The New York Yankees didn’t add the big free agent shortstop that everyone wanted. Instead, Cashman opted for a more pragmatic approach, if you will. The team retained its nucleus resigning Anthony Rizzo to a two-year deal and making a couple of trades with the Minnesota Twins and San Diego Padres.
Gone were Luke Voit, Gio Urshela, and Gary Sánchez from the major league lineup. In came Josh Donaldson and Isiah Kiner-Falefa via trade, and also the return of Aaron Hicks following a year out with injury. These moves were made with the mindset of a deeper lineup and better defense in key spots, most importantly catcher, but it shouldn’t go unnoticed that Boone stated he felt Donaldson gave the Yanks an upgrade on both sides of the ball.
While it is way too early to assess how all of this will turn out, right now is as good a time as any to talk a little about lineup construction and the ideal distribution of playing time moving forward. The Yankees are not much of a platoon team with established players capable of facing righties and lefties in most positions, but the offense currently has one more starting-caliber hitter than lineup spots.
Here’s the 10-hitter group:
C - Kyle Higashioka/José Trevino (it’s a given that only one of these two will start on any day)
IF - Anthony Rizzo, DJ LeMahieu, Gleyber Torres, Isiah Kiner-Falefa, Josh Donaldson
OF - Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Joey Gallo, Aaron Hicks
Whether you agreed with the Luke Voit trade or not, once Anthony Rizzo came back, there was hardly a way to project regular at-bats for the former Yankee, considering all the options for a designated hitter on any given night.
Rizzo, Donaldson, Stanton, Judge, and Gallo will all play every day for the most part. They are the five staples of this lineup and all provide good to excellent value defensively. The first three are likelier to spend some time at DH as well. Because Gleyber Torres is not going to play shortstop with regularity, that assures Isiah-Kiner Falefas’s role as the sole shortstop for the foreseeable future. This battle then becomes about three hitters for two spots — DJ LeMahieu, Gleyber Torres, and Aaron Hicks.
Although the situation in center field isn’t as drastic as in shortstop, the organization doesn’t seem that willing to play anyone other than Hicks in center consistently. Aaron Judge and Joey Gallo can fill in, but doubtful it’ll be in an everyday capacity. That gives Aaron Hicks the edge among the three, leaving us with just LeMahieu and Torres.
First I want to reiterate that it’s only natural that both hitters will get a significant number of at-bats, due to days off, natural rotating, and other factors. However, I would prioritize giving LeMahieu a string of games to see how much that sports hernia he played through affected his performance in 2021. We’re talking about a hitter with back-to-back top five MVP finishes in ‘19 and ‘20 who posted league-average members playing through a significant injury in 2021. Torres hasn’t been the same hitter since 2019 and I want to see him playing himself into the lineup more than anything else, especially when I’m looking at questionable defense.
Thus, my ideal lineup is as follows:
- 3B - Josh Donaldson
- RF - Aaron Judge
- 1B - Anthony Rizzo
- DH - Giancarlo Stanton
- 2B - DJ LeMahieu
- LF - Joey Gallo
- CF - Aaron Hicks
- SS - Isiah Kiner-Falefa
- C - Kyle Higashioka/José Trevino
The idea of Josh Donaldson leading off is one that I agree with basically out of default. Anthony Rizzo fits in well in the three-hole between Judge and Stanton, and although in an ideal world peak LeMahieu would be the leadoff man, it doesn’t make too much sense to put this much pressure on him at the beginning of the season.
It’s an old cliche, but it’s true enough that Josh Donaldson is a professional hitter, and probably a little underrated at this point in his career. He’ll see a lot of pitches and provide that solid blend of on-base skills and pop. Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton at the two and four-hole we’re used to. Although I don’t expect Rizzo to have an OPS above .900 against lefties again, his reverse splits in 2021 show that he can handle lefties with the best of them.
Donaldson and Rizzo are in the back half of their respective careers, and we know about the injury concerns with the Bronx Bombers. Even if Hicks and LeMahieu get off to strong starts, Gleyber will have no problem getting into the lineup — it’s about what he does with those at-bats. It’s hard to predict what we’ll get from DJ LeMahieu and Aaron Hicks, and although they may not be at the top of their game, it’s reasonable to expect above-average production from both of them, especially healthy.