Now that Thanksgiving is done and dusted, with the Winter Meetings fast approaching, baseball’s hot stove is going to move from a simmer to a boil.
If the Yankees want to join the trade party and deal from their major league roster, the entire league will be looking at one particular player. Gleyber Torres is coming off a very solid season that saw him get his drooping slugging percentage back above .450, launch 24 home runs and post a 115 wRC+ while limiting his mistakes on defense.
The Yankees certainly don’t have to trade him, but if they want to make a win-now move to increase their World Series odds, there are arguments to be made on both sides of the Torres coin.
TORRES IS THEIR BEST MLB TRADE CHIP
Apart from the top of the farm system, which the Yankees have shown consistent reluctance to deal from, Torres is the most intriguing player when it comes to getting trade conversations going. There were rumblings that the Yankees explored flipping Torres to Miami for top-of-rotation pitcher Pablo Lopez, and there’s definitely a familiarity between the front offices thanks to Marlins’ general manager Kim Ng’s history as an assistant GM under Brian Cashman.
This could be a situation where the Yankees see how the free agent market shakes out and then evaluate potential trades afterward, which is exactly what they did last year when the Gary Sanchez-Josh Donaldson trade went down just days before their first spring training game. Last offseason was also complicated by the lockout. That’s not an issue this winter, meaning the Yankees can get started right away if they want to explore Torres trades, particularly for a corner outfielder.
DJ LEMAHIEU CAN PLAY SECOND
Ridding themselves of Torres wouldn’t create a hole in the infield. DJ LeMahieu is a three-time Gold Glove winner at second base who just added another one at the utility position. The only question about LeMahieu is health. But if he’s on the field, he’s more than capable of playing second base, and Oswaldo Cabrera can spell him, making trading Torres a little easier for the Yankees to rationalize.
TORRES’ WALKS ARE GOING DOWN AND STRIKEOUTS ARE GOING UP
In 2020, Torres drew a walk in a career-high 13.8% of his plate appearances. Like many things from that oddball season, that turned out to be a mirage, as he followed that up with a 9.7% walk rate in 2021 and a career-low 6.8% in 2022.
His strikeout rate is trending in the opposite direction, going from 17.5% in 2020 to 20.2% and 22.6% in the next two seasons. When Torres was at his best in 2019, he walked 7.9% of the time and struck out in 21.4% of his plate appearances. The numbers from 2022 aren’t a huge departure from those, but they perhaps indicate a shift toward the all-or-nothing approach that the Yankees swear they’re trying to get away from.
2019 GLEYBER IS NEVER COMING BACK
Speaking of that 2019 campaign — the one where Torres mashed 38 home runs in his age-22 season — it will never happen again. Major League Baseball was both using a juiced ball that season, which led to by far the most home runs ever, and pitchers have figured Torres out since then.
MIDDLE INFIELD IS THE FARM SYSTEMS STRENGTH
At some point soon, the Yankees are going to have to embrace their youth movement and turn some of the premium positions over to the kids. Shortstop is obviously at the forefront of that, but whichever member of the Cabrera-Oswald Peraza-Anthony Volpe troika that doesn’t plant their flag at shortstop could move one position to the left.
TORRES IS ONLY 25
This doubles as the main reason why the Yankees should keep him and why they should at least check in with other teams about their level of desire.
A 25-year-old with Torres’ talent could still theoretically reach another level, and the Yankees have two more years to see what that looks like before he hits free agency. The chance of trading him and watching him become a perennial All-Star in a different uniform looms large, making the hypothetical return they’d get for him even more important.
COUNTING ON DONALDSON
If Torres does in fact leave, ceding the second base position, that could mean another full season of Josh Donaldson playing third. Keeping Torres would allow LeMahieu to take the lion’s share of reps at third base, a much more palatable option for a team that spent most of 2022 trying to justify Donaldson’s huge amount of playing time. There’s also a world where Torres is traded, one of the rookies is given the keys to second and LeMahieu takes the hot corner, turning Donaldson into a very expensive backup.
The hope here would be that whoever the Yankees get back for Torres creates more value than Donaldson takes away, or that the soon-to-be 37-year-old can turn things around.
EXIT VELOCITY KING
A major reason for Torres reclaiming his spot in the teeth of the Yankees’ lineup was that he started hitting the ball harder than he ever had before. The Venezuelan infielder enjoyed the highest average exit velocity, barrel percentage and hard-hit percentage of his career. He also used the opposite field more often than ever before, a welcome sight for a right-handed hitter in Yankee Stadium.
In other words, selling him right now could mean doing so just as he’s putting everything together.
The pros outweigh the cons in this overall conversation, but trades don’t happen in a vacuum, and there’s no guarantee that the pieces coming to the Bronx would pan out the way Cashman wants them to. It’s a complicated ordeal, and one that will surely be closely examined for the next few months, but it’s also the most logical path to immediate improvement without decimating the farm system.