The Yankees spent a season playing Gleyber Torres out of position at shortstop and now are playing others out of position to keep his bat in the lineup. That would make more sense if, you know, he had shown his bat was worth keeping in the lineup.
Maybe Torres will get hot. Aaron Boone suggested that is why he is playing a third baseman (Gio Urshela) at short and a second baseman (DJ LeMahieu) at third, so that Torres can man second. The Yankee manager theorized that removing the weight of playing short and the negativity that flowed from it when a mistake was made will unburden Torres mentally and, perhaps, liberate his bat from soft-contact purgatory.
“I think at our best, Gleyber Torres is going to play a big part in that,” Boone said. “I still feel his best baseball is ahead of him. I felt the timing was right.”
Of course, Boone has two public postures about struggling Yankees: 1) they are not struggling nearly as much as perceived and 2) they are just about to break out to brilliance. Boone is never going to be publicly critical of his players. He is always going to choose optimism, which is fine. But so often there’s a fine line between optimism and delusion.
Because to see a revival in Torres is to just shun an offensive slide that began in the shortened 2020 season and has worsened this year. The 5 ¹/₂ months of 2021 evidence shows a player who began Tuesday with an 86 OPS-plus and 442 plate appearances. Of the 143 players who had accumulated that many times at bat, only 15 had a worse OPS-plus. Many fell into the middle-of-the-diamond defensive stalwart on a non-contending team category (think Pittsburgh’s Kevin Newman, Texas’ Isiah Kiner-Falefa and Kansas City’s Michael A. Taylor).
Torres was no middle-of-the-diamond defensive stalwart. By the way, that was true when he played second in his career, too. Naturally, Boone said he expects Torres to play well on both sides of the ball. But, to date, Torres has exemplified the Yankees’ biggest 2021 problem.
For the strength of the team most of the year has been pitching. But the lack of offense has kept the Yankees from enjoying many laughers, forcing pitchers to compile one heavy stress inning after another. A poor defense has given opponents extra base runners and outs, adding to workloads just to get through innings. The combination has conspired to leave the Yankee strength more injured and exhausted in the final weeks of what now is a daily dogfight just to get into the wild-card game. The poster child for this offense/defense deficiency is Torres.
At this point, the Yanks might be incapable of defibrillating their offense. But their best defense is Urshela at third, LeMahieu at second and either Andrew Velazquez or Tyler Wade at short. It has mostly gone unnoticed, but since Aug. 1, among players with 100 plate appearances, Rougned Odor’s .507 OPS was the majors’ third worst. Odor brings spirit and some lefty power threat off the bench. But is he really a better use of a 28-man roster spot than the recently demoted Velazquez?
And baked into this for the Yankees is that this is not just an end of 2021 issue. What do they have in Torres moving forward? As recently as 2019, Torres was mentioned prominently in the dynamic 22-and-under group with players such as Ronald Acuna Jr., Bo Bichette, Rafael Devers, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Juan Soto and Fernando Tatis Jr. But as the others have all improved, Torres’ 2019 is feeling aberrational, fueled by hitting 13 homers with a 1.512 OPS in 18 games against the dreadful Orioles.
“We forget he is still a young player,” Boone said of Torres, who turns 25 in December. “He’s had massive success at the big league level. I still think there is a chance for him to be an impact player in this league for a long time.”
It is why it will be so difficult for the Yankees to move on. They don’t want to give up on him, sell low and see him re-emerge elsewhere. It is a real concern — Torres is obviously talented. But the Yanks felt similarly about Miguel Andujar, Greg Bird, Clint Frazier and Gary Sanchez. How has that worked out?
Plus, if the Yanks do keep Torres, are they instantly re-upping their defensive issues since LeMahieu would have to play out of position?
It took a long time for the Yankees to finally agree with the consensus — Torres is not a shortstop. Next up: how long do they stick with him as a Yankee?
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