How The Yankees Can Fix Their Problems (Pt. 4, Shortstop)
How The Yankees Can Fix Their Problems (Pt. 4, Shortstop)
By Cary Greene
March 23, 2022
This series of articles are meant to be part of an outside the box piece intended to present some solutions to Yankee problems that might not cost the Yankees much money at all, yet wind up providing some phenomenal solutions for Aaron Boone and company. I call it How the Yankees Can Fix Their Problems!
BACKGROUND (and an update):
My first call out was to go to a six-man rotation, using Jonathan Loaisiga as an uber opener, trading Jameson Taillon for a high leverage reliever, and then trading for the A’s Sean Manaea. These moves make the Yankee rotation more left handed and more playoff worthy and this will also fortify the Yankee bullpen.
However, at the time of this writing, the White Sox, Royals and Twins were pushing hard to trade for either Frankie Montas or Sean Manaea. Obviously this would blow up my plan. I also would have liked to have seen Carlos Rhodon in the Yankee rotation but he is off the table now, having signed with the Giants. Most of the higher end free agent bullpen arms have also now found homes, so if Cashman wants to improve the pitching he’s now going to have to probably look to do that through trades.
Fuster, who comments here at SSTN often and who is a highly knowledgeable fan, suggested that instead of trading for Manaea only, that the trade should be expanded to include Manaea and A.J. Puk, which I think is a brilliant solution on two fronts. Manaea is a powerful lefty and he eats innings and Puk is a high-upside lefty reliever with a blazing fastball, who is only 27 and would come with 5 years of team control. However, the idea doesn’t come free of substantial risk. A deal such as this would have high upside but also the potential to become unraveled due to the injury record of Puk.
The biggest drawback to Puk is that he’s had some major health related issues, which have caused him to miss 118 games since 2020. He had rotator cuff and labrum debridement surgery in 2020. Debridement is used to clean up an area from fragments of tissue that are either loose or fraying, which usually causes the affected pitcher to have limited range of motion in the joint. The concern with Puk is that all this occurred after his recovery from Tommy John Surgery that he went through in 2018.
Trading for Puk would be a big gamble for sure, but it’s one the Yankees can and probably should consider doing. If the goal is to win a World Series, the Yankees will need to take a few calculated risks.
The trade itself would look something like this:
Yankees Get: LHSP Sean Manaea, 1-year of Team Control +10.2 Million and LHRP A.J. Puk, 2-years of Options remaining with 5-years Team Control
A’s Get: RHSP Clarke Schmidt, Triple-A with 2 years of Options remaining with 5 years of Team Control, SS Alexander Vargas Rookie Level Prospect (eligible for Rule 5 Draft after the season) and RHSP Hayden Wesneski (eligible for Rule 5 Draft after the season)
Executing these moves gives the Yankees a vastly improved starting rotation and it would be a rotation that could wreak havoc in the playoffs. I’ve described these moves as “Reverse Engineering” a Championship. A starting rotation with a strong 1-2-3 would be very hard for playoff opponents to contend with. Cole-Severino-Loaisiga would form as formidable a trio as exists in all of baseball. That is the desired “End.” The “Means” used to get there would involve eating innings and being a very left-handed rotation otherwise. That’s where Manaea, Montgomery, and Cortes Jr all factor in, fortified by Mike King.
My next order of business was to offer an internal solution that would fix center field for this season and cement the outfield without spending a nickel. In this plan, Joey Gallo becomes the de facto center fielder, while Aaron Judge moves from right field to left field and Giancarlo Stanton could be used much more in right field. This unit would be buttressed by Aaron Hicks, who would be the teams 4th outfielder and see time at all three outfield positions. Playing Stanton more in the field opens at bats for DJ LeMahieu and or Gleyber Torres, rather than giving them to Hicks. This move also gives Hicks a greater chance of avoiding injury, as it probably isn’t prudent to think of him as an every day player, since he’s been often injured and in fact has only had over 400 at-bats once in his career, back in 2018.
Today I’ll explore how to fix the team’s biggest need, what to do about the shortstop situation. While I’d have been in favor of the Yankees signing Trevor Story, he wound up slipping away to the Red Sox, for a deal that was spot-on to what had been projected all along – six years in duration and $160 million. I’m afraid he was just too expensive for Hal Steinbrenner to approve. Cashman’s big trade last week has brought the slick fielding, light hitting Isiah Kiner-Falefa to the Bronx as a stopgap solution for the time being. Falefa succeeds Gio Urshela, who was moved as a part of the deal.
The Yankees now look like they will turn to their farm system to provide the shortstop of the future and his name is Oswald Peraza! He’s had a grand-total of 38 At-Bats in Triple-A so he needs time to conquer minor league baseball’s highest level and the Yankees will see if he can do just that. Peraza is already a plus fielder at the position and he has a much more potent bat than Kiner-Falefa has, so the Yankees would be wise to test him out, when he’s ready, so that he might become the team’s starting shortstop going forward.
Peraza is cat-quick in the field and on the bases. He hit 18 home runs across three levels last season, while stealing 38 bases and posting a .356 OBP and a .824 OPS. If he can build on this over a full season at Triple-A, a case can be made that he’s the right man for this job. I’m banking on Peraza’s pedigree. He’s not just “any” prospect. He’s a blue-chipper and most scouts agree.
I think Peraza and Falefa are a perfectly acceptable solution to what is a substantial Yankee quandary. With Peraza’s ability to get on base, his speed may greatly enhance the Yankee running game also and this would be most welcomed by Yankee fans. Meanwhile, we fairly well know that Falefa is a solid defensive player and he hits just barely enough to get by.
The Yankees could also promote Oswaldo Cabrera at some point fairly early in the season and this would help provide even more infield insurance. Cabrera has pop and a solid glove, he looks to be an ideal utility player who, unlike almost all utility players, can do a lot of damage with the bat. Yankee fans are probably going to love Cabrera. Plus, the Yankees would have an Oswald and an Oswaldo on the roster. How fun will that be for us writers? “Oswald to Oswaldo for another Double-Play!” (I just wanted to write that to see how it felt!)
Oswaldo also barely touched Triple-A last year, registering only 30 At-Bats, but make no mistake, he can hit and he will very likely demonstrate that in the Bronx. Across two levels last year, Cabrera stole 21 bases and posted an .863 OPS with 29 porch jobs. The Yankees would happily take this type of production any day of the week from a utility infielder and yes, he’d more than likely produce at a much lower clip versus major league pitching if he were immediately pressed into service, but the fact remains that Cabrera brings speed and good defense to the table as well. There’s a lot to like.
Besides, the Yankees no longer have Tyler Wade or Thiaro Estrada to fall back on. They were both pretty much given away for nothing previously. Last April Estrada was Designated for Assignment (DFA’d) in order to make room for…wait for it….Rougned Odor! Wow! Estrada went on to hit .273 for the Giants last year, with 7HR and an .813 OPS. Odor by the way put up a .665 OPS last year, which provides me with yet another reason to suggest these things the Yankees can do to get the choo-choo train back on the tracks!
Fans are also aware that Anthony Volpe is the top Yankee prospect with the hopes that he’s also an elite shortstop. However, his defense rates a tick below Peraza, who is a bit more athletic at the position. This doesn’t mean that Volpe won’t have a path to the Bronx at his earliest convenience. He could wind up getting a cup of coffee late this year. There is a chance he could also play some shortstop and the Yankees have begun playing him at second base in Spring Training games so it does look like the Yankees want both Peraza and Volpe as a potential future Double-Play combination.
I think this is a superb overall plan and I’m very interested to see a homegrown infield take shape. I’ve been critical of Brian Cashman at times in the past, but this is a refreshing change of pace because he’s focusing on not blocking his best prospects. All of his recent moves lately seem to be designed to give the Yankees a solution for today while also accommodating the plan for tomorrow. I haven’t seen Cashman this focused on roster design strategy in a long time. Certainly what he is doing now is a far cry from pulling reactionary deadline deals due to poor planning, injuries and the like.
With the vision at shortstop now very clear and quite intriguing, I’ll turn my focus next in this series to “Balancing the Lineup.” That article comes soon.