Spring Training Invites: Shortstop
As Pitchers and Catchers will report next week, let's spend this week looking at some final Spring Training invitee options:
Shortstop Needs for 2023:
The middle infield has very strong depth for the New York Yankees in 2023, though lots of that depth is either unproven or lacking star power. It is not without importance that the Yankees have sat out the last two offseasons when plenty of very valuable shortstops have been on the market (see: Turner, Correa (x2), Seager, Semien, Story) in order to keep a pipeline for their young talent available.
At the moment, the position is open. Three shortstops will be attending Spring Training and each has an ability to claim the position for the Opening Day roster. Those players are: Isiah Kiner-Falefa (the starting shortstop in 2022), Oswald Peraza (a top defender who had good small sample size in the MLB), and Anthony Volpe (the Yankees best prospect).
Outside of these three, the Yankees also have some other options to man shortstop for 2023. Gleyber Torres can, and has, been used there in a pinch since assuming full-time second base duties. Oswaldo Cabrera could also fill in as part of his assumed "super utility" role in 2023. In the minor leagues, the Yankees also have former big-leaguer Wilmer Difo and another prospect (at Double-A) in Trey Sweeney.
While the position is "open", it's only open for an already closed group of competitors. However, there is nothing set in stone about shortstop. Maybe a dark horse candidate is still out there on the free agent market:
2022 MLB Team: Oakland Athletics & Chicago White Sox
2022 MLB Stats: 149 Games, .249/.303/.404 (103 OPS+), 133 Hits, 17 HR, 58 RBI's, +3.0 bWAR
Experience: 14 MLB Seasons (2009-2022)
After spending 12 years in the Texas Rangers organization from 2009 through 2020, Elvis Andrus was sent in a 5-player deal to the Oakland Athletics ahead of last season. He was okay over his 106 games, which led to him being released. The Chicago White Sox took a shot on him on a veteran minimum deal, and he had a great 43 games to more than double his value from the season. There are a few questions to consider here: how much of that late season resurgence was small sample size? And, is Andrus now an above-average hitter?
Chances are that Andrus had better offensive numbers with the White Sox because he was featured in a better line-up. This tends to be the trend for a lot of hitters. Take a great hitter and they'll be worked around in a poor line-up, but they'll have to be handled in a great line-up. Andrus was getting the short end of the stick in Oakland and got his just deserts in Chicago. That being said, his last positive offensive year was when he was 28 back in 2017. He's now entering his age-34 season. I have some faith that on the right team, Andrus will still be a worthwhile player to have. He has played in 145+ games in each of 2019, 2021, and 2022. He's dependable. He's also going be a positive overall offensive player and a slightly positive defensive player for 2023. That much his track record has earned him. He's also likely gunning for another full-time role, if there is one to be found around the league.
Should the Yankees target him? Sometimes the best thing to do for a young team is to bring in a veteran guy to compete against the so-called "next best things". This wouldn't be a shot at any of the three players who hope to take the shortstop position for the Yankees, but instead it is a way to showcase that talent alone will not make them great. They have to be willing to give it everything, every day, or else. Elvis Andrus- off a +3 WAR season(!)- being available this late into February is a telling sign. There is always somebody else willing to fight for your position. I don't know Andrus, or his work ethic, or how he is as a clubhouse guy, but if he's willing to be that veteran, sign him yesterday.
2022 MLB Team: Colorado Rockies
2022 MLB Stats: 6118 Games, .292/.328/.380 (90 OPS+), 128 Hits, 3 HR, 47 RBI's, +1.2 bWAR
Experience: 11 MLB Seasons (2011-13; 2015-22)
A journeyman over the past many years, Jose Iglesias is still a positive player but he's been unable to find himself a home. Since his final year with the Detroit Tigers in 2018, he has played with the Cincinnati Reds (2019), Baltimore Orioles (2020), Los Angeles Angels (2021), Boston Red Sox (2021), and Colorado Rockies (2022). That's 6 teams over the past 5 seasons. Now, Iglesias is fortunate in that he's just acquired over 10 years of service time. He isn't in a group of players desperate for one last shot just to get the extra benefits that come with that achievement. Instead- if he still wants to play- he is playing for the love of the game.
We also know what Iglesias is. He is a right-handed batter who will be okay but below-average offensively, provide a stable and solid glove at shortstop, and somebody who can play 120+ games. He's also not necessarily "old" as he just turned 33 years old in early January. Truthfully, I can't imagine if he wants to play that a team doesn't bring him in within the next week for Spring Training.
Should the Yankees target him? Remember what I said about Elvis Andrus? If he isn't that guy, call up Jose Iglesias. See if he's that guy.
2022 MLB Team: Philadelphia Phillies
2022 MLB Stats: 63 Games, .210/.263/.304 (60 OPS+), 45 Hits, 1 HR, 19 RBI's, -0.4 bWAR
Experience: 11 MLB Seasons (2012-2022)
Didi Gregorius will never get enough credit for the role that he served for the Yankees from 2015 to 2019 (though half that final year was taken due to injury). The Yankees had just seen their 20 year veteran at shortstop, a member of the 3000 hit club (all with the Yankees), a 5-time World Champion (all with the Yankees)- an all-time great- retire without an heir apparent. Obviously, I'm not faulting Derek Jeter for that (it's not his job to find his replacement), and Didi Gregorius- who had just 191 MLB games in his career to that point- was asked to take on, and produce, where a legend had just been. Now, Didi Gregorius was not a superstar, nor an All-Star. However, he was a consistent player and over that 4-year window he did produce 14.7 bWAR. That's remarkable. He was also a fan favorite, who displayed the right attitude and always had a smile on his face.
Now, let's step forward a few years and get to reality. Didi Gregorius is coming off of 2 straight negative WAR years. In his 3 year in Philadelphia, he accumulated exactly 0.0 bWAR. He was released in early August of last season, could've been had on a veteran minimum salary, and nobody wanted him. He's also acquired 9.107 years of service time, and by my math needs 55 games to reach 10 years. If I was that close, I'd be doing everything I could to make it back on an opening day roster and into a line-up. The problem is that he has no power, his bat has fallen off a cliff, and his defensive is sub-par. He's also way behind our two other players in terms of projected ability for 2023.
Should the Yankees target him? I will never say no to a minor league deal with a spring training invitation. There is nothing to lose there. And, maybe, Didi Gregorius could see the writing on the wall and understand that he has to be willing to take anything if he wants to make it to that 10-years mark However, I just don't think that exercise would end well. He was great and he was beloved in his few years in pinstripes. Though there's nothing to lose with most, I'd hate to see Didi's legacy tarnished by a poor spring training and a career fading away into Triple-A appearances. It's just part of the business, unfortunately.
If I had my way, the Yankees would go into the 2023 season with Anthony Volpe as their starting shortstop- provided that he has a good spring training. If not, Oswald Peraza. I don't want to see Isiah Kiner-Falefa in a starting role unless it's as the third base replacement for an injured or traded Josh Donaldson. IKF's best role for the Yankees is to slot in as a utility player from here on out and to be their 3rd string catcher.
The way it is currently, the Yankees don't need to bring in a veteran shortstop to compete for the opening day spot. I also don't believe Andrus or Iglesias would be willing to accept anything short of an MLB roster spot at this point in their careers. Maybe Didi would. Maybe, but even that's a move I would be uncomfortable making.
The depth is set. The depth is solid. The depth may be fantastic, or it may be smoke in the air if Volpe and Peraza aren't true MLB talent. At this time, we can only hope to wait and see what happens. (And hope for the best that it's good!)