Well, that was unexpected. At 10:30pm Eastern on Sunday night, the Yankees cut ties with a former top prospect, rebuilt their infield, and engineered perhaps the most impactful trade since the club’s acquisition of Giancarlo Stanton.
Catcher Gary Sánchez and Gio Urshela will head to Minneapolis, as the Twins sent back former MVP Josh Donaldson, presumptive new shortstop Isiah Kiner-Falefa and 24-year old catching prospect Ben Rortvedt. IKF himself was just dealt from Texas for catcher Mitch Garver, so the Twins must see something in Gary they like more than their ex-incumbent. (They are reportedly not flipping him in a separate trade, either.)
For the Yankees, this is truly the end of an era. No player this side of Alex Rodriguez generated the hype, heroics, and condemnation that Gary Sánchez did in parts of six seasons in the Bronx. From his breakout, Babe Ruth-level dominance and his establishment of himself as a top catcher in all of baseball in 2017, to a disastrous 2020, you could always count on him to make some kind of headline. I’ve defended and supported Gary quite literally from my first week with PSA, and to see that the Yankees are ok with moving on is bittersweet at best.
I wonder if there’s another shoe dropping on the catching front. Kyle Higashioka is a fine backup catcher, but we’ve seen how badly he struggles when he’s given a starter’s workload. Maybe some offensive tweaks have been made in the offseason, maybe not, but I can’t see him catching 130 games.
I can’t really see Ben Rortvedt catching half the games this season either, unless, again, the Yankees think they’ve unlocked something in his game. For what it’s worth, catching coach Tanner Swanson had a strong connection with him when they worked together in Minnesota, so maybe there’s something there. Rortvedt had exactly one stretch, 24 games at High-A in 2019, where he was an above average hitter. His framing skills grade out well, but in 39 MLB games in 2021, he posted a 40 wRC+. That’s just not going to cut it, even with the lowered bar for catchers. Either one of these guys has had something unlocked, another move is coming, or the team is really in love with a platoon idea.
For all that manager Aaron Boone said this weekend about Gio Urshela being the shortstop of this team, it’s now Kiner-Falefa’s job to lose. The former Ranger will hit a little worse than league average, play a good defensive shortstop, and honestly, if the trade was Urshela for IKF straight up, I’d be a little annoyed. But there’s a crown jewel here, and he’s one of my favorite players of all-time.
Josh Donaldson, man. Rarely in the history of this game has one man’s adjustments and attitude so profoundly influenced the way we view hitting. Donaldson, way back before anyone thought he’d win an MVP, was on the vanguard of the launch angle revolution. He’s one of an elite class of avant garde hitters, the Joey Vottos and José Bautistas, to understand what Ted Williams preached 70 years ago: swing up to meet the ball on a plane, and drive it as hard, in the air, as you possibly can.
The Yankees take on all $50 million of Donaldson’s outstanding deal, which runs through the end of next season. I think there’s a narrative that Donaldson is washed up, because he’s not tormenting the Yankees 18 times a season like he did with the Blue Jays. During his last three seasons, he’s hit to the tune of a 130 wRC+, and is projected to hover around 124 this season. He’s pegged to be the fourth best hitter in the lineup, behind Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, and Joey Gallo, and critical to the construction of this lineup, projected to strike out less than all three of those guys.
I can’t imagine that Brian Cashman is done. He just rebuilt the infield without trading a single prospect. Now’s the time to make one more move, maybe trade for Matt Olson with a fully stocked farm or really pursue Freddie Freeman. DJ LeMahieu becomes a true utility player again, and both he and IKF can cover the infield on rest days and when Donaldson, who did miss time last year with calf problems, needs a half day off.
The hot stove is hot, and so are the irons. Time to strike, Brian.