Let’s Have a Youth Movement
About the Off-Season: Let’s Have a Youth Movement.
By Tim Kabel
March 4, 2023
We are about one week into spring training and the regular season begins in less than four weeks. I know it's early but we have already seen many of the young players. So far. Oswaldo Cabrera, Oswald Peraza, Anthony Volpe, and Jasson Dominguez have all appeared in multiple games. That is the good news.
The better news is that they all look as if they belong in the lineup and on the field. None of them, including the 20-year-old Dominguez, appear to be overmatched. I'm sure they will all hit rough patches. Everyone does. However, it seems as if the Yankees’ faith in their minor league system may be well placed. Gleyber Torres will be leaving soon to play in the World Baseball Classic. That will create even more opportunities for Cabrera, Peraza, and Volpe.
The question becomes what happens later in spring training. If the Yankees determine that Cabrera, Peraza, and Volpe are all Major League ready, what do they do? Do they rid themselves of Donaldson and Hicks? Do they make Isiah Kiner-Falefa a bench player? Or do they make the kids wait? They could send Peraza and/or Volpe back to Scranton Wilkes-Barre at the beginning of the season.
They could go with a lineup that included Donaldson, Hicks, and IKF. That would be a mistake
If the young players show that they are ready to play regularly in the Major Leagues, they should be given the opportunity to do so. There is nothing to be gained by delaying that process. One of the main reasons the Yankees did not sign any of the big-name, free agent shortstops was because they felt they had young players coming along who could effectively man the position.
IKF was never supposed to be more than a stopgap or a placeholder. Mission accomplished. That's what he was; he should not be the starting shortstop this season. Both Peraza and Volpe are superior to him in every possible way. It would not be an insult to IKF to use him as a utility player. He proved last year that he is not the solution as the regular shortstop. In the playoffs, he lost his starting role. Putting him back in that role would be taking a massive step backwards.
So, either Peraza or Volpe should be the starting shortstop. I would give the edge to Peraza because he seems to be the better fielder at that position. Also, in a limited appearance last season, he demonstrated that he could handle himself well. I also think that starting Peraza at shortstop gives you more options. It would allow Volpe to play either second base or third base. I don't believe if Peraza stays on the team as the starting shortstop that means that Volpe must go to the minors. He could shift to second base.
Having Peraza and Volpe both ready to play regularly on the Major League level makes Gleyber Torres expendable. Torres could definitely bring a solid return in a trade. He could bring back a leftfielder or a fifth starter. On the other hand, Hicks and Donaldson will not bring a tremendous return in a trade. That doesn't mean they should not be traded. They need to be off the team. However that is executed is not important. The Yankees need to be realistic. Trading Hicks and Donaldson is not about whom you get back in return. It's about getting rid of them. It is about clearing space for younger, better players. If the Yankees have to eat large portions of the contracts of Hicks and or Donaldson, so be it. If they have to include a promising prospect in the trade just to get rid of them, so be it. This is a case of addition by subtraction. Removing Donaldson and Hicks from the team makes it better.
Think about it, if you trade Hicks and Donaldson, you will make room on the team, if not on the field for Volpe. Someone other than Donaldson would be the starting third baseman. If that person is DJ LeMahieu, you are one step closer to having Volpe as the starting second baseman, alongside Peraza. Trading Hicks and Donaldson would also free up some money that could be spent on another player. It is uncertain how much they would save in salary because they might have to pay another team to take Donaldson and Hicks. It would be money well spent. If nothing else, it would give the team greater flexibility. Simply put, Donaldson and Hicks need to be elsewhere when the season begins on March 30th.
Assuming the Yankees do trade or somehow jettison Donaldson and Hicks, what else do they need to do? If they make DJ LeMahieu the starting third baseman, they could shift IKF to the bench and make Peraza the starting shortstop. That would still leave the question of what to do with Volpe. It's pretty simple. If the Yankees feel Volpe is ready to play on the Major League level, they should commit to him. Torres is not a bad player. Unfortunately, he is streaky from year to year and even within a season. However, he is young and could bring back some solid players. The Yankees have to decide who they want to be the starting second baseman. Torres or Volpe.
If the Yankees decide they still see a tremendous amount of value in Torres, they could shift Volpe to third base and use LeMahieu in the revolving substitute role they originally signed him for. My first choice would be to put Volpe at second base, but this option would also work. Either way, you would have both Peraza and Volpe in the starting lineup daily. That would be a good thing.
Trading Hicks would potentially hand the leftfield job to Oswaldo Cabrera. I have been advocating for Cabrera to play in the starting lineup almost since the day he arrived. Leftfield could certainly be the place for him to play day in and day out. However, he has been playing frequently at third base in the spring. If the Yankees traded Torres for a bonafide left fielder, that individual could be in the outfield while Volpe plays second and Cabrera plays third. This would again put LeMahieu in the rotating infield spot. LeMahieu has been prone to injury and has broken down in the past few seasons. Using him in a semi-regular role might help him make it through the full season and be productive.
I have put forth several options which may have only served to cause confusion. Let me clarify.
I think the most important thing for the Yankees to do as they head into the beginning of the 2023 season, is to play their young players. We don't need to see if Donaldson, Hicks, and IKF to see if they are the answer. We know they are not the answer. It doesn't even matter what the question is; they are not the answer.
Although Torres is not in the same category as Donaldson, Hicks, and IKF, he is not necessarily the best option for this team but, he could certainly be a very solid option for another team. He is the most tradable commodity the Yankees have at this point.
So, in summary I am saying the Yankees need to clear out spots for the younger players. Donaldson and Hicks need to go. IKF needs to be out of the starting lineup and reduced to a backup role or, he needs to be traded off the team altogether. Gleyber Torres needs to be traded to make room for the younger players and to bring back talent that can contribute immediately to the Major League team.
This is how I envision the construction of the team. There are several positions that don't need to be discussed. The primary areas of concern are leftfield, shortstop, third base, and second base:
I believe Oswald Peraza should be the starting shortstop and Anthony Volpe should be the starting second baseman. Unless they trade for someone else to play left field, Oswaldo Cabrera should be the starting left fielder. In this scenario, DJ Lemahieu would be the starting third baseman. IKF would be the backup middle infielder and third baseman. If the Yankees do acquire someone else to play left field or determine that one of the non-roster invitees is a viable candidate for that role, Oswaldo Cabrera could shift to third base with LeMahieu becoming a roving replacement for first base, second base, and third base. He could also be the DH on days when Giancarlo Stanton is either off or playing the field.
However it ultimately shakes out, the Yankees need to play their young players consistently. The kids need to be in the starting lineup. That is why they are on the roster. It will make the team better overall. As an absolute wild card, I could propose that Jasson Dominguez be the starting left fielder with Cabrera at third base. I do not believe that that will happen because you would have to tie Brian Cashman and Aaron Boone down to force them to play Dominguez this season. I'm sure he would struggle but ultimately, I believe he would put up much better numbers than Hicks and he would only improve as he matured. Regardless, that will never happen. He will have to wait a year. That will just be an extension of the youth movement that needs to begin right now. Dominguez will be in the second wave, following Cabrera, Peraza, and Volpe.