A handful of narratives exists surrounding the Yankees that define the fans’ perception of the team. Will Hal spend or cheap out? Is this the year that the Yankees move on from Gary Sánchez? Will they keep Aaron Judge in pinstripes? Why don’t they add more lefty batters or players who strike out less? When will they address the rotation? What the heck happened to DJ LeMahieu? But to me the most important question — besides Judge — and the one I never expected myself asking is this: Who is the real Gleyber Torres?
Torres is the true enigma of this Baby Bomber Era. He was long regarded as one of the top prospects in baseball, even before his move to the Bronx. He burst onto the scene his rookie year, hitting with a maturity well in advance of his 21 years. He then proceeded to shatter the ceiling of everyone’s offensive expectations for him with his monstrous 2019 sophomore campaign, leading the team with 38 home runs, forcing many to recalibrate their projections from occasional All-Star to perennial MVP candidate.
That’s what made the subsequent collapse of Torres’ abilities — particularly at the plate — all the more alarming. In the ensuing 169 games across the 2020 and 2021 seasons, Torres plummeted to the bottom third of the league’s shortstops in terms of offensive production. At this point, it’s fair to question which version of Torres is the genuine article: Gleyber of 2018-19 or Gleyber of 2020-21? That’s why the 2022 campaign is the most important season of his big league career.
Torres will always be a net negative on the defensive side, whether he’s playing at second or short. The only way he’ll provide serious value to the team is with the bat. Torres has always maintained middling batted-ball metrics, but in 2018 and 2019, he found a way to squeeze the most out of his skillset by consistently barreling the baseball. Those barrels disappeared in 2020, and though they made a slight rebound in 2021, it was Torres’ exit velocity and hard-hit rate that took a nosedive.
We’ve spoken multiple times about how Torres was one of the foremost benefactors in the league from the juiced ball. However, the fact that he slumped in the shortened 2020 season when the juiced ball was still in use and in 2021 when MLB deployed a mixture of juiced and deadened baseballs means that one cannot simply bank on his production returning with a potential reintroduction of the juiced ball in the future.
New York now has both Anthony Volpe and Oswald Peraza cooking in the system and preparing to potentially arrive in the next few years. If Torres puts forth a third straight season of lackluster performance driven by weak quality of contact, it will only lend more credence to that being the new reality for him in the post-juiced ball world. With escalating arbitration costs, the Yankees could get better value by simply playing their youngsters as they arrive rather than rolling the dice on Gleyber once again.
On a final note, it’s worth reminding fans that the Yankees inexplicably re-signed LeMahieu with the plan of Torres being the long term shortstop, despite his well-documented deficiencies fielding the position. That didn’t work out. GM Brian Cashman declared after one season that Torres would be better suited playing second base.
So not only are the Yankees without a shortstop, but LeMahieu has been moved off his natural position to accommodate Torres. To make matters worse, signing LeMahieu to his six-year deal seems to have taken them out of the running for any of the superstar free agent shortstops this offseason (by their own volition, but that appears to be their plan). And so they’ll likely pass on addressing a need created by their belief in Torres in the first place!
To put it in Josh’s words, I’m “going full Old Man on Gleyber this year.” It’s time for him to step up and perform. The Yankees have already formulated long-term strategy and made multiple sacrifices around Torres as a centerpiece of the team. It’s time for him to validate that their faith in him was well-founded. It’s time to prove that he deserves to be a Yankee beyond 2022.