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Is it time to trade Gleyber Torres?

It might be time to realize the Yankee staple’s last remaining trade value — yet it might also be a mistake.

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at New York Yankees John Jones-USA TODAY Sports

The highs and lows of the Gleyber Torres experience in New York have been spectacular enough to make me a little surprised he’s still got another year under contract. It feels like fans have been riding tis roller coaster forever, to varying degrees of payoff, dating all the way back to his days as a teenager in the Chicago system, when the pros and cons of dealing him for help to put the 2015-16 Cubs over the top was the raging topic in the Windy City. Now, like when Torres first made his way to New York in 2016 after that question was decidedly answered in Chicago, the Yankees find themselves in a weird spot: last place, and closer to selling off and re-tooling than loading up for a championship run of their own.

Torres has been a trade candidate for seemingly years now, and after reports of the scuttled deal at last year’s deadline that would have sent him to Miami for Pablo López, it’s frankly a little surprising that he wasn’t dealt last winter. Now, with his final year before free agency approaching and the Yankees a lot farther away from a pennant than they were at the last deadline, they face a potentially difficult decision between realizing the last of his likely trade value, or locking him in as a more or less sunk (albeit affordable and steadily-performing) cost through the end of next year.

Lining up a Torres deal — and assessing his value — can be difficult. In terms of WAR and most reasonable counting and rate stats, he’s settled in as a solid but unspectacular first-division regular over the last two seasons, not quite reaching 2018 and 2019’s potentially juiced-ball aided peaks but still floating well-above the replacement-level lows he followed it up with in 2020 and 2021. That’s a very valuable player.

But player value is different than trade value. In his last year of arbitration eligibility and due a raise on a salary just a hair under $10 million, Torres is going to be making something not too far off what a second baseman of his caliber can be had for on the open market. Unfortunately, by modern front office economics, paying close to the market rate for a player on a one-year deal is an inefficient strategy. There’s nothing wrong with it — I very much prefer it when players do actually get paid according to the market, like they’re supposed to — and teams have no problem doing it, especially during competitive phases.

They’re just not going to give up much of value for the privilege of doing it.

That being the case, if the Yankees want to trade Torres, they can still do so at any time between now and the 2024 deadline. But if they want to do so and get anything beyond salary relief, it should probably be now, when any team that acquires him will be doing so with the urgency of presumably needing him for a 2023 playoff push as well as the 2024 season. 2.5-3 WAR two-baggers don’t grow on trees, but unless they’re drastically underpaid or have more than one full year left under contract (or both), the only way a team is going to shed a prospect or player actually worth losing that 2.5-WAR production for (at least, for a team that certainly has designed on competing in 2024) is if they’re paying a premium to fill a hole in-season when they think they have a chance to win.

There are a few teams that fit that bill this year. In the AL West, both Texas teams have star-studded middle infields that are chronically unable to stay healthy, and neither have been shy in the past about adding talent despite a lack of an obvious lineup spot for it. The Minnesota Twins have spent the last three months blindly stumbling around with a division lead despite having gotten replacement-level production at the keystone this year, and they’ve moved very aggressively to improve in recent years and won’t shy away from taking Torres’ salary off the Steinbrenners’ books.

In the National League, the Miguels Rojas and Vargas haven’t filled the Gavin Lux-sized hole in the Dodgers’ infield as well as any had hoped, and they’re one of the few organizations with the farm system depth and financial heft that could allow them to make it worth the Yankees’ while without putting any substantial scratches in their future plans. The Braves might be running away with the East, but the Phillies and Marlins are both in the thick of wild card chases with significant holes in their infields — and executives who might be motivated to go for it.

All that being said, the “making it worth the Yankees’ while” part shouldn’t be undersold. For much of the past year, it’s been pretty common to wishcast Torres away for the purpose of speeding up Anthony Volpe or Oswald Peraza’s arrival in the show, but as Volpe’s up-and-down season has demonstrated, putting too much in the kids’ hands isn’t always conducive to competing for a championship in any given moment, and if Peraza struggles in the audition he’ll be getting in Josh Donaldson’s stead for the rest of this year, the matter of losing Torres’s probable 2-3 WAR in 2014 is something that becomes a lot more painful than most of us would have imagined up until now.

On the other hand, given how many other holes on the roster will need filling come this offseason, the Yankees may feel that getting back under the highest luxury tax threshold — as Ken Rosenthal reported as a consideration this week — might wind up being worth sacrificing what will still probably wind up being pretty replaceable 2024 production. If you’re not nervous about missing a 4 or 5-WAR season as a plausible 75th-percentile outcome, as we thought might have been the case at various points in Torres’ Yankees career, then you can probably live without it in the service of being able to take even bigger swings elsewhere and knowing that Volpe, Peraza, and Oswaldo Cabrera probably won’t get you killed if you have to rely on them to handle the middle infield by their lonesome.

The story of Gleyber Torres in pinstripes has seemingly found a bit of a happy medium after the incredible highs and dismal lows of his first four years in the league. That newfound stability might be something to cherish in a chaotic season, and something to rely upon as they look for a bounce back in the coming year. It might also make it an appropriate time to say goodbye. The Yankees may simply need to take a risk to try and get the most out of a lost season, and take their last chance to cash in a known quantity for something that could help take them to the next level — or make them even worse.