The Off-Season: Second Thoughts; A Short Story; And The Third Act.
by Tim Kabel
November 1, 2021
As I continue to look toward the 2022 season, I feel a bit like my culinary hero, the late, great Chef Paul Prudhomme, puttering around in my test kitchen, tinkering with recipes. Adding a pinch of cayenne pepper here, a little paprika there, a shortstop here and perhaps a third baseman over there. By the way, did you ever notice that skinny people often don’t have culinary heroes?
As I plunge forward in my roster building, I will move on from first base. However, that was the first piece of the puzzle, and this article will build off the last one. If you didn’t read my last article, shame on you. It might affect your grade on the next quiz. I started at first base because it is well, the first base. I will now work my way around the infield. In that first article, I ultimately proposed the Yankees best option would be to obtain Matt Olson from the Oakland A’s In a trade. This was originally proposed by Jim Bowden in the Athletic. I was using his trade package of Luke Voit, Gleyber Torres, and Domingo German as a realistic starting point. Again, I don’t know if that would work for Oakland. It’s possible the Yankees might have to sweeten the pot a little with a lower tier prospect or two. However, the prerequisite for today’s article is the presumption that the Yankees do acquire Matt Olson.
I am looking at the concept of building the 2022 Yankees’ team using a variety of methods. In other words, I think the best way to construct the team is to do it in a blended way. So, I won’t advocate rushing madly into the free agent market like a crazed Black Friday shopper fueled on coffee and beef jerky, wrestling all comers to get a flat screen TV or a Ninja Blender. There are many articles suggesting the Yankees are prepared to spend this offseason on free agents. That may certainly be true, and I hope it is but, they can’t spend on every position. The goal is for the team to get better, younger, and more athletic. This is what I mean by a blended method. They will need to use free agency, trades, and building from within by using the farm system. The whole point of having a farm system is to develop players who can eventually play for your team on the Major League level. The secondary purpose is to have players of sufficient value whom you can trade to another team for more established players. Using the blended method will allow the team to build a viable contender for 2022 as well as a team that can have sustained competitiveness over several years.
As an aside, who knows if we will be able to refer to it as the farm system for too much longer. PETA has reportedly demanded that MLB retire the term bullpen and replace it with “Arm Barn”. Apparently, the term Bullpen is speciesist and offensive to our bovine friends. I asked my bovine friends what they thought about it, and they said it was a bunch of bull. Those PETA folks can be very intense. For chuckles, I’m thinking about calling them and reporting that my friend Roger wears a seal fur robe, eating foie gras. while raising chinchillas in his basement.
Accepting my premise that the Yankees should and will trade Gleyber Torres as part of a package for Matt Olson or failing that, for someone else, I must assume that he won’t be an option to play second base for the Yankees next year. Therefore, I would turn second base over once again to DJ LeMahieu. He will be on the roster, as he signed a multi-year contract before the 2021 season. He was the 2020 batting champion. Rougned Odor will also be on the roster and proved last season that he can not only play second base but third base as well. That combination will resolve the issue of second base for the 2022 Yankees. I will address long-term plans for the position shortly.
Shortstop is clearly one of the Yankees’ most glaring needs. Gleyber Torres was not the answer and although the Yankees two top prospects, Oswald Peraza and Anthony Volpe are both shortstops, neither is believed to be ready for the Majors at this time. Peraza is considered to be the better fielder of the two and more than held his own as a hitter this year. He has only played a handful of games at Triple A and would most likely benefit from more seasoning. However, you can never tell what will happen in Spring Training. Remember 2005, when the Yankees signed Tony Womack to play second base until Robinson Cano exploded onto the scene? Volpe is a higher rated prospect than Peraza but, is not as good defensively. Many scouts feel that second base may ultimately be his best position.
Regardless, the Yankees need a shortstop, and the free agent market is full of shortstops. I’m not going to list each and every free agent option on the market and analyze them with a magnifying glass and a slide rule. The two players who have been most closely linked to the Yankees are Carlos Correa and Corey Seager. There is some thought that Carlos Correa may not be warmly received in the Yankees’ clubhouse due to his involvement in the Houston Astros’ cheating scandal. That may be true, and I doubt Aaron Judge would welcome him with a bowl of freshly baked peach cobbler but, the larger issue is that he is yet another right-handed batter. One of the goals is and should be to make the team more varied and less one-dimensional. Lineup flexibility and balance is something that should be pursued. It has also been widely speculated that the Yankees would acquire someone who would be capable of playing shortstop now but would ultimately move to another position, most likely third base. Either Seager or Correa would fit on that count but, I would give the advantage to Seager because he’s a left-handed hitter. He also would not carry any baggage or foster any ill will with his teammates. So, phase two of the construction of the 2022 roster would be to sign a shortstop, preferably Corey Seager. Now, if the reports and rumors are all wrong and he would prefer to play for Baltimore or Milwaukee, the Yankees could easily pivot to Correa or one of the other free agents.
Turning to third base, Gio Urshela is on the roster and despite something of an off year in 2021, he has proven to be more than adequate at the position, particularly defensively. He also demonstrated in 2021 that he can play very well at shortstop. That creates greater roster flexibility. For now, Urshela should be the third baseman.
To summarize and recap my suggestions for rebuilding the infield for 2022 and beyond, I would look to a combination of free agents, players currently on the roster, promoted minor leaguers, and players acquired via trade.
My ideal infield for 2022 would be Matt Olson at first, D.J. LeMahieu at second, Corey Seager at shortstop, and Gio Urshela at third. Moving forward, I could envision in the next one or two seasons, an infield of Olson at first, Volpe at second, Peraza at short, and Seager at third. LeMahieu could adopt the role that he was originally signed to fill and rove through the infield filling in at first, second, and third bases. He could also occasionally be the DH. Now, it is possible that neither Volpe nor Peraza pan out on the Major League level. It is equally possible that they flourish. This is all speculation and hypotheses but, these plans are based on the notion that the Yankees have to build creatively and with a focus on not only the immediate but also the long-term. If the goal is to get younger, more athletic and more flexible, these proposals would fill that bill. You would have two infielders who were left-handed and two who were right-handed. The roster would also have a blend of current team members, a free agent and a player acquired in a trade. Long-term, the infield would be composed of one free agent, one player acquired in trade and two players promoted from the minors. It is conceivable that by some point in 2023, the Yankees could have an infield with two left-handed batters and two right-handed batters and that all of them would be under 30-years-old.
In my next article I will discuss options for the outfield and catcher and propose a lineup.