About the Off-Season: Opportunity Knocks
By: Tim Kabel
February 21st, 2023
Tim Kabel continues his early Spring Training discussion about the many players who will be fighting for positions for Opening Day.
Spring training is underway for the New York Yankees. The first exhibition game will be on February 25th. That is Saturday. The first game of the regular season will be on Thursday, March 30th against the San Francisco Giants. There will be a month of games before the season begins. It will be here before we know it. There are questions that need to be answered. The composition of the team and individual roles in a few positions are not finalized. The questions that exist will need to be answered in spring training. The window of opportunity will not be open for long so, there are a few people who need to jump through it.
At this point, the two main areas of uncertainty on the 2023 Yankees are left field and shortstop. Gleyber Torres is the incumbent at second base and unless he is traded, he will most likely be the starter there with DJ LeMahieu roving to every infield position except shortstop. The question is, of all the candidates for starting jobs in left field and at shortstop, who has the most riding on spring training?
Let's start with left field. Aaron Hicks is under contract for three more seasons. His best days are clearly behind him, and he lost his starting job last season. The Yankees obviously would love to trade him and may still do so. The only problem is that he will not be easy to trade due to his diminished abilities and his contract. I do not imagine that he will set the world on fire in spring training and reclaim the starting leftfield job. He will either be a backup or be traded to another team. However, he will have a job of some sort on a Major League team, and he will have a salary.
Oswaldo Cabrera did nothing wrong in his brief major league tenure at the end of last season. In fact, he played regularly but in multiple positions. Many fans would like to see him continue in that role but, it would be nice to have him as a regular in one position and just leave him there. I feel confident that he will put up very respectable numbers offensively and will continue to improve defensively wherever he plays, which at this point would seem to be left field. Even if the team acquires someone else to play left field, unless Cabrera has an absolutely abysmal spring training, he will be on the team. He will most likely play a great deal as well.
Isaiah Kiner-Falefa has vowed to come in and win the starting shortstop job and to win over Yankees’ fans. Apparently, he expects to become a beloved figure and the uncontested star at shortstop. Dreams are nice but, eventually you wake up. Kiner-Falefa is under contract for this season and if he is not the starter, he will either be traded or assume the role of a backup. He can play shortstop, third base, and presumably, second base. That would make him a valuable member of the team. He has also caught on the Major League level so in a pinch, he could do that as well.
Anthony Volpe is the Yankees’ top prospect. He is considered by most people to be a sure thing. The only question is will he play at shortstop, second base, or perhaps another position. Hal Steinbrenner has stated that he expects Volpe and Oswald Peraza to be given chances to win starting jobs in the Yankees’ infield. My theory is that the Yankees will ultimately trade Gleyber Torres and Volpe will become the regular second baseman alongside Peraza. Until that happens, Volpe will be in the competition for the shortstop position along with Peraza and Kiner-Falefa. However, Volpe has only played 22 games at AAA and has never played a game on the Major League level. If the Yankees do not trade Torres and there is no opening at second base, Volpe would have to beat out both Kiner-Falefa and Peraza in order to become the starting shortstop. If Volpe has a solid spring, he might be sent to AAA to fine-tune his skills and possibly play at second base. It would be wonderful if he makes the team out of spring training, especially if he is the second baseman. However, there is no sense of urgency for him to do so. He will be here; it is a matter of when, not if.
Oswald Peraza is in a different situation. He came up at the end of last season and played well. He demonstrated that he is a superior defender to Kiner-Falefa and became an option in the playoffs when IKF lost his starting job. Peraza really has nothing left to prove in the minor leagues. He is ready to play on an everyday basis in the Major Leagues.
During the last two off-seasons, the Yankees refused to sign any of the star shortstops who were available in free agency. The primary reason for that decision was the Yankees’ belief that they had internal options who were maturing and would soon be available to play on the Major League team. If Peraza struggles in spring training to the point that the Yankees feel that IKF is the better option, that will be a bad thing, not only for Peraza but for the team as well. IKF was a stopgap. He was a placeholder until Peraza or Volpe was ready. Peraza proved at the end of last season that he was ready. Ideally, Aaron Boone should have played him every day down the stretch and into the playoffs. That didn't happen. That cannot be repeated in spring training. If it is, it will have a ripple effect that will be unfortunate for many people.
If IKF is the starting shortstop, Peraza would not be suited to a backup role. He needs to play every day. He would have to go back to AAA. The question would then be what happens with Volpe? If the season opens in Scranton Wilkes-Barre with Oswald Peraza at shortstop and Anthony Volpe at second base, that would be a major problem for the Yankees. It would indicate that the team felt that neither of their two hot prospects were able to supplant IKF or Torres. We have seen what IKF can do, and it is not overwhelming. For both the short-term and long-term success of the Yankees, Oswald Peraza needs to be the starting shortstop on March 30th. Ideally, his double play partner will be Anthony Volpe but that might not happen right away.
What will make this easy and what really needs to happen is for Oswald Peraza to excel in spring training. That will remove any doubt or possibility that Boone may give the position to IKF. I honestly believe that Boone would prefer to give it to IKF. That's what Boone does. He has somehow convinced himself that IKF is a star offensively and defensively. He isn't. If Peraza seizes the bull by the horns, things will then fall into place much more easily and in a much more advantageous way for him and for the team.
Opportunity is knocking for several players at the Yankees’ spring training complex this year. However, I believe it is knocking for Oswald Peraza more than for anyone else. He needs to throw the door open and drag opportunity in and not let it out. I believe he will do that.