Which Free Agent Shortstop Would Fit Best With The Yankees?
By Chris O’Connor
October 21, 2021
Heading into 2022, it is clear to all that the Yankees need a shortstop. Though seemingly only the Yankees were surprised, the Gleyber Torres experiment simply did not work. Not only did he struggle defensively, but his offensive impact was no longer sufficient to justify below-average defense at such an important position. Fortunately for the Yankees, this free agent class is loaded with star shortstops.
Here is my ranking of the shortstops as it pertains to fit with the Yankees:
1) Marcus Semien
Over the last three seasons, from 2019-2021, who leads all offensive players with 15.4 fWAR? That would be Marcus Semien, with the next closest player (Juan Soto) at 14.0. Expand that to 2018, and Semien ranks fourth over that span.
Since 2018, Semien has missed a total of 10 games. Since 2015, the year that he became a full-time regular, the only season that he has played less than 155 games was 2017. He plays a good shortstop, with the 18 defense runs saved between 2018-2019, and an excellent second base, ranking in the 89th percentile in Outs Above Average there with the Blue Jays in 2021. He had a down year in 2020, which forced him to settle for a one year deal after the season. But look a little deeper: after really struggling for the first two weeks of the unprecedented season, he had a 115 WRC+ over his last 40 games of the regular season. He then slashed .407/484/.667 in the playoffs.
The only reason he is not as heralded as the other guys is that, at the age of 31, he is two or three years older than the rest. I look at that as a benefit: he will not require the sort of long-term deal that the younger shortstops will seek. Plus, if Antony Volpe is ready in 2023, Semien could either stay at shortstop or move to second base. Ultimately, he is incredibly fast (87th percentile in sprint speed in 2021), durable, and a versatile up-the-middle defender. Oh, and he hit 45 home runs last season. This is the guy that the Yankees need.
2) Carlos Correa
Correa and Corey Seager (next on my list) are incredibly close. Both will be entering their age-28 season in 2022, both are former top prospects who won Rookie of the Year and have been as advertised at the big-league level, both have extensive playoff experience in large markets, both strike out at a rate far fewer than league average, and both have durability concerns. In my mind, they are essentially interchangeable, but I give the slight edge to Correa.
Defensive metrics love Correa at shortstop: since 2018, he has never ranked below the 94th percentile in Outs Above Average and he ranks second in Defensive Runs Saved among all shortstops since 2018. His career WRC+ is an excellent 128, but that actually goes up to 138 in the postseason.
Yankees fans know better than anyone the impact that Correa can have in the playoffs. He has missed time with various ailments over the years, but missed just two games in the shortened 2020 and played in 148 games this past year. I am not a doctor, so it is difficult for me to evaluate durability. I have to assume that Correa and Seager’s durability concerns are relatively similar, but I think that Correa is a slightly better player. I am not worried about his impact in the clubhouse, either. If he produces like the superstar he is, I think guys on the team can find a way to get along with him.
3) Corey Seager
Seager had Tommy John surgery on his throwing arm in 2018, but stayed healthy for 134 games in 2019, played in 52 of 60 games in 2020, and the only injury he suffered in 2021 was a fractured wrist after a HBP; that is as fluky as it gets.
He has never not hit: he has a career batting average of .297 and WRC+ of 132. He is a proven playoff performer, winning MVP in both the 2020 NLCS and World Series. His lefty bat would fit in well with the lineup as well.
Defensive metrics are not as bullish on Seager as they are on Correa, but he is at the very least a capable defender at shortstop.
Between Seager and Correa, I do not think the Yankees could go wrong. Both are immensely talented players, but I think that Correa gets the edge because he not only has the personality to handle New York, but has that certain flair for coming through in big moments.
4) Trevor Story
Story might be the most difficult to rank. One one hand, he is two years younger than Semien and does not have the durability concerns that have plagued Seager and Correa. On the other hand, the three above him are just better players.
Story has a career WRC+ of 112. His Outs Above Average has fluctuated from two years above the 90th percentile and two years below the 10th percentile, while his DRS ranks third among all shortstops since 2018.
For a Colorado Rockies player, home/road splits are always relevant. Story has a career WRC+ of 125 at home versus 98 on the road. Playing home games at Coors can make it more difficult for hitters to adjust to regular altitude, so many former Rockies sustain their overall hitting stats or improve when moving to a more regular ballpark (think D.J. Lemahieu). Still, as unfair as it is, the risk involved with a Rockies player is something to account for.
I would still be happy if the Yankees got Story, but would feel somewhat disappointed that they were unable to reel in the bigger fish.
5) Javier Baez
Baez has always been my least favorite in this class, and that was before he was traded to the Mets and the thumbs-down fiasco ensued.
I just do not see how a team can commit over $100 million to a guy with the swing-and-miss and poor on-base skills that Baez has. He swung at 46.6% of pitches outside the zone in 2021, which was third-highest in all of baseball (and more than 4% higher than the fourth-highest swinger). Just 33% of pitches he saw were in the strike zone, which was the fewest in the majors, as pitchers have been learning to simply not throw strikes to him. He has also never had an OBP higher than .326. With hitters like Baez, you always wonder when the bottom might fall out.
Baez is undoubtedly an exciting player, but committing long-term to a guy who strikes out a third of the time with such poor plate discipline is something that I would not feel comfortable with.