Breaking down the three newest Yankees

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As you surely know by now, the Yankees made a trade last night. In comes Josh Donaldson, Isiah Kiner-Falefa, and Ben Rortvedt. Out go Gary Sánchez and Gio Urshela. It’s a move that left my scratching my head, and one that has to precede another transaction or two. Right?

Anyway, while we wait for the other shoe to drop, let’s take a look at what each of the newest Yankees bring to the 2022 squad.

Josh Donaldson

The Yankees’ front office has a type: high exit velocities and good plate discipline. That’s exactly what Donaldson offers at the plate. In that regard, he’ll fit right in with the likes of Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, and Joey Gallo.

PECOTA projects Donaldson to hit .248/.357/.464 (123 DRC+) in 599 plate appearances, play slightly above average defense, and record 3.6 WARP. That’s a substantial upgrade over Urshela’s projection (88 DRC+, -4.8 FRAA, 0.5 WARP). PECOTA is much lower on Urshela than ZiPS and Steamer, but both of those systems still have Donaldson as a definitive upgrade at the hot corner.

With all that in mind, it seems pretty safe to say that there’s plenty of left in the tank for Donaldson, even at 36 years old. He’s no longer the guy who won an MVP and hit .285/.387/.559 from 2015-2017, but his .250/.365/.491 line since then is still quite good.

Health is a big downside. He’s had a litany of leg muscle strains over the years. In summary, via Baseball Prospectus:

That last column is days missed. We know the Yankees have had plenty of trouble with soft tissue injuries in recent years, namely with their big righty sluggers, but in fairness, things seemed to improve in 2021. Perhaps the same can happen with Donaldson? Time will tell.

Donaldson is due $50 million through 2023. That amount includes a buyout of what’s now a 2024 mutual option.

Isiah Kiner-Falefa

Despite many fans’ wishes, the Yankees made it clear that a stopgap at shortstop was the plan all offseason. Anthony Volpe and Oswald Peraza are coming soon, and Kiner-Falefa is hear to keep the seat warm. He was a long rumored target for the Yankees, who obviously didn’t give up on him after the Rangers dealt him to the Twins just last week.

Kiner-Falefa, who turns 27 next week, has a reputation of a plus defender without much of a bat. Defensive metrics actually vary on Kiner-Falefa’s ability at shortstop, with DRS and FRAA liking his glove, whereas OAA does not. He’ll make some flashy plays, though:

He’s a lifetime .265/.316/.354 (93 DRC+) hitter who makes plenty of contact (15.3 percent strikeout rate) but doesn’t walk much (5.5 percent). PECOTA projects IKF to bat .267/.317/.357 (86 DRC+), play good defense (+4.2 FRAA), and tally 1.6 WARP in 525 PA. That’s fine for the nine hitter, although as I’ll get to momentarily, the Yankees’ catching situation currently has two nine hitters already.

Kiner-Falefa is under team control through next season and I figure that he’ll transition into a utility role once Volpe and/or Peraza are ready. He’s played all over the infield in his career, and was a catcher in his early big league days too, so there’s some value in his versatility.

Ben Rortvedt

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Rortvedt reconnects with Tanner Swanson, who came over from the Twins to the Yankees a couple years ago. Swanson is the team’s quality control and catching coordinator. One has to imagine that Swanson was consulted on Rortvedt here.

The Twins picked Rortvedt in the 2nd round of the 2016 draft, and he’s yet to accrue a full year of service time, so the Yankees can keep him through 2027. He’s 24 years-old, hits lefty, and has a plus defensive reputation. The bat lags behind that reputation, as he owns a .672 OPS in the minors before posting a .510 mark in 98 major league PA in 2021.

Per Jack Curry, Rortvedt will be the heavy side of a platoon with Kyle Higashioka. At least, for now. A Rortvedt/Higgy platoon will not be pretty offensively. PECOTA expects a 65 DRC+ from Rortvedt (and 74 DRC+ from Higashioka).

Remember the Chris Stewart era? That’s a lot what this feels like. The Yankees are going all-in on defense behind the plate. That’d be fine if the rest of the lineup was elite, but with Kiner-Falefa also at the bottom of the order, I can’t say I’m impressed. Granted, another move could be in the works. Hopefully.

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23 Comments

  1. The thought of listening to John Sterling trying to get through saying “Kiner-Falefa” during bang bang infield plays is one of the things I’m most looking forward to about this season

  2. While I love Gio, I also love this trade. What I desperate wanted for ’22 was a plus glove at SS, now we have it. If we get a C who can hit okay, to go with our two guys who are plus-fielders there, we’re in good shape no matter what happens at 1B/CF.

    Also, agreed: Gleyber ain’t getting traded, because he’s too young and talented to give up on. Not unless Cash is offered something pretty mind-blowing.

  3. madrugador

    Don’t think this was a bad trade unless you hate spending Hal’s money. I doubt it moves the needle very much though.

  4. dasit

    my primary concern right now is what sterling will do for IKF’s home run call. does he go with something Hawaiian or tackle the last name?

    • Sterling will likely have plenty of time at the start of the season to figure this out.

  5. Robinson Tilapia

    Perhaps it’ll take a while for this to sink in but, right now, I agree with Axisa’s take that the team is potentially worse at three positions. Add to that the punch to the nostalgia gut here. I am most definitely not a fan here, and will show my unhappiness by passive-aggressively not learning either hyphen’s or the new catcher’s name. Screw those guys.

    • MikeD

      Now listen up young man, you’re going to like our hyphenated player as well as our eye-chart catching platoon. I’m just calling them, or him, HiggyRor. Beyond that, good to see your name again…assuming it’s you.

      My attempted defense of the trade was not well received by Axisa’s minions.

  6. Jaco

    This is such a Hal Steinbrenner move. Ship off Gary, return to the Chris Stewart all defense days. Take a flier on an old player who had like 4 good seasons and is also very expensive. We are officially in the 2013-2016 redo folks. I’d love to believe they’re going to make more moves but it’s hard to believe given their recent history.

    • Kevin

      Donaldson has had a DAMNED fine career, he’s played more games than Gio over Gio’s time with the Yankees…. look it up, his average hard hit numbers last year were in the 99th percentile, look up his other hitting metrics you’ll be pleasantly surprised. I was.

  7. Tim Loceddardstro

    I’m not a big fan of Donaldson, Derek. He’s old, he’s brittle but he can hit which is a luxury in this lineup. I do hope we turn around and trade him because he clogs up an infield spot that could go to DJ. I’m worried he might be the next Youkilis that just gets injured. Another thing he can do is keep that baby Cole in line so I don’t think he’ll have any problem fitting in. Gio was a flash in the pan at the plate. Donaldson can at least hit.

    Kiner is an elite glove and can hit for average which is desperately needed around here. If this coaching staff with worth a damn they can teach him to hit for power too. He’s a massive upgrade over the Gleyber/Gio duo at SS last year. And I don’t think he’s just a stop gap like folks are saying. He’s a long term solution and may even be represented in Monument Park some day.

    Rortvedt I’ve never heard of but he’s already a massive upgrade over Gary as is Higgy. A tree stump would be an improvement over Gary because at least it could block balls thrown right at it. So I’m not worried about the C position and no further upgrades are needed at C. We need to sign Freeman, trade Voit, trade Donaldson and put DJ at 3rd and we’ve got our club. Unless they’re planning on DHing Donaldson a lot and Stanton playing the field more then we would have a pretty good club if Freeman is the big lefty splitting up the righties. But if there was one lesson from last year it was that you absolutely need elite defense at C and SS and now we have it.

    • Kevin

      Kiner can hit? If this was1967-68, yeah. You need to read his complete hitting stats.

  8. Jon

    no way Oakland is taking Torres and Voit for Olson if they are trying to get rid of Olson’s salary. And why would they sign Story after trading for IKF. If they wanted Story, there is no need to trade for IKF.

    • Tim Loceddardstro

      He’s gone to the Braves, an organization committed to winning.

  9. Don’t understand these people who think Oak wants Gleyber/Voit. They’re going cheap and young. Looking for near ready prospects with three years cheap control before arbitration. Not guys who are already making millions.

    • Bleed Pinstripes

      Agreed, Oakland will want one of Volpe/ Peraza plus others

  10. mikenyc2007

    Hard to criticize the Yanks when they are expanding payroll and keeping prospects – which is exactly the opposite of what they have done ( to great criticism ) in the past.

    They spent more, upgraded their offense and defense, added more team speed and positional flexibility, and got a little more lefty in the box. Even if just incremental net improvements, its a win.

    There is more to come – if only to clear the 40 man roster. IMO I still believe Story is signed for 3/80 (2+1), and Gleyber/Voit/ others are traded for Olsen to free up 2B for DJ.

    I also think the key to this move is the significant upgrade that IKF represents over Wade once he slides into the utility role… he can actually hit, steal a base, and can play all over the field. He is what the Yanks thought wade could be, and with some fragile players (Donaldson, DJ etc) he will likely get 250 PA even with a full-time SS

  11. Yeesh. Nothing like giving up offense from 2 out of 9 spots at the start of the season.

  12. Jersey Jerry

    Not sure that this will be relevant, but Rortvedt has two more minor league options available in case they can make a better deal for a #1 catcher.

  13. chip56

    After watching Gary suck behind the plate, I’m fine with a return to defense first behind the plate. Besides, have you seen this guy? If Lawson is able to get him to learn the fundamentals of hitting, they might have something.

    • Scout

      Very few players learn to hit AFTER they reach the majors.

    • MikeD

      I agree with you on this one, Chip. As much as I defended Gary, he basically has been a tick below a league-average hitter with bad defense. Amazing how far he’s fallen since 2017. That’s five years ago. All indications are the entire pitching staff doesn’t want to pitch to him, but only Cole has the, uhh, position to say no and have his wish granted! I suspect Sonny Gray had a heart attack several hours after he was traded to the Twins when he found out that Gary might be his catcher. (He actually was granted Romine back then).

      Do I love this trade? No. Do I think the Yankees are better with it? Yes.

  14. The Original Drew

    Ben Rortvedt is hopefully Higgys replacement and the Yankees will get someone else at the catching position. If not it’s the worst offensive catching duo in the sport. With a lineup that is going to be dependent on a injury prone 3B, CF, 1B and bounce backs from your 2B, UTL guy and also a 0 at SS, having this catching tandem as it stands today is almost inexcusable.

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