Aaron Boone's Infield Challenge

In the last two weeks, the Yankees have added two infielders, Neil Walker and Brandon Drury. Drury was acquired for two second-tier prospects while Walker was a free agent who signed a one year four million dollar contract. Neither of these qualifies as major acquisitions, but they could have a significant impact on the team. Drury and Walker are both respectable big leaguers who can help a contending team. The Yankees could win the pennant with either of them in the starting lineup, but it is less clear they could win with both of them as regulars.

Essentially these two high floor modest ceiling ballplayers are either insurance policies or roadblocks depending on how the Yankees use them. Many Yankee fans have been waiting for top prospects Miguel Andujar and Gleyber Torres to become full-time starters and contributors to this Yankee team. Although it would be unusual for the Yankees to begin the season with two rookies in the starting lineup, as recently as a month ago, it seemed likely they would do that. The Yankees had been rumored to be pursuing many different infielders over the winter, but opened spring training without having made any significant infield acquisitions. That has changed in the last few weeks.

Now the Yankees find themselves in a position where they have two reliable but unspectacular veterans who could either bring steady play to one or two positions or could stop the next two Yankee stars from making an impact in 2018. The good news is that barring a rash of injuries the Yankees clearly have the personnel to move forward at both second and third base. However, simply penciling in Drury or Walker for 140 games at third or second base would be a mistake.

Andujar and Torres should be seen as the future solutions in the infield. The Yankees should be very open to that future beginning sometime in the next few months. If those two young players start the season strongly in AAA and demonstrate that they are ready for the big leagues, they should be given their chances. It is essential that the Yankees, although having improved their team by adding these two veterans, do not change their big picture plan as the 2018 season starts. This means the Yankees may have to bench Drury and Walker, even if they are playing relatively well, in favor of younger players with a higher upside. This is particularly true of Drury who is reliable, but has never been an impact player.

The players with the most to lose from the Drury and Walker signings should not be the two top  prospects, but Jace Peterson, Danny Espinosa and other veterans vying to make the roster as backup infielders. It is conceivable that one of them might make the team, particularly if Tyler Wade’s wrist stops him from playing. By the end of the year, barring injury or major trade, the six infielders the Yankees should carry are Torres, Andujar, Walker, Drury, Greg Bird and Didi Gregorius. Even if Torres and Andujar are not yet ready to play every day by then, they will be able to contribute to the team in meaningful ways. During the stretch run and postseason those are the six players who can help the Yankees most. In that framework, there is no need for a light hitting veteran backup infielder. 

The Yankees postseason has been a good one. They made one very big trade for Giancarlo Stanton, that with regards to the contract they added is almost like a free agent signing. They also resigned Masahiro Tanaka, a key starting pitcher who could have left via free agency. Other than that, Brian Cashman was cautious, refusing to part with any top prospects or sign any free agents to contracts that would pay them handsomely well past their prime. Because of that, the Yankees are a considerably better team than they were last October. They have added a potent slugger, upgraded their depth and have several prospects who are ready, or very close, to make their mark in the Bronx. Despite this, although their pitching situation seems very settled they are not a team with a set lineup or with clearly defined roles for all of their position players.

Cashman has done a good job this offseason, but his biggest move was his decision to replace  Joe Girardi with Aaron Boone. It is now Boone who must on a day to day basis get the most out of the team Cashman has assembled and to sort out the Andujar,-Drury-Torres-Walker infield. Given that if Boone has played Strat-0-Matic or APBA, that would be the highest level he has managed, we can only wait and see how Boone will do this.

Photo: cc/Keith Allison