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SSTN Weekly Mailbag: Gleyber Torres, A Trade Target, And An Old Friend!

By Andy Singer



Welcome to the offseason! Pull up a comfortable chair, because I think this is going to be a long one. The offseason is usually full of intrigue to start, but by mid-late January I start counting down to Spring Training. Sadly, I have very little hope that Spring Training will start on time. I fully expect a protracted stand-off over the new CBA, though I’m hoping that both sides understand just how much money and goodwill is at stake should the season be significantly shortened due to a protracted labor dispute. Despite my general pessimism on this particular topic, I do have some things about which I’ll allow myself to be happy. The Braves beat the Astros in the World Series, so at least we got to watch the cheaters fail for a change. I also am looking forward to seeing how the Yankees, clearly a team that will re-tool in some way, shape, or form, re-shape the roster this offseason. While we may have some delays in player movement, I think eventually we’ll have an interesting offseason.

As always, thanks for the great questions and keep them coming to SSTNReadermail@gmail.com. In this week’s SSTN Mailbag, we’ll look at a different perspective on the Yankees’ attempt to play Gleyber Torres at SS in 2020 and 2021, evaluate a potential trade target, and discuss a potential reunion with an old friend! Let’s get at it:

Ed M. asks: Question: Various articles, including Chris O’Connor’s item of 10/21 on Yankee shortstop needs, have referred to the Gleyber Torres “experiment”. My understanding is Gleyber primarily played shortstop and was considered a shortstop in the minors until the Yankees moved him to second because they had Didi at short. So moving him back to short was not an “experiment”. What happened? Did the wheels just fall off, or did the Cubs and Yankees not recognize his deficiencies, or did the potential offense override the defense? A 70 Year Yankee fan

This is a really interesting take, and one that I think makes an important distinction. I agree that many of us have become far too cavalier about the term “experiment” to explain the Yankees’ decision to play Torres at SS in 2020 and particularly 2021. Ed is absolutely correct that Torres played SS almost primarily throughout his minor league career, moving to 2B only so that the Yankees could squeeze his bat into the everyday lineup in 2018. In fact, much of the discussion about Gleyber Torres’ defense at 2B following the 2018 season was his need for seasoning on that side of the 2B bag, which likely diluted his defensive performance at 2B in 2018.

A couple of other points in Torres’ favor: Torres was not necessarily a slam dunk to stay at SS forever, however most talent evaluators that put reports on public record expressed the belief that Torres could approach average defense at SS due to his arm and solid hands and reactions, even if his range was less than ideal for the position; and we also had a small sample size data set in 2019 (when Torres filled in for Didi at SS while Didi recovered from TJS) that said that Torres actually performed decently defensively (while there was some variance between publicly available metrics, the net was roughly average). In fact, I even wrote a couple of articles during 2018 and 2019 about projecting Torres long-term, both as a total package and considering his defense at SS:

https://startspreadingthenews.blog/start-spreading-the-news/2019/12/27/projecting-gleyber-torres-defensively-at-ss

https://startspreadingthenews.blog/start-spreading-the-news/2019/6/29/trading-torres-for-scherzer-a-thought-experiment

Prior to 2020, there was very good data and visual experience to project that Gleyber Torres would be playable at SS from a defensive perspective, and that his offense would be nearly elite for the position, which would add up to a near-superstar in total value.

Of course, 2020 happened prior to 2021, but there was good reason to be wary of putting any stock in Gleyber’s performance on both sides of the diamond that season. For one, numerous players around the league struggled to find a groove after a long delay to the season, either due to gaps in training while they were away from team facilities or due to the altered schedules in 2020 that took players out of their typical routines. Torres was clearly affected by one or both of these factors, and even Brian Cashman admitted that Torres was not in the type of shape that he needed to be in to play SS. Visually, Torres’ lower half has thickened considerably since he was a prospect (not surprising; this happens to most men in their 20s as they finish physically developing).

Because of all of the noise in data, it was reasonable to expect a bounce back in 2021. I was among the crowd that was willing to give Gleyber a chance to prove that he could play SS in 2021. There really was enough positive scouting and data to support giving Torres a try at the position, and it certainly was the path of least resistance last offseason in order to get everyone in the lineup everyday (a lineup that did, in fact, project to be among the best in baseball, even if the reality was far different).

Now, I do strongly believe that the Yankees waited too long to pull Torres off of SS in 2021, and I think it’s clear that the burden of playing SS affected Torres on both sides of the ball. Given what I saw from Torres at the plate from July forward (even prior to his move to 2B), I feel good about Torres bouncing back at 2B in 2022. However, I think it’s unfair to characterize playing Torres at SS as an experiment. There were good reasons to believe that Torres could do it, so on that front, I completely agree with Ed. The real issue was the fact that it took the Yankees too long to pivot once it became clear that Torres really couldn’t play SS everyday anymore.

Nolan says: Yankees should target Livan Soto.

Soto is an interesting prospect who reached AA in the Angels’ system this year. He’s a defense-first middle infield or CF prospect with a good approach at the plate (excellent strikeout and walk rates) who also makes a fair amount of contact. However, it’s almost entirely weak contact even in the minor leagues, which likely limits Soto to a utility or 4th outfielder role unless he adds muscle and a bit of loft to his swing. Neither of those will be easy tasks.

Beyond that, the Angels have a thin roster, need to spend their money on pitching, and need all of the internal help they can get to fill depth roles. Soto fits the bill of someone who wouldn’t fetch much in prospect capital, but also could be a nice defensive role player on a solid team.

It’s a nice idea, but the Yankees already have a better version of Soto on the MLB roster: Tyler Wade. Look up Wade’s numbers as a prospect: Soto would kill to be Tyler Wade today. I certainly wouldn’t be upset if the Yankees acquired someone like Soto, but I wouldn’t make Soto a priority.

Charles asks: I saw that the Mets released Dellin Betances the other day. I know he’s been banged up since he left the Yankees, but does it make any sense to give him a minor league contract and see what happens?

I saw this too. I’m whimsical because Betances was one of my absolute favorite relief pitchers to watch ever, and I loved that the hometown kid made it to the Majors. Betances has had a really rough go of it the last few years, and it’s all due to shoulder injuries, most recently surgery for a shoulder impingement that ended his 2021 season prematurely.

Betances’ shoulder injuries go back at least to 2018 (and likely longer), so that’s a scary track record for a pitcher in his mid-30s. If this year is any gauge, Betances’ fastball is down more than 6 MPH (!!!) since his final year with the Yankees and his spin rates, once elite, are likewise way down.

However, the talk around baseball is that Betances will be healthy enough to begin throwing in November, and rumor has it that he plans to showcase his current stuff and health in the Dominican Winter League. If he looks healthy with some of his velocity back, does a minor league deal make sense? Sure, but no more than that. I’d love for Betances to make it back to MLB as an effective reliever again, and I’d like even more for that to happen with the Yankees, but I think there needs to be a limit to how gung-ho the Yankees get to sign him.

Start Spreading the News is the place for some of the very best analysis and insight focusing primarily on the New York Yankees.

(Please note that we are not affiliated with the Yankees and that the news, perspectives, and ideas are entirely our own.)

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