The Yankees of my youth were a win now team. They long eschewed minor leaguers for everything but their on-field value and routinely traded away most prospects. This plan worked in that they won lots of games, including lots of championships, and didn’t really regret having dealt away those minor league players. Of course, given their massive financial resources and willingness to spend a lot of money, they were a perpetual win now team, a win now and later team. About fifteen years ago, the process of being a win now and later team changed in that the Yankees changed their focus to improving their draft and development processes so their prospects should be more than just trade fodder. They’ve succeeded with this, too, and the current roster boasts of that success: Aaron Judge, Luis Severino, Jordan Montgomery, Gary Sanchez, Chad Green, Jonathan Loaisiga, Gleyber Torres (kind of).
There is an undeniable fuzzy feeling that comes with watching your team’s homegrown prospects star for the team. That’s always been true, but it’s especially so in this current era of baseball which has given us tons more access to minor leaguers and prospects than ever before. We’ve watched it happen over the years with varying degrees of success, but it’s been a pleasure regardless and now we’re in position to see it again with Anthony Volpe and/or Oswald Peraza. And many indications are that the Yankees will be waiting for one of them to be the shortstop of the future. While that would be a good story, a touching narrative, I don’t think it’s the direction in which the Yankees should go.
The message we’ve been hearing in the media is that the Yankees will go with a ‘stopgap’ at shortstop to bide their time before Volpe and/or Peraza are ready. There’s some appeal here, mainly that Volpe and Peraza are big time prospects and have upside. Additionally, it could be a cost-saving move that would allow them to spend elsewhere (I’m typing this with very gritted teeth). But it’s a plan that carries risk and one that took a hit on Saturday when the Rangers traded the Yankee-linked Isaiah Kiner-Falefa to the Twins and the Cubs signed even more often Yankee-linked Andrelton Simmons.
That leaves Jose Igelsias as essentially the lone stopgap option left on the free agent market. The options are drying up. And now Iglesias has signed with the Rockies.
Another issue is risk. Yeah, the risk isn’t too high because the contract to a player like this wouldn’t be exorbitant or hard to eat, but there’s performance risk as well. The Yankees were not a good offensive team last year and we can’t just rely on everyone to bounce back to form. Adding an iffy bat at short could compound the problem if others in the lineup–particularly the infield–don’t bounce back.
The other risk is the risk of time. This might be the last year of Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez in pinstripes. It’s another year down for the primes of Gerrit Cole and Giancarlo Stanton. While the Yankees are pretty much perpetually in a championship window–and will more or less never miss the playoffs with the 12-team format–taking its openness for granted is a mistake. The Yankees never came through with their current core after making it to Game Seven of the 2017 ALCS and have disappointed in the playoffs two years in a row. Punting on an important position because two guys might be good after this year is a weak move. You’re the Yankees; go big.
There’s also what I just referred to above. Volpe and Peraza are no sure things. One or both could get hurt. One or both could completely bust. The latter is probably more likely than either one of them being a star. Carlos Correa, my preferred shortstop for the Yankees, is better now than Volpe or Peraza are ever likely to be, just based on odds and how things tend to work with prospects. I sincerely hope both guys prove this wrong, of course, but I wouldn’t hold my breath on it.
I understand why fans want to see homegrown players get a shot. And for fans of a certain age–my age–that formula was incredibly successful in the 90’s and beyond. But I’m not sure we truly reckon with or grasp how rare it was for the Yankees to have two slam-dunk Hall of Famers and two borderline-at-worst HOFers be the core of their team. That doesn’t happen, uh, ever, and we shouldn’t count on it to happen again. Volpe and Peraza have earned their high status as prospects and none of this is to say the Yankees should cast one or both of them aside at the first chance. I think the best case scenario, should the Yankees bring in a big time SS, is that one of these guys hangs around and takes SS if Correa or someone else has to move off or moves on.
But for the sake of depth, of completeness of roster, of maximizing an open window, the Yankees should not cheap out on shortstop this season.