The 2022 New York Yankees have a six-game lead in the loss column on the best record in baseball after an historic start to the regular season. They also have weak spots/black holes/balls of confusion at shortstop, third base, left field, the fourth outfield role, and (occasionally) catcher.
How are they doing this? It’s anyone’s guess, but it’s pretty clear the story begins with the presence of Aaron Judge, whose otherworldly talent has saved the Yankees on numerous occasions. Add in a relief corps and rotation that ranks among baseball’s best in every metric, and you have a winning formula despite a lineup that half-bashes.
Which leads any reasonable (ok, fine, “greedy”) Yankee fan to this fork in the road: gosh, wouldn’t this whole thing be more comfortable with Carlos Correa in place of Josh Donaldson and Isiah Kiner-Falefa? Why did that swap have to happen in the first place?
The short answer? To get rid of Gary Sánchez and obtain a stopgap shortstop rather than a home run addition to the infield. The removal of Sánchez seems to have done wonders for the Yankees’ staff; Jose Trevino’s elite framing has stolen strikes around every corner. When only one domino falls and every pitcher gains effectiveness, it’s not difficult to pinpoint the major catalyst (yes, in addition to Matt Blake).
That said, what about the alternate universe where Sánchez doesn’t end up a pawn in some gambit meant specifically to add Kiner-Falefa by any means necessary, and is instead dropped off for a few lottery ticket prospects elsewhere?
The Yankees were so desperate to get that deal in motion that they agreed to absorb Donaldson’s age-36 and age-37 seasons, for which he’ll be paid $23 and $21 million against the payroll. If we’re talking “stopgap,” wouldn’t Correa’s eventual one-year deal have done a better job of clogging up that gap? Or, even if Correa didn’t follow in this hypothetical, has Donaldson’s arrival done much of anything to aid this team in reaching its current pedestal?
Yankees’ Josh Donaldson has been nearly as bad as Joey Gallo
In full fairness to Donaldson, these are his numbers coming off an injury and suspension. But in full fairness to critics of Donaldson, he’s typically coming off an injury, something the Yankees also had to be prepared for.
Despite an early power surge, Donaldson has now morphed into a version of himself that’s nearly as useless against right-handed pitching as he is against lefties; on the season, he’s sagged to a .188 mark against left-handers with a .417 slugging and a .236 average with a .370 slugging against righties.
Bizarrely, Donaldson also matches Gallo in another unwanted category: he’s worse at home (.176, one homer) than he is on the road (.276, five homers). It’s implausible if not impossible.
The less-expensive addition, Kiner-Falefa, has played roller coaster defense for the Bombers thus far, and could not be more powerless, posting 11 extra-base hits without a homer on the season. He’s a very solid utility man with BALLPLAYER instincts, but he probably isn’t quite a starter on a team aiming for a World Series (and succeeding so far during the regular-season part of the challenge).
Correa, meanwhile? His 2.1 WAR and 143 OPS+ are dwarfing the two former Twins who “took his place” in New York.
Even if you remove him from the equation entirely, though, you’re left with a Yankees team in need of deadline upgrades that used a significant amount of its financial wiggle room on an aging third baseman who’s lost his hit tool in June. That stings, no matter who would be playing in his theoretical place.