shortstop.

One has to wonder whether he carried the difficulties experienced on the defensive side of the ball into the batters box. It was another lost season offensively, with Torres only able to muster a .259/.331/.366 triple slash with 9 dingers and 51 RBI. There’s also the matter of the league deadening the baseball, and we’ve noted in the past how Torres was among those who most benefitted from the juiced ball in 2019. Whatever the case, the Yankees are now left with the task of rehabbing a league-average hitter and defensive liability back to the promising slugger he once was.

2022 is undoubtedly the most important season of Torres’ career. The luster has come off the former crown jewel of the New York farm system, replaced by the tarnish of the last two disappointing seasons. That being said, there can be no disputing that exchanging two months of a reliever for one of the consensus top prospects in the game remains one of the Yankees’ smartest moves of the past 25 years.