The Yankees Perform Infield Triage

There were a lot of reasons Gleyber Torres was fascinating as a prospect. Most of them were based on his offensive potential, but if we turn back the clock four years, there was also hope that Torres would be an adequate enough shortstop that he wouldn’t necessarily need to move down the defensive spectrum (at least not right away) thanks to a strong arm that could compensate for other shortcomings. Both Eric Longehagen and Dan Farnsworth expressed that hope here at FanGraphs, though Eric wasn’t quite as bullish. The Yankees are perhaps the foremost experts in winning lots of games with a defensively unimpressive shortstop who more than makes up for it with fantastic offensive contributions; the height of that ideal, of course, is recently-inducted Hall of Famer Derek Jeter.

Torres had mostly played second base in his rookie campaign, with mixed results, but when incumbent shortstop Didi Gregorius underwent Tommy John surgery, the Yankees had an opportunity to give him an extended look at the position. That seemed to pay off. At -5 runs per 150 by UZR and -6/150 by DRS and OAA, Torres wasn’t a great shortstop by any stretch, but he wasn’t in “let’s see how Todd Hundley does in the outfield” territory, either. Plus, hitting .278/.337/.535 with 38 homers at age 22 has a nice way of neutralizing concerns about mediocre defense.

The wheels came off that particular apple cart last season. He played poor defense, and while he still got on base, his power completely disappeared. All told, Torres hit just three homers in the abbreviated 2020 campaign, and his isolated power dropped in half, from .256 to .125. Last season was a weird year for obvious reasons, but Torres hasn’t bounced back at all in a more normal one, hitting .249/.320/.349 through Monday’s games. At this level of offense, it gets much harder to carry a defensively unimpressive shortstop. In 151 combined games in 2020 and ’21, basically a full season, Torres’ numbers at short have been -6 runs by UZR, -7 by OAA, and an extremely troubling -21 in DRS.

What’s more, with September still not half over, Torres has already committed four errors, most recently a costly one that extended the second inning in Sunday’s game against the Mets, giving Francisco Lindor the chance to hit a three-run homer in a game the Mets won by one run:

Given how precarious the team’s playoffs hopes currently are, it’s easy to understand why the team was no longer content to wait Torres out. And out he is, with the Yankees instead set to turn to Gio Urshela. For a team that really ought to be risk-averse given their playoff position, the willingness to play a third baseman pushing 30 at short says a lot about how the club views Torres. ZiPS sees Urshela as a -5 defensive shortstop, but at least his sins are more likely to be the result of range than misplays. (While third base feels like a more natural long-term home for Torres given his arm, he also hasn’t played there since 2017.)

If Urshela also struggles at short, I think the Yankees are more likely to undo this move rather than bench Torres for Tyler Wade. But any such return to the position may be very short-lived. The disappearance of Gleyber’s power has changed the calculus of the defensive situation, and fixing that issue has to be the priority at this point. In this version of the standard “guns vs. butter” dilemma, the Yankees are probably going to be watching their cholesterol.

Naturally, the ZiPS projections loved Torres after 2019. Who wouldn’t love a 22-year-old shortstop who had just threatened the 40-homer mark? The projections had Torres peaking as a low-40s homer hitter in the mid-2020s with the eighth-most rest-of-career WAR remaining of any position player. After 2020, ZiPS projected him with a peak projection of 34 homers, still All-Star territory, but dropping from eighth in rest-of-career WAR to 21st. With 2021 nearly finished, those projections have continued their all-out retreat:

ZiPS Projection – Gleyber Torres
Year BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SB OPS+ DR WAR
2022 .267 .342 .448 491 67 131 23 0 22 81 56 10 111 -9 2.3
2023 .264 .343 .458 478 67 126 24 0 23 83 57 9 114 -9 2.3
2024 .261 .341 .455 475 67 124 23 0 23 82 57 9 112 -9 2.2
2025 .260 .342 .464 466 67 121 23 0 24 82 58 9 115 -9 2.3
2026 .259 .341 .459 455 64 118 22 0 23 79 56 8 113 -10 2.0

Being the Yankees comes with the expectation that the team won’t undergo long periods of rebuilding, so we may see them go hard after either Carlos Correa, Trevor Story, or Corey Seager this offseason. The resurgent Marcus Semien is also a free agent, giving New York four options that now look to be obviously superior to Torres:

ZiPS Projection – Corey Seager (NYY)
Year BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SB OPS+ DR WAR
2022 .281 .354 .503 437 74 123 27 2 22 88 46 3 128 1 3.8
2023 .281 .354 .507 416 71 117 27 2 21 85 45 3 129 0 3.5
2024 .279 .352 .514 405 69 113 25 2 22 84 44 3 130 -1 3.4
2025 .278 .351 .510 392 66 109 24 2 21 82 42 2 128 -2 3.1
2026 .276 .348 .496 377 62 104 22 2 19 77 40 2 124 -3 2.7

ZiPS Projection – Carlos Correa (NYY)
Year BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SB OPS+ DR WAR
2022 .284 .368 .519 489 82 139 26 1 29 109 64 1 136 2 5.0
2023 .283 .369 .528 470 80 133 26 1 29 108 63 1 138 1 4.8
2024 .281 .367 .529 459 78 129 25 1 29 106 61 1 138 1 4.6
2025 .282 .366 .537 447 76 126 25 1 29 105 58 1 139 0 4.5
2026 .281 .364 .515 431 71 121 23 0 26 97 55 1 133 -1 3.9

ZiPS Projection – Trevor Story (NYY)
Year BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SB OPS+ DR WAR
2022 .251 .323 .478 554 85 139 28 4 30 85 55 29 112 5 4.2
2023 .254 .326 .487 520 80 132 29 4 28 80 52 22 115 4 4.1
2024 .250 .323 .481 503 76 126 27 4 27 77 50 21 113 3 3.7
2025 .248 .322 .466 483 71 120 25 4 24 71 48 18 109 2 3.1
2026 .245 .315 .453 461 66 113 22 4 22 65 44 15 104 1 2.6

ZiPS Projection – Marcus Semien (NYY)
Year BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SB OPS+ DR WAR
2022 .266 .338 .490 598 103 159 29 3 33 105 66 13 120 2 4.7
2023 .263 .336 .484 562 95 148 28 3 30 96 62 11 118 1 4.1
2024 .258 .329 .468 538 87 139 26 3 27 88 57 10 112 0 3.4
2025 .253 .322 .445 510 79 129 23 3 23 79 52 9 104 -2 2.5
2026 .249 .315 .428 481 71 120 20 3 20 69 46 8 98 -3 1.8

Despite the relative misery of the last two seasons, it’s still too soon to write off Torres completely. I think it’s dangerous to close the book on a player at age 24, especially one who has already been a significant contributor in the majors and who both scouts and stats loved as a prospect. But it’s time for the Yankees to at least set their sights for him lower, focusing on helping Torres return to being an offensive force rather than ironing out his defensive issues at shortstop. Moving him off the position is, hopefully, just the first chapter of a great comeback story.





Dan Szymborski is a senior writer for FanGraphs and the developer of the ZiPS projection system. He was a writer for ESPN.com from 2010-2018, a regular guest on a number of radio shows and podcasts, and a voting BBWAA member. He also maintains a terrible Twitter account at @DSzymborski.

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viceroy
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viceroy

Yankees in on story too?

Joser
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Joser

If they really wanted him they already could have gone and got him, either in the offseason or at the trade deadline. That they didn’t suggests they’d rather have one of the bigger names, so he’s a fallback option at best. (Of course it’s also possible the Rockies wanted too much in trade, and/or the Yankees didn’t think their shortstop and line-up situation was going to be so dire by this point of 2021). But the Yankees like to shop at the top of the market when they go shopping, especially for the marquee positions.

sadtrombone
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sadtrombone

I suppose anything is possible, but this is not my read of the situation at all. Trevor Story is having an awful year and, as far as I can tell, the Rockies were asking for prospects like he was still performing at the top of his game. Meanwhile, the Yankees had a massive hole in the outfield and and Gallo was playing exceptionally well. So I wouldn’t read into that too much.