I’ve written before about the high floor the 2018 Yankees will enjoy. Part of this comes from the fact that they have two dependable veteran bats in the lineup, Chase Headley and Starlin Castro. Despite the emotional reaction some have to those names, both players consistently bat around league average or slightly higher, posting two and a half win seasons while earning fair pay for their production. Sure, they’re not sexy pieces, but consistent production from your non-superstars is often the difference between a good team and a great one.
Meanwhile, one of the game’s best prospects is on the horizon, with Gleyber Torres seemingly destined to crack the MLB roster at some point in 2018. The 20-year-old posted an .863 OPS in limited action in Triple-A, an astounding performance for a player so young relative to his peers. Tommy John put an end to Torres’ season, but now that he’s back from rehab and apparently 100%, it won’t be long before he’s knocking on the door of the big leagues.
The one possible delay for Torres would be his defensive assignment. The natural shortstop probably isn’t going to take any time away from Didi Gregorius, and didn’t receive enough seasoning at Triple-A to determine whether he can be a full-time second or third baseman. The solution to this dilemma is, in my opinion, simple: be both.
Positional versatility has become terrifically valuable in recent years, as teams look to shorten their bench and cram their bullpen as full as possible. For a team like the Yankees and their pen, this is doubly true. The Cubs have famously rotated Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, and Ben Zobrist all around the field, and Cleveland’s Jose Ramirez became an MVP finalist while playing over 500 innings at second and 700 at third. This strategy allows a team to keep a plus bat in the lineup every day, while maintaining a high floor at other positions.
This high floor is important, especially for a rookie like Torres. Yes, he’s maybe the best prospect in the game. That’s no guarantee he’ll set the world on fire in his first season (see Andrew Benintendi), but his ceiling is higher than either Castro or Headley, and therefore you can hedge that high ceiling while maintaining a certain level of production. Penciling Torres in at either second or third while Castro or Headley plays the respective remaining position is the best way to balance that upside.
Such a lineup probably plays out in a platoon situation, where Headley and Torres starts against right-handed pitchers. Chase’s 111 wRC+ against righties and 84 wRC+ vs. southpaws justifies his riding the bench against left-handed pitching. Castro also has notable splits based on handedness, and would then start against lefties.
As the season progresses and we get a better idea of what Gleyber Torres can be as a major leaguer, the writing will be on the wall for either Headley or Castro. Just like how Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann were dealt to clear space for Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez, the days for these high-floor veterans on reasonable contracts appear to be numbered. Until Gleyber proves he can hold down an MLB spot full time, though, the Yankees might as well manufacture their own Jose Ramirez.