Baseball teams generally wait until around Memorial Day before making their first big assessment of what they have. That allows organizations to avoid knee-jerk, overreactive moves from a small sample size.
Clubs usually wait until close to the July 31 non-waiver deadline before indulging in significant trades, since time allows a separation of pretenders and contenders while deadlines force posturing to abate.
But I think the Yankees should call the Rockies today and offer Gleyber Torres for Trevor Story, because Torres’ defensive deficiencies at shortstop are not from a small sample size.
Do I think the Yankees will do this? No. They have become more coldly logical over the years and will not trade a talented 24-year-old who cannot be a free agent until after the 2024 season for a player in his walk year. Not when they can wait until the offseason and just buy Story or, probably better, Corey Seager, who not only would solve their shortstop problem, but also would offer a needed high-end lefty bat.
That, though, would not impact the Yankees until the 2022 season. They are win-now and must ask if they can win a championship in 2021 with Torres at short. Story is a superb defender, a better baserunner than Torres and probably a better hitter, too. DJ LeMahieu and Nolan Arenado, in his early Cardinals days, have shown a good hitter is a good hitter, even outside of the high altitude of Coors Field.
Let’s see if I can make this case via two Theo Epstein moves in championship years.
In 2004, Epstein, then the Red Sox’s general manager, was worried about defense, overall athleticism and whether his close-but-no-title group was getting stale (three current Yankees worries, too). So he traded the face of the franchise, Nomar Garciaparra, as part of a four-team deal that brought the far better gloves of shortstop Orlando Cabrera and Doug Mientkiewicz to Boston. The same day, to address athleticism, the Red Sox made a smaller deal for Dave Roberts. On the day of the trade, Epstein said, “We were not going to win with this defense.”
That Boston team went on to end The Curse, winning its first title since 1918.
In 2016, then running the Cubs’ baseball department, Epstein traded four pieces, most notably Torres, to the Yankees for Aroldis Chapman, who — like Story now — was in his walk year. Epstein famously said of the perceived overpayment: “If not now, when?” The Cubs had not won the World Series since 1908. Epstein thought that wouldn’t change without solving the endgame. The Cubs did win it all that year.
Now, 2009 is not 1908 nor 1918, but in Yankees years, it is quite a while since a title. So if not now, when? Do the Yankees want to put another year on Gerrit Cole’s arm without the best chance to win? Let LeMahieu slip deeper into his mid-30s?
The Yankees’ defense is poor overall. Last week, Orlando Arcia and Rougned Odor were both traded on the same day. The Yankees obtained Odor — who, besides being lefty, exacerbates their problems by being too much all-or-nothing offensively and meh defensively. Arcia would have made more sense as a late-game defensive option to replace Torres, especially because Tyler Wade’s defensive game — like Torres’ — has regressed so far this year.
A Story trade would be the Yankees doing Chapman in reverse. When they got Torres, he was a touted prospect who, if manipulated, would have seven years of service time. Now, he has this year plus three more control years as an established player.
I ran this concept by four non-Yankees/Rockies executives. One loved it. The other three said control years are so valuable that the Yankees were giving up too much for a few months of Story.
So some thoughts. The Yankees want to stay under the luxury-tax threshold and taking on all of Story’s contract would push them over. So to gain access to the three additional years of control of Torres over Story after 2021, Colorado would have to pay the difference between what is left on Story’s $18.5 million pact this year and Torres’ $4 million.
Or the deal might have to be expanded. Could the Yankees add prospects (Deivi Garcia?) to Torres and acquire Rockies ace German Marquez (controlled through 2024) as well?
Or, like the Garciaparra trade, can extra teams be added to facilitate a deal? The Marlins, for example, need young bats to marry to their high-end young pitching. Could Torres go there for Pablo Lopez and prospects with the Yankees keeping Lopez for their rotation, but redirecting the prospects and a few of their youngsters to the Rockies for Story?
Initially, when trying to move Arenado, the Rockies wanted major league-ready pieces in return before taking Austin Gombers and prospects. So Colorado could go either way. But all four executives could not imagine the Rockies doing better than Torres, or the prospects Torres could bring, for Story in his walk year.
Story, especially after the bad ending with Arenado in Colorado, does not look as if he wants to stay long term with the Rockies. So they either must trade him or get just draft-pick compensation when Story leaves in free agency. Industry buzz is that the Rangers will push hard next offseason to sign Story, who is from just outside Dallas.
But the Yankees can see how the marriage goes and decide if they want to bid to keep him. They would have plenty of intel on Story from LeMahieu, who is Story’s pal and was his double-play partner in Colorado for three years. The Yankees were expecting their next big contract to go toward retaining Aaron Judge or Torres. But another injury early this season for Judge offers more evidence that he is probably too risky for a long-term deal — especially since he cannot be a free agent until after his age-30 season.
As for Torres, with LeMahieu signed for six years, his more capable position, second base, is blocked. LeMahieu could shift to first, but Brian Cashman has indicated the value in the deal for LeMahieu is having him at second — plus the team wants Luke Voit’s bat at first.
The Yankees can keep putting the round piece in the square hole by playing Torres at short. They can wait until the offseason and just buy a shortstop. But this organization should have a greater sense of urgency. Epstein had it in 2004 and 2016, and was rewarded both times.
If not now, when?