Should Yankees pursue an elite shortstop next offseason?

Gleyber Torres #25 of the New York Yankees runs the bases during the spring training game against the Washington Nationals at Steinbrenner Field on February 26, 2020 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)
Gleyber Torres #25 of the New York Yankees runs the bases during the spring training game against the Washington Nationals at Steinbrenner Field on February 26, 2020 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images) /

Although the 2021 offseason is ways away, considerable attention has focused on the extraordinary talent at shortstop due to hit the free-agent market after 2021.

The San Diego Padres recently fired the first salvo and quickly moved to secure 22-year-old Fernando Tatis Jr. on a 14-year, $340 million contract, the third-largest deal in baseball history.

This agreement will undoubtedly influence the parameters for negotiations between other clubs and a set of terrific shortstops currently in their contract years.

Next year’s free-agent shortstop contingent, one long-anticipated by baseball club executives, will include Chicago Cubs’ Javier Baez, Houston Astros’ Carlos Correa, New York Mets’ Francisco Lindor, Los Angeles Dodgers’ Corey Seager, and Colorado Rockies’ Trevor Story.

Much has been written about the superstar play of these individuals in the batter’s box and on defense. Most readers have already been exposed to in-depth discussions and analyses of each of them.

Just looking overall at each player’s WAR between 2017 and 2019 (excluding the peculiar 2020 season), one finds the following impressive numbers: Lindor, 18.5; Baez, 14.4; Story, 14.3; Correa, 12.8; and Seager, 8.9. These players’ ages vary marginally, and all of them will be under 30 at the beginning of the 2022 season. This explains why baseball executives are salivating, and who can blame them?

That brings us to the Yankees’ question about Gleyber Torres.

Given the treasure trove of shortstops about to hit the market, what should the Yankees do? On the one hand, the club already has Gleyber Torres at shortstop, and he has shown incredible potential at the plate. Thus far in eight spring training games, he’s batting .389 with two homers.

Plus, he just turned 24 in December. He avoided arbitration and was signed for $4 million for the 2021 season. Torres will be eligible for arbitration again next year, and he won’t be eligible for free agency until 2025.

However, Torres has struggled defensively at short. He committed five errors in 2018 while playing only 21 games at the position, 11 errors in 2019 (in 77 games), and a disappointing nine errors in the 60-game 2020 season, in addition to shaky moments that very well could’ve resulted in errors.

Torres will definitely be under a microscope during the 2021 campaign. There will be significant pressure on him to perform up to his potential at the plate and show that he has made considerable strides with his glove. Otherwise, if he doesn’t improve, there’s nowhere else to put him in the strong Yankee infield.

Gleyber has worked hard during the offseason, adopting a new conditioning regimen and improving his nutrition. He’s quickly exercised urgency to shake off his poor 2020 campaign and has already shown improvement with his offense and defense this spring. He’s still relatively young, and the Yanks should be patient with his continued development.

However, if Torres plays poorly at shortstop in 2021, the Bombers will face a hard decision about what to do with him. Should the club go out and drop big money on a new elite shortstop to replace him during the offseason?

Of course, if the Bombers did this, the club could then trade Gleyber and get value elsewhere — most likely the starting rotation. But nobody knows how much that will further ding the Yanks’ budget.

Pursuing someone like Story (my first choice) will not be easy, and the Yanks will have a lot of competition. Many clubs would love to add him to their roster, and he definitely wants to escape Colorado due to the team’s continued failure to improve. A big question will be how much it would cost the Yanks and whether they could afford another contract in excess of $200 million.

While they could make some salary reductions to help ease their finances, they will probably need to go over the luxury tax limit to land Story (or one of the other star shortstops on the free agency market). This problem could be rectified, however, in future years through savvy budget moves.

Perhaps the market will be oversaturated with excellent shortstops, all simultaneously seeking long-term, $300 million deals, thereby reducing their bargaining power. This could provide the Yanks an opportunity to snag someone from the stellar group of infielders at an affordable price. Whether this will happen, of course, is uncertain.

From my standpoint, the best outcome is that Torres plays phenomenally – or at least solidly – and has a strong 2021 year in the batter’s box and on the field. But that’s a big “if.”

I think there’s better than a 50-50 chance that he will come through and save the Yanks a lot of anxiety and money. He’s an amazingly intense competitor who desperately wants to improve his performance. He’s mature, has a lot of pride in his craft and how well he plays, and is highly motivated to succeed.

If he fails to come through, however, the Yanks will be in a real bind.