Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, Marcus Semien, Trevor Story, Javier Báez: all those shortstops were available via free agency during the 2021-22 offseason. The Yankees opted to commit their future at the position to two of their top prospects rather than to bring in external help.
One would think they would have focused on other positions instead if they weren’t going to bring in a star shortstop, but the only major free-agent move they made was re-signing first baseman Anthony Rizzo. The Yanks did not to bring in any reinforcements to the pitching staff even though there are several injury and workload question marks.
But back to the shortstops. The organization had made up its mind about playing Gleyber Torres at second base rather than shortstop a long time ago, and they admitted they needed to fill the latter position during the offseason. They did so with a rather uninspiring alternative, flipping catcher Gary Sánchez and third baseman Gio Urshela to the Minnesota Twins in exchange for utilityman Isiah Kiner-Falefa (as well as third baseman Josh Donaldson and catcher Ben Rortvedt).
Kiner-Falefa is, at this point, the Yankees’ shortstop for the 2022 season. He has a solid glove, but has never exceeded a .700 OPS in any of his four seasons with the Texas Rangers, and he had a .670 mark last year in 677 plate appearances. Of course, IKF is seen as a “stopgap” shortstop, a sort of bridge guy until Oswald Peraza or Anthony Volpe, the team’s top two prospects, are ready for prime time.
The Yankees could, and should have, brought in one of the top five free agent shortstops, and then when Volpe or Peraza are ready, dealt with the potential “problem” of having too many good middle infielders in the future. Now, they are putting all the pressure on the kids, possibly putting them in a position to fail.
Volpe and Peraza are prospects, and prospects don’t always succeed on their first go-round. Sometimes, they need to fail, adjust, and try again. It happens, as we’ve even seen with the Yankees’ current homegrown superstar Aaron Judge. Now that the Yankees decided not to bring in a difference-maker when five of them were available just for money, they put the two youngsters in a difficult spot with one of the most demanding fan bases in the sport.
For now, Volpe and Peraza (and to a lesser extent, Oswaldo Cabrera) need to be themselves and develop at their own pace. If they are called up sometime in the next two seasons, and are not ready, the Yankees will need to find solutions for a problem they created. It will not be the kids’ fault if they are not stars immediately upon arriving to the majors, or if they don’t develop into useful, starting-caliber major leaguers.
This is not meant as a knock on the current starter IKF. He is what he is, and from all accounts is a very likeable guy. As a utilityman, he should be just fine for a contending team. He can field, he can run, and he can cover several positions. As the New York Yankees’ starting shortstop, though? It seems like a bit of a stretch. What if both Volpe and Peraza struggle in 2023? None of the five free agents shortstops of 2021-22 will be available in 2022-23, except for possibly Correa, if he opts out of $35.1 million.
The Yankees are seemingly content with putting all their eggs in Volpe and Peraza’s baskets. The former looks like a potential star, and the latter like a serviceable regular, but prospects don’t always pan out. It’s unfair to put this kind of pressure on them before they’ve sniffed the bigs, or even Double-A, in Volpe’s case. Prospects should be allowed to progress on their own timeline, but the Yankees’ major league timeline demands that they be ready, and productive, very soon.