The 2022 New York Yankees are plainly built differently than the team that went to battle in 2021. They’ve been given a mini roster overhaul and have endured a coaching staff shift (Hit Strikes Hard!), but just as importantly, they’ve had attitude adjustments delivered from all corners of the clubhouse.
Anthony Rizzo has been the calming, uniting presence, coaxing outs out of low throws with scoops, as well as instilling a sense of camaraderie. Jose Trevino has brought both fire and narrative sweetness behind the plate; he’s also an incredible framer.
Josh Donaldson? He was imported to annoy Yankees opponents mercilessly and mash the baseball. Since leaving the IL, though, he’s really only done one of those two things, often talking without backing it up; in his past 15 games, he’s hitting .228 with a .351 slugging percentage.
There’s still time for Donaldson’s bat to come back around, and this Yankee team can wait; they’re well over 30 games above .500. But when Seattle Mariners outfielder Jesse Winker defended his teammates’ honor in the biggest basebrawl of the season on Sunday, it was hard not to see how he might’ve been a better fit in the 2022 Yankees’ “agitator” role.
For one, Winker is beloved by his hometown fans, despite his 2022 scuffles. Donaldson, on the other hand, is only tolerated — unless he’s walking off a hero.
Secondly, Winker fills a vacancy that the Yankees still haven’t figured out as the deadline approaches. Donaldson swapped spots with the beloved Gio Urshela, and if the Yanks could undo one portion of their winter, it might be that one.
Ditching Gary Sánchez was clearly beyond necessary, but adding Donaldson, his money, and Isiah Kiner-Falefa might not have been.
Yankees could’ve chosen Jesse Winker as agitator over Josh Donaldson
At the trade deadline, the Yankees will likely swing for either Andrew Benintendi or Ian Happ to replace Joey Gallo (effectively or literally). While Winker has mostly toiled in obscurity in Seattle, his “down” year has featured a .227 average, six bombs, and a .352 OBP, good for a 105 OPS+.
Donaldson, meanwhile, has been the exact same level of offensive threat; the two men have the same OPS+ and number of homers, while Donaldson is out-hitting Winker by a single point and possesses a lower OBP of .326.
Factor in Donaldson’s defense at the hot corner and, well … he ends up out-WARing Winker 1.8 to 0.2. That’s obviously significant. But Winker’s ahead of Gallo (0.2 to 0.1), and perhaps Gio Urshela’s 0.8 WAR would be propped up by Yankee Stadium’s short right-field wall and his familiarity and comfort with the team.
Picture this: will Donaldson ever be lovably aggravating enough to get a pizza sent from Anaheim to the visitors’ clubhouse by a Mariners fan looking to give him a symbolic culinary pep talk?
It’s difficult to argue for any sort of chemistry shakeup with the 2022 Yankees at the moment, but the team already plans on adding a left-handed outfield bat in a few weeks anyway.
If they’d acquired Winker for a song this offseason, he could’ve filled two roles at once. Add in his ongoing feud with Mets fans, and it’s quite possible we would’ve seen the 2021 All-Star version of Winker rather than the scuffling, lovable outcast we’ve gotten in 2022.