In the American League Wild Card Game when the Yankees played the Red Sox, their biggest rival, they started Andrew Velazquez at shortstop. While Velazquez’s story of being a Bronx native growing up as a Yankees fan is cool, he is not the player you want starting at the most valuable position in a win-or-go-home game. In 2021, Velazquez had an abysmal 57 wRC+ and was nothing special defensively. The real reason Velazquez started this game was mainly that DJ LeMahieu was not healthy enough to play, but even if LeMahieu was healthy, the Yankees would still have a problem.
In 2018, Gleyber Torres made his Major League debut. Even though he mostly played shortstop in the Minor Leagues, Torres was brought up to play second base because shortstop was already occupied by Didi Gregorius. Gregorius was forced to miss the beginning of the 2019 season due to Tommy John surgery, so the Yankees had Torres replace him as their shortstop. When Gregorius returned, he reclaimed the shortstop position but wasn’t very productive in his 82 games. The Yankees let Gregorius walk in free agency following the season as they were confident that Torres would be their next shortstop. Although Torres was great at the plate in 2019, he wasn’t as good defensively.
Everything fell apart for Torres in 2020. As the Yankees’ primary shortstop, he had the worst Ultimate Zone Rating and Defensive Runs Saved among all shortstops with at least 300 innings played. He also had a then career-worst 106 wRC+ at the plate. With how complicated the shortened 2020 season was, this was more of a mulligan year for Torres. Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman even admitted that Torres “wasn’t in the best of shape to start the second spring training,” and that the Yankees “spent a little bit (of the) first half of the season playing catchup, maybe in the first 40 or 45 games of the season,’’ trying to get Torres back into shape. Despite his struggles in 2020, the Yankees remained confident that Torres would return to form in 2021 and as their shortstop.
Despite the hope that Torres would return closer to 2019 form, he was even worse in 2021 than in 2020. Torres’ wRC+ dropped to 94 and his defense was still a major issue. Among qualified shortstops, Torres ranked in the bottom three of Ultimate Zone Rating, Defensive Runs Saved, and Outs Above Average. As a result of his poor defensive play, the Yankees decided to move Torres back to second base, LeMahieu from second base to third base, and Gio Urshela from third base to shortstop. The Yankees did all of this in the middle of September. In the thick of their chase for a Postseason spot, the Yankees were playing with two defenders out of their primary positions.
Even if LeMahieu was healthy enough for the Wild Card Game, it would still be less than ideal to have two infielders playing out of position. If they want to win the World Series this season, the Yankees should do everything in their power to solve their infield defensive problems from last year. There is no better player to fix this problem than Carlos Correa.
Carlos Correa won the American League Platinum Glove last season after a fantastic defensive season with 20 Defensive Runs Saved, a 2.9 Ultimate Zone Rating, and 12 Outs Above Average. In addition to his fantastic defense, Correa hit a well-balanced .279/.366/.485 (134 wRC+). Correa’s great overall season resulted in him leading all shortstops with a 7.2 rWAR and his 5.8 fWAR was the third-best mark behind only Trea Turner and Fernando Tatis Jr.
In 2021, the Yankees, Red Sox, and Blue Jays were all separated by just one game and the Rays had the best regular-season record in the American League. In 2022, expect the division to be just as or even more competitive. Per FanDuel Sportsbook, the Yankees, Blue Jays, Rays, and Red Sox (in that order) have the second through fifth, best odds of winning the American League Pennant. In order to take a step above the rest of their division, adding a player of Correa’s caliber is necessary.
Although Correa’s price tag will definitely be hefty, the Yankees are the best fit team to sign him. At the beginning of the offseason, there was strong speculation that Correa would sign with the Tigers. The Tigers reportedly offered Correa a $275 million contract over 10 years, but he wasn’t interested and the Tigers opted to sign Javier Baez instead. There was also speculation that the Rangers were a potential landing spot for Correa, but they already signed Corey Seager and Marcus Semien to lucrative deals. There have been rumblings about the Mets potentially being interested, but Correa only wants to play shortstop and the Mets have already spent big this offseason on Max Scherzer, Starling Marte, Eduardo Escobar, and Mark Canha. The most likely teams to sign Correa are probably the Yankees, Astros, and Cubs. Correa has already been offered contracts by the Astros at least a couple of times (one before the 2021 season and one after the 2021 season), but both offers have been for five years and Correa hasn’t been interested. The Cubs are coming off of a 71 win season and traded core players Javier Baez, Anthony Rizzo, and Kris Bryant at the trade deadline. While they have the money to lure Correa into town and recent signee Marcus Stroman would love to be teammates with him, it seems like the timing is off for the Cubs to pursue the biggest free agent on the market. Barring any mystery teams in the Correa sweepstakes, that leaves it to the Yankees.
While Correa seems like a perfect fit for the Yankees, there are still some issues. Correa was a central part of the Astros’ sign-stealing teams that defeated the Yankees in the Postseason which is why some fans still strongly dislike him and don’t want the team to pursue him. Additionally, the Yankees already have a $211 million payroll for the 2022 season per Spotrac, and star right fielder Aaron Judge is set to become a free agent following the 2022 season. If the Yankees are looking to avoid the luxury tax, it will be virtually impossible to sign Correa, extend Judge, and not face luxury tax penalties for years to come. However, there is no reason to fear the luxury tax. The Yankees stayed under the luxury tax threshold in 2021 — which resets their penalties — and Steve Cohen’s Mets have a $235 million payroll for 2022. If the Yankees are serious about winning now, Correa is their’s for the taking and will make them the team to beat in the American League next season.
If Correa is signed, the Yankees would have a log jam of infielders and one or two would likely be traded for prospects, in a bigger deal to acquire a starting pitcher, or maybe in a potential deal that is even bigger to acquire someone like Matt Olson. The most likely to be traded is Luke Voit and the second most likely to be traded is Gio Urshela. Assuming Voit is the one traded, a potential Yankees lineup could look something like:
1. LeMahieu (3), 2. Judge (9), 3. Correa (6), 4. Stanton (DH), 5. Gallo (7), 6. Torres (4), 7. Hicks (8), 8. Sanchez (2), and 9. Urshela (5)