Even without signing Manny Machado and even with Didi Gregorius sidelined, recovering from Tommy John Surgery, the Yankees middle infield is already pretty crowded. There’s returning youngster Gleyber Torres, as well as free agent additions Troy Tulowitzki and DJ LeMahieu. We should also throw an honorable mention towards Tyler Wade, since he’s nominally a middle infielder. With this many guys for two of the four up-the-middle positions on a baseball team, there are many options for deployment. The one the Yankees are opting for is puzzling. Per this tweet by Lindsey Adler, the Yankees are having Tulo work exclusively as a shortstop this spring. Plans can change, of course, but this one isn’t great for reasons both offensive and defensive.
Offensively, the problem starts with Tulowitzki himself. The next time he takes the plate in an official Major League game, it’ll be the first time he’s done so since 2017, when he was an 79 wRC+ hitter in 260 plate appearances across 66 games. He was last a league average hitter in 2016 when he posted a 104 wRC+ in 544 PA in 131 games; he was also league average in 2015 at a 101 wRC+. However he does in Spring Training, there’s going to be a steep relearning curve for him when the real action starts on March 28. While slow starts happen, they’re different for a guy who just missed a year due to injury and hasn’t been decent since 2016.
LeMahieu also offers a potential problem offensively. I may be a touch alarmist here since I’m not exactly sold on this acquisition, but it’s worth noting that despite playing the plurality of his career’s home games in Coors Field, DJLM has only one above average offensive season. Add that to switching leagues and teams and it’s not hard to imagine a rough going at the start. The Yankees signed him because they think his batted ball profile will play in Yankee Stadium, and that’s great, but is that really what you wanna pin your hopes and $24M guaranteed on?
This leaves Gleyber Torres, ironically, as potentially the most offensively reliable of this middle infield troika as he’s not coming off an injury and isn’t switching leagues or teams. Still, he’s a second year player who could easily have a sophomore slump and it’s a lot to expect of a guy–even if these are my expectations–to be the best out of these three players.
On the other side of the ball, the Yankees are going to have a guy who’s recovering from heel surgery play shortstop, the most demanding infield position that side of the mound. That’s not a good look in and of itself, let alone with Miguel Andujar playing next to him, who has plenty of defensive issues to work out. Additionally, LeMahieu’s definite value comes from his great glove at second base…where Gleyber Torres will be getting most of the action. Not only are the Yankees putting a potentially compromised player at shortstop, they’re also going to be putting a Gold Glove caliber second baseman at….not second base most of the time. The smarter play is probably to have Tulowitzki as the backup with Torres at short and LeMahieu at second. But, really, counting on Tulowitzki for anything is probably a fool’s errand.
Bringing in LeMahieu afterwards brings the entire Tulowitzki signing into question, even as a low-risk move because of how muddled it makes things. Surely, though, the Yankees have thought of this if I have and have a plan. I still have my doubts. If (when?) Tulo gets hurt and it becomes wholly necessary to move Torres to short, thus allowing LeMahieu to play second full time, this all looks a bit better, since elite defense at second is nothing to scoff at, even if the player leaves a lot to be desired offensively.
With this puzzling middle infield picture, the Yankees have made their bed. Hopefully, it’s more comfortable than I’ve made it out to be.