The return of baseball has given us no shortage of topics to write about over the last few weeks. Unfortunately, this means a brief hiatus in everyone’s favorite content. Worry not dear friends, for it is again time to take the trade target series off the shelf. In today’s edition, we’ll be taking a look at Reds infielder Kyle Farmer.
2021 Statistics: 147 games, 529 PA, .263/.316/.416, 16 HR, 63 RBI, 4.2% BB%, 18.3% K%, 91 wRC+, five OAA, 1.6 fWAR
2022 Contract Status: Entering second of four years of arbitration eligibility (Super Two), avoided arbitration by agreeing to one-year, $3.155 million contract. Scheduled to reach free agency after 2024 season.
In sending Gary Sánchez and Gio Urshela to the Twins for Josh Donaldson, Isiah Kiner-Falefa, and Ben Rortvedt, the Yankees rid themselves of a starting catcher and backup shortstop. With an oblique injury threatening Rortvedt’s availability on Opening Day, the Yankees’ depth at catcher and shortstop is looking perilously thin.
Currently, Kyle Higashioka is the only healthy catcher on the 40-man roster while Gleyber Torres — declared unfit to play shortstop — is the lone backup at short. Sure, there are options between non-roster invitees and potential minor league call-ups to fill those backup roles, but forgive me for feeling less-than-excited about the prospect of Rob Brantly as the backup catcher or José Peraza, Marwin González, or Oswaldo Cabrera as the backup shortstop. That is where a guy like Farmer could really come in handy.
He was the Reds’ primary shortstop last season, and while it might be a stretch to call him a backup catcher, his 81.2 innings at the position in 2019 show he is capable in a pinch. A player with that type of dual versatility would let the Yankees kill two birds with one stone, allowing them the flexibility to allot one of the remaining bench positions perhaps to a more bat-first player.
Farmer certainly won’t wow you with with the lumber — he routinely sits in the bottom quartile of the league in exit velocity, hard hit rate, and barrel rate — but you don’t necessarily need your backup shortstop and catcher to mash. That being said, there are some signs of untapped potential in the bat.
He posted a career-best 16 home runs and 91 wRC+ in 2021. He owned the 21st-highest line drive rate (23.5 percent), 41st-highest sweet spot rate (36 percent), and a 16 degree launch angle last year, so he clearly has a feel for impacting the ball at an ideal trajectory. If he can add just a bit more oomph to his batted balls, I think the results may come.
On the defensive side, Farmer has proven himself as one of the surer-handed shortstops in the league. Over the last two seasons, he grades out as the seventh-best shortstop by UZR/150 (2.9 runs) and 12th-best by OAA (+6 outs). For comparison, that places him ahead of presumed starter Kiner-Falefa by either metric.
As far as his availability is concerned, the Reds appear to be vying with the Athletics for the title of most extensive fire sale of the offseason. They’ve already allowed Wade Miley to depart for the Cubs on waivers, traded Sonny Gray, Jesse Winker, Eugenio Suárez, Tucker Barnhart, and Amir Garrett, slashing tens of millions from their 2022 payroll.
That said, the Reds may not be committed to a full-scale teardown. They added the salaries of Mike Minor and Tommy Pham via trade and free agency respectively, while GM Nick Krall maintains that the team will not be moving star pitchers Luis Castillo and Tyler Mahle. Their projected Opening Day payroll stands just north of $123 million so this isn’t the same situation as we’re seeing with the Guardians, Pirates, or Orioles running barebones payrolls.
All of this is to say we cannot automatically assume the Reds will be looking to shed the contracts of anyone making seven figures. And even though Farmer is likely not considered a long-term option — with shortstops Elly De La Cruz and Matt McClain occupying two of the top four positions on the Reds prospect list — he will be needed to start while José Barrero recovers from hamate surgery.
Therefore, I imagine the Reds would have to be blown away by an offer as they certainly won’t be giving Farmer away for nothing. Still, it couldn’t hurt the Yankees to check in. With three years of team control, Farmer would provide stability to their bench. Alongside Kiner-Falefa, they could boast two players with major league experience at shortstop and catcher.