No general manager wants to deal with the karma of wishing for injuries elsewhere. None at this time of year is scouring in search of every sprain, strain and fracture. But it is hard not to see when a team loses a key player — especially at a position in which the club has depth.
“That’s just the normal course of business activities,” general manager Brian Cashman said.
Cashman’s Yankees have a surplus of middle infielders and might need to thin that herd before the March 30 regular-season opener. Already the Dodgers and Rockies have endured crippling injuries to their middle infield.
“You have an organization and you have injuries, and it increases you looking at your internal options and it spurs trade discussions,” Cashman said.
In each of the past two offseasons, the Dodgers chose not to re-sign a star free-agent shortstop: Corey Seager and Trea Turner. That partially was about an austerity to reduce their payroll, with an expectation of going into full pursuit of Shohei Ohtani next offseason. They also believed they had a ready-made, cost-effective solution: Gavin Lux, who had been apprenticing the past four seasons at a variety of positions.
But on Monday while running the bases, Lux tore his right ACL, and the Dodgers announced he will miss the season.
The following day, Brendan Rodgers — the Rockies’ Gold Glove second baseman — dislocated his left shoulder diving for a ball. Surgery and missing the entire 2023 season are possible.
The Yankees explored trades of their infielders, notably Isiah Kiner-Falefa and Gleyber Torres, during the offseason. One or both could be available again, in particular if the Yankees deem Oswald Peraza or Anthony Volpe major league ready from the outset of the season.
Cashman said teams normally do not engage in serious trade talks until the middle or end of spring training camps. At this time of year, clubs that endure injury look internally for solutions while simultaneously alerting their scouts in Arizona and Florida to be more diligent about looking at potential trade candidates.
So the Dodgers and Rockies have begun internal investigations. In January, the Dodgers obtained Miguel Rojas, the Marlins’ primary shortstop, to serve as infield depth. His defense remains sound, but his offense has plummeted. Chris Taylor, valuable to the Dodgers as a super-sub, could be used more regularly at shortstop.
Rockies GM Billy Schmidt said in a phone interview that Colorado’s plan is to move third baseman Ryan McMahon to second, and consider Nolan Jones and Elehuris Montero at third base.
“Right now we are looking internally and then, if not, I might have a conversation with Cash at some point if we have anything [the Yankees] like,” Schmidt said.
The urgency is different for the Dodgers than for the second-division Rockies. The Dodgers were trying to walk the tightrope of remaining an elite team (10 straight playoff appearances and nine NL West titles) while going under the $233 million first luxury-tax threshold to reset to the lowest penalties for next year, when they could chase Ohtani and what is likely to be the largest contract ever. But once an arbitrator ended Trevor Bauer’s suspension and put most of his 2023 salary back onto the Dodgers’ books, they knew staying under the threshold was a pipe dream. So they are probably more willing to absorb a contract than in the offseason.
Where do the Yankees fit into this?
1. By remembering the Yankees are not the only team to consider. Baltimore and Cleveland are brimming with touted middle-infield prospects. The Orioles and Guardians could consider trading their respective starting shortstops, Jorge Mateo or Amed Rosario. Defensive stalwarts such as the Royals’ Nicky Lopez and the Angels’ Andrew Velazquez have seemingly lost starting jobs.
The Cardinals would not mind getting off the remaining contract of Paul DeJong ($11 million). There are more, including free agent Jose Iglesias, who was Colorado’s starting shortstop last year. And don’t ignore that the Dodgers, in particular, could decide to begin the season as is and see if, say, the Brewers are not in the race in July and are willing to trade Willy Adames.
2. By remembering that a lot can happen between now and March 30, including injuries to the Yankees that would declutter their infield. Cashman said there are not regular meetings about how the team will line up on Opening Day. Instead, he tables such meetings until late in spring.
At that time, among other items, the Yankees will have to answer the huge question: Are Peraza and Volpe ready now? If the Yankees decide they are, then Cashman will have work to do. Let’s assume the Yankees really are committed to Josh Donaldson, at least to start the season, as their third baseman and will use DJ LeMahieu to play near daily at first, second, third or DH.
If Peraza and Volpe are ready, would there be enough 26-man roster spots and at-bats for Kiner-Falefa, Torres and Oswald Cabrera? Cabrera should not be dismissed. He can get at-bats in left field. But manager Aaron Boone has described Cabrera as more of an infielder, and the only way to get three lefty bats in the lineup with regularity would be Anthony Rizzo at first, Aaron Hicks in left and Cabrera somewhere in the infield. Hicks and Cabrera are both switch-hitters.
3. By remembering that creativity can happen. The simplest Yankees path if a trade is needed would be dealing Kiner-Falefa (due $6 million in his walk year) and trusting that shortstop will be covered by some combination of Peraza, Volpe and Carbera.
Trading Torres, who is due $9.95 million and will not be a free agent until after the 2024 season, would be tougher. How do you value a player who was a star at 21 and 22 (2018-19) and less than that the past three years, but is still just 26?
But what if the Yankees decide Volpe can handle shortstop in the majors? Could they trade Peraza to add something they need, such as upper-level pitching depth, more lefty bats or both? The Dodgers, for example, have depth in well-regarded, close-to-the-majors starting prospects such as Bobby Miller, Ryan Pepiot and Gavin Stone, and a lefty bat in Michael Busch. Is there a prospect-for-prospect deal somewhere in there?