I’m just as frustrated as you likely are about the Yankees sitting on the sidelines during this recent free agent frenzy. Nearly all of the top shortstops are now off the board, with Corey Seager and Marcus Semien going to Texas and Javier Báez off to Detroit. The top starting pitchers are gone too. And yet, there are still two big name shortstops out there for the Yankees to grab: Carlos Correa and the subject of today’s post, Trevor Story.
Now, am I confident that the Yankees actually play at the top of the market for Story (or Correa)? Not very at the moment. In spite of Brian Cashman telegraphing the team’s intent to spend and address the shortstop position, reports have now trickled out over the last couple of weeks that the Yankees are more likely to go the stopgap route. I hope that’s not true given Correa and Story’s availability. Nonetheless, I’m having a hard time giving the Yankees the benefit of the doubt given recent seasons’ behavior.
Still, until the ink dries on a new contract, the Yankees are not necessarily out on Story. We already know there’s interest in the shortstop — the team wanted to trade for him at the deadline and Jaime profiled him then — but the Rockies tripped all over themselves instead. Colorado will get some compensation once he signs elsewhere because Story rejected the qualifying offer, but perhaps a deadline deal would have suited them better. Anyway, that time has come and gone, so let’s turn to Story’s free agency outlook.
Story hails from Irving, Texas, which is just outside of Dallas. He had a chance to be a two sport star in high school, with football being the second sport. He was a quarterback through his sophomore year, which is no little thing considering high school football’s popularity in the Lone Star State. Baseball became his focus though, and ultimately, resulted in a scholarship to LSU. Story didn’t follow through on that commitment, and instead, went pro when the Rockies drafted him with the team’s 45th overall pick. Story signed for $915,000.
The just-turned-29 year-old shortstop grew up a Rangers fan. Makes sense, given his childhood home’s proximity to Dallas and Arlington. Unless the Rangers shock the rest of the baseball world again, though, it doesn’t look like a homecoming will happen. Seager and Semien now occupy the Rangers’ middle infield.
Colorado took its time developing Story, who spent 2011 through 2015 in the minors. Not like there was much of a rush anyway, considering the then in his prime Troy Tulowitzki manning the shortstop position. Story had a bit of an up-and-down trajectory in the minors, and while he was a good prospect throughout his time in the system, he only obtained top 100 recognition once (pre-2013 via Baseball America).
Story absolutely dominated A-ball in 2012, his first taste of full season ball, hence BA’s recognition. However, he really struggled in High-A in 2013, and again after a promotion to Double-A in 2014. Nonetheless, he mastered Double-A in 2015 and played fairly well in Triple-A upon promotion too, setting himself up for his major league debut in 2016.
The Rockies traded Tulo to the Blue Jays mid-2015, which opened up the shortstop position for Story. He was named the starter out of camp in 2016 and had a very good rookie year, finishing fourth in ROY ballots. That year was cut short due to injury, but he still blasted 27 homers in just 97 games.
Story suffered a sophomore slump in 2017 (82 wRC+, 34.4 percent strikeout rate), but that proved to be an anomaly. From 2018 through 2020, the shortstop cut down on strikeouts significantly, hit for a ton of power, stole bases, and played great defense. In sum: .292/.355/.554 (124 wRC+), 83 home runs, 65 steals, and a 25.8 percent strikeout rate in 1,571 plate appearances. He was an All-Star in ’18 and ’19 and finished no worse than 12th in MVP voting.
Story regressed a bit offensively this year, though. He batted .251/.329/.471 (100 wRC+) with 24 homers and 20 steals in 595 plate appearances, though he did improve his strikeout rate (23.4 percent). He was much better in final two months of the season, at least. Story recorded a 125 wRC+ from August and onward after an 85 wRC+ through July. This, in spite of elbow trouble which I will touch on momentarily.
Now, Story is a poster boy for significant home/road splits as a member of the Rockies. He’s a lifetime .303/.369/.603 (125 wRC+) at Coors Field, albeit a .241/.310/.442 (98 wRC+) hitter away from the friendly confines. That’s alarming at first glance, but Mike Petriello has eased some concerns about this on a couple of occasions (articles in 2015 and 2020).
On the other side of the field, Story has a sterling reputation defensively. Now, this year wasn’t his best given the elbow and subsequent throwing issues, but he had a lifetime +24 OAA entering 2021, before his -7 mark this season. DRS likes him even more: +69 (nice). All told, there’s little question about Story’s defensive ability, provided his elbow is actually OK.
Story’s managed just two fully healthy major league seasons: 2018 and 2020. That said, only one injury has caused the shortstop to be sidelined for an extended period, all the way back in his rookie season. That year, Story tore a ligament in his left thumb, which forced him to miss all of August and September.
Since then, the 29 year-old has dealt with a couple of minor injuries before his elbow scare this season. In 2017, he missed 13 days with a left shoulder strain. In 2019, he missed 12 days with a right thumb sprain. Neither of those injuries, along with the ligament tear in 2016, appear to have nagged him later in his career.
Now, for the elephant in the room: Story’s elbow. Back in May, Story exited a game against the Mets in Queens after a throw to first bothered him. He went on the injured list, missed 13 days, but a MRI came back clean. All told, Story still played in 142 games this season in spite of the elbow clearly bothering him.
As the video portrays, his throwing was often ugly post-injury. And for further evidence, his arm strength simply wasn’t there:
extremely quick and dirty b/c I don’t have time for more but every Story throw 74+ over the last few years (w/o attempting to discern intent) and I will hear there’s some “yikes” within this pic.twitter.com/3GkW9aTpzR— Mike Petriello (@mike_petriello) October 28, 2021
All that said, Randy has it on good authority that Story has recovered.
Hopefully, a restful offseason can allow Story to prove that his arm is just fine upon his 2022 debut.
Does he make sense for the Yankees?
If the Yankees can’t land Correa, then yes. The team cannot afford to walk away from this winter’s shortstop free agent crop empty handed. Story has a chance to be a bargain, in fact, relatively speaking. Had he continued to perform up to his 2018 – 2020 norm and remained healthy, we’d be talking about yet another $200 million contract. Instead, he’s likely to get something between what Báez and Semien got.
Personally, I’ve been hesitant about Story all along given the elbow woes. That said, there’s a decent chance he outperforms the rest of the shortstop free agent class in 2022. He was a 5-to-6 WAR player from 2018 to 2020, tied with Xander Bogaerts for the second-most fWAR (Francisco Lindor was first) in that three year span. By Baseball Reference’s WAR metric, he was the best shortstop in that period. If his elbow is OK and 2021 was just a blip, Story could be the best option in 2022.