Sometimes, the best way to win baseball’s offseason is to react rather than act.
That’s how I’d advise the Yankees to treat their shortstop search this winter.
Shoot, we can even reach into (somewhat) recent Yankees history for a road map: After the 2005 season, with Bernie Williams’ days as an everyday center fielder behind him, Brian Cashman anointed Bubba Crosby as No. 1 on his center-field depth chart, then patiently waited for free agent Johnny Damon’s price tag to drop to a more palatable level (four years and $52 million) and pounced on him. With Damon aboard for four years, albeit only the first two primarily in center field, the Yankees qualified for the postseason three times and won a championship.
Andrew Velazquez and Tyler Wade play the role of Crosby in this remake, and this time, unlike with Crosby, they represent viable options. Would it be so terrible to prioritize defense and athleticism over offense at this premium position, after watching Gleyber Torres struggle his way there this season and last?
And assuming Damon’s part is a bunch of guys who share a common quality with the self-proclaimed Idiot: They possess many fine attributes, yet they are not A-plus fits. Unlike Tuesday night’s starter, Gerrit Cole, and the retired CC Sabathia and Reggie Jackson, they should not compel the Yankees to act aggressively.
Corey Seager hasn’t posted an elite full season since 2017. Javier Baez displays more highs and lows than the Empire State Building’s elevators. Trevor Story has registered a subpar 2021 offensively. Marcus Semien will turn 32 in September 2022. Carlos Correa, you might have heard, involved himself in a sign-stealing scandal with the 2017 Astros that helped eliminate the Yankees from the playoffs. It’s hard to envision Yankees fans happily moving on from that to welcome Correa into the pinstripes.
Now, the above nitpicking should not be viewed as a proclamation that the Yankees should avoid this quartet at all costs. To the contrary, each has a price that would make him very attractive. That price does not emerge, however, from a proactive pursuit. It results from a free agent losing a game of musical chairs and settling on a deal relatively late in the Hot Stove League calendar. Think of Semien, who registered an underwhelming 2020 after finishing third in the 2019 American League Most Valuable Player vote, signing a one-year, $18 million deal with the Blue Jays — to play second base — on Jan. 30.
It would surprise if anyone from this shortstop quartet needed to settle on a one-year deal. Free agency features significant surprises each year, though, and serious unknowns loom in both the negotiations between the players and owners for a new collective bargaining agreement (the current one expires Dec. 1) and the state of the pandemic. Besides, if the Yankees can land one on, say, a three-year package (featuring an opt-out after one year, even) with a high annual average value, then that could make sense as well. Andrelton Simmons, who can still field the position (and whose offense dropped from bad to worse with the Twins this season), will be out there, too.
In addition to Velazquez and Wade, the Yankees employ minor league shortstops Oswaldo Peraza and Anthony Volpe, both of whom have enjoyed strong 2021 campaigns. While not all rival talent evaluators believe that Volpe can stick at shortstop in the big leagues, their progress provides further incentive for the Yankees to play the long game at short.
Last winter, the Yankees decided to stick with Torres despite a shaky 2020 at shortstop, and they ignored public calls to bring back Didi Gregorius, who has been terrible with the Phillies. Not much attention, either publicly by the media and fans or by the Yankees themselves, was paid to Semien following a poor 2020 with the A’s.
Can the Yankees stay ahead of the shortstop curve this time? Now that the status quo is off the table, their best opportunity will come by laying back, ready to pounce, rather than leading the charge.