Inbox: Will Gleyber remain at short in '21?

January 8th, 2021

The Yankees completed a transaction this week, just not the one that everyone has been waiting for. While free-agent infielder DJ LeMahieu continues to be the team’s top offseason priority, New York added outfield depth by acquiring Greg Allen from the Padres. Here is our first 2021 dive into the Yankees Inbox:

Are the Yankees committed to Gleyber Torres as an everyday shortstop?
-- John L., St. Petersburg, Fla.

The plan remains to have Torres continue as the starting shortstop, hopefully with LeMahieu on the other side of the bag at second base. General manager Brian Cashman made news earlier this offseason when he opined that Torres “wasn’t in the best shape” to begin Summer Camp and that he profiles better as a second baseman than as a shortstop.

Torres’ return to his natural position was indeed bumpy, as he committed nine errors during the regular season and one in the playoffs, posting minus-9 defensive runs saved. While the Yankees expected that Torres might represent a glove downgrade from Didi Gregorius, the greater surprise was on the offensive side, as Torres hit only three homers in 136 at-bats.

Like with catcher Gary Sánchez, Cashman is willing to set aside 2020 as a strange animal of a year. The expectation is that a healthy Torres will return to the offensive form he showed in '19 while continuing to work with infield coach Carlos Mendoza to fine-tune his fielding. It is important to point out once more that Torres is still only 24 years old with an incredibly bright future ahead.

“It was not a criticism as much as a fact: He just did not come into [Summer Camp] in shape,” Cashman said recently. “We spent the first 30 to 45 days getting him back online, but once he was back online, he was what he was [in 2019]. I think the pandemic was tough. … It created circumstances for some that had more difficulty dealing with it than others. I think Gleyber Torres is an elite player.”

What do you think the Yankees could do to upgrade the bullpen?
-- Julian G., Oakland, N.J.

There are appealing options on the free-agent market, paced by Brad Hand, whom the Yankees last saw coughing up the lead in the memorable Game 2 of the American League Wild Card Series against the Indians. The lefty was lights-out during the regular season, converting all of his Major League-leading 16 saves while pitching to a 2.05 ERA over 22 innings. He struck out 29 against four walks.

Hand’s $10 million price tag was too rich for the Indians, and the other 29 teams passed when he hit the waiver wire -- an indication of the financial crunch that 2020 placed upon the league. The Yankees should circle back once LeMahieu’s situation is settled. Other names of interest include Archie Bradley, Liam Hendriks and Kirby Yates. At present, the Yanks’ bullpen locks project to be Zack Britton, Luis Cessa, Aroldis Chapman, Chad Green and Adam Ottavino.

How do you think the Francisco Lindor deal affects LeMahieu’s market? Is Cashman under more pressure to get a deal done now?
-- Max M.

Lindor’s arrival in Queens erases a backup plan, but it also nixes a dark-horse landing spot for LeMahieu, who remains most prominently connected to the Blue Jays, Dodgers and Yankees. Thus far, none of those clubs are believed to have offered the guaranteed fifth year that LeMahieu’s agent, Joel Wolfe, is seeking.

The industry bet continues to be that LeMahieu will eventually land back in The Bronx (perhaps a four-year deal with a fifth-year option), but the sluggish pace of negotiations seems to be impacting the Yankees’ other business. Cashman acknowledged as much recently, saying that LeMahieu’s free agency is “driving the bus” on the team’s offseason plan.

“We want to retain the player. We want the player to feel good about being retained,” Cashman said. “If it takes a little longer time to do so, then that’s what we’ll try to do, but it comes with risk. There’s certain players that you feel are more worth playing the waiting game on. I think DJ LeMahieu is worth that.”

What are the chances of signing Corey Kluber?
-- Jeff P., New York, N.Y.

The Yankees may have an inside track with Kluber, based upon his long-standing relationship with performance coach Eric Cressey; in fact, Kluber is scheduled to hold a mound session for interested teams on Jan. 13 at Cressey’s Florida facility. If nothing else, they should have an accurate read on Kluber’s talent level. Considering that he is coming off injuries and would likely agree to an incentive-laden contract, that seems like a good fit for the back end of the rotation.

Do you see Deivi García, Clarke Schmidt and Michael King all on the Opening Day roster?
-- Matt C., Hartford, Conn.

Probably not all three, especially if the Yankees augment a rotation that also projects to include Gerrit Cole, Jordan Montgomery and Domingo Germán to begin the year. While the door is not closed on a Masahiro Tanaka return, Jhoulys Chacin will compete for a spot as a non-roster invitee, and an addition like Kluber or Taijuan Walker remains possible. It’s easy to imagine one of García, King and Schmidt breaking camp for Opening Day, with the other two remaining on a starting schedule at Triple-A.

Is there any update on Brett Gardner’s situation?
-- Mike F., Staten Island, N.Y.

Gardner said late in the season that he did not want his final games as a Yankee to be played in an empty ballpark, and there is no sense that he is interested in concluding his career wearing a different uniform. Money shouldn’t be an overwhelming factor for Gardner and both sides seem interested, so I expect him to eventually sign a one-year deal.

That said, it is unclear how much playing time Gardner could be assured. The outfield projects to feature Clint Frazier in left field, Aaron Hicks in center and Aaron Judge in right, with Giancarlo Stanton serving as the regular designated hitter. Allen was added to the 40-man roster following the trade with San Diego, joining Estevan Florial and Mike Tauchman as outfield depth. The Yanks also recently signed outfielder Socrates Brito to a Minor League contract.