NEW YORK — Maybe it was not a full year and the 2020 season was played under the most unusual of circumstances, but it was enough to give the Yankees concern heading into the 2021 season about their “shortstop of the future.” Gleyber Torres did have 60 games to show what he could do — or not do — at shortstop.
Clearly the Yankees have to do something to improve their defense at shortstop for the future, but they have to decide if they are going to make a stopgap improvement by adding a proven veteran like bringing back Didi Gregorius and wait for the crazy class of outstanding shortstops — Francisco Lindor, Carlos Correa, Trevor Story and Javier Baez — to hit the free-agent market after next season.
Or wait and see if they can make Torres into the player they hoped he could be.
An All-Star his first two big leagues seasons, Torres had an all-around disappointing season this year. In the pandemic-shortened season he slashed .243/.356/.368, career lows in batting average and slugging percentage. While his strikeout percentage was down for the third straight year, a good sign, his production was down sharply from 2019. He hit three home runs in 136 at-bats and his OPS dropped to .724.
Clearly Torres, 23, is part of the heart of the future Yankees lineup.
“There aren’t any real red flags there for me,” one American League rival scout said. “I think that is more a result of him missing some time (to a leg injury) in a short season. His power numbers are down, but that is more about the short season to me. I think he would have found it and returned to somewhat normal production over a regular, 162-game season.
“But his defense over that time was something I would worry about.”
Torres had nine errors at shortstop in the regular season, tied for the second most at that position in the majors, and two in the playoffs. He posted a -9 defensive runs saved and a -4 outs above average. He was in the bottom two percentile in outs above average, according to Baseball Savant.
Torres came into the season knowing he would be the Yankees starting shortstop for the first time in his career. It was a chance to return to the position he played as a kid and where he played as he came up through the minor leagues. In 2019, Torres came into the season expecting to play second base, even as Gregorius missed the first part of the season after Tommy John surgery, because the Yankees had signed Troy Tulowitzki to allow Torres to play second. Of course, it didn’t play out that way with Tulowitzki getting injured early and Torres playing 77 games at short until Gregorius returned from rehab.
He posted a -12 defensive runs saved and a -3 outs above average.
Still, the Yankees thought that the young infielder, whose bat was explosive last season, could grow into the position. He spent the offseason working with infield coach Carlos Mendoza to try and prepare.
The Yankees now have enough evidence to see that Torres has not grown defensively at short and there are some that think they should consider moving him back to second base, where he was a better fit for them.
With the economic uncertainty of the game, after owners claimed to have collectively lost billions of dollars in this 60-game season without fans, the Yankees could make a temporary upgrade for 2021 and then look to land a long-term shortstop when — hopefully the pandemic has passed — and the economic situation of the game and the country is clearer.
Gregorius had a less than ideal split with the Yankees. A free agent last winter, he said he’d like to return and the Yankees told him their priority was to sign Gerrit Cole. As recently as last month, on WFAN, Gregorius said he didn’t think the Yankees wanted him back. He also expressed confidence in Torres growing into the job considering he does not turn 24 until next month.
But there is no more speculation really. Torres has had almost a whole season, 138 games dating back to some spot starts in 2018, to see what he is going to be at shortstop. They have to decide if that is something they can win with.
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