The Yankees’ shortstop conundrum isn’t fun to suss out.
Many of the quick-fix solutions include a significant sacrifice at another position, while standing pat involves Gleyber Torres, a clear second baseman being shoved into a shortstop hole, simply…being allowed to struggle under the spotlight.
The only rational way to have moved Torres this past offseason involved letting DJ LeMahieu walk and explore a new contract elsewhere, likely with one of the Yankees’ top rivals in Toronto.
Would that have been the right call? Far too soon to say. But any other method of replacing Torres at short involves a much more ludicrous chain reaction, either Gio Urshela or Luke Voit leaving town, and LeMahieu playing somewhat out of place, too.
Tensions are high, though, especially after Torres did what we always feared Torres would do in the season’s sixth game — manifested his fears about manning the position into a game-losing throwing error, preemptively preventing a Kyle Higashioka walk-off with an indefensible play.
In the most rudimentary calculation of WAR possible, Andrelton Simmons has already been worth one literal win over the man he could’ve replaced this offseason.
As the league’s foremost wizard with the glove also hits .400 in Minnesota, it’s fair for us to knee-jerk react and wonder what it would’ve been like if the Yankees had chosen him as a short-term patch instead.
Should the Yankees have signed Andrelton Simmons and moved Gleyber Torres?
This difficult question essentially boils down to: How much chaos do you want to invoke here?
Would Simmons be an upgrade over Torres? Defensively, by the largest number of leaps and bounds a person can conceive of. Offensively? It feels obnoxious to call a defensive specialist an upgrade offensively over a player who hit 38 home runs in 2019, so we won’t. But in fits and spurts, Simmons can rake, and will tenaciously put bat on ball more often than not.
The issue with Simmons’ profile is that his 2020 season gummed up projections in the exact opposite way Torres’ did. Last season, we watched an out-of-shape Torres regress with the bat and struggle to stay healthy. In the small sample size Simmons presented, his recently-declining line drive rate climbed once more, commensurate with what we’re seeing so far in 2021. What to believe there?
"Simmons’ success comes from limiting pop ups and hitting line drives. In Simmons’ best years at the plate he had roughly a 23% line drive rate and 8% pop up rate. In the past two seasons that pop up rate has risen to over 10%, while his line drive rate fell dramatically in 2019. The good news is the line drive rate climbed again in 2020, but it’s hard to make judgments on a sample size of 150 plate appearances. He did have a 99 wRC+ on the year, which is a good sign that he may bounce back at the plate again in 2021."
If Simmons is an average hitter and a pest, as well as a Hall-of-Fame-level defender, he’s an upgrade over Torres at the position, though the “best” version of this newfound Yankees corps includes Simmons at short and Torres raking at second, approaching his 30-homer form.
So…what’s to be done here?
A Simmons addition would almost undoubtedly have chased DJ LeMahieu out of town. When forced to confront a $90 million contract or jettisoning cheap standouts like Gio Urshela or Luke Voit, the Yankees will choose the expensive veteran exiting stage right 11 times out of 10.
Did the team consider letting LeMahieu loose at some point this offseason? Almost certainly during their staring contest, and most fans would’ve rioted.
After watching a week of Torres at short, though, it’s obvious we’re no closer to a tangible improvement there, and it’s quite possible the team has only kicked its confusing next step down the line to 2021. Adding Simmons would’ve been proactive and somewhat stunning, but re-signing LeMahieu certainly didn’t eliminate the need for action at the shortstop position like we’d hoped, and that’s the most unfortunate part of the whole thing.
Though next year’s shortstop market is crowded with big names and monster contracts, Simmons, too, will be back up for grabs. If his batted ball profile continues to reflect his 2020 self instead of 2018-19, the Yankees might want to hope he slides under the radar while Corey Seager and Carlos Correa soak up the cash.