Yankees face chaos after big offseason trade goes wrong

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After the MLB lockout made the offseason slow, the Yankees’ general manager made a trade that he later said “settled a lot of business.” He traded Gary Sanchez and Gio Urshela to Minnesota for Josh Donaldson, Isiah Kiner-Falefa, and catcher Ben Rortvedt.

Then, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman had told:

“We feel by doing this trade we upgraded defensively and offensively at third and at shortstop and placed [Gleyber Torres] in a position that he’s best at: second base. So I think the infield side upgraded for the defense and on the catching side as well. So the overall feel for us is that it settled a lot of interests on our end with one transaction with one particular team … and still provides flexibility. And at the same time, we retain prospects a lot of people ask for.”

The Yankees thought that the big trade would help them get better at three infield positions and behind the plate. But far from what they thought, the March 13 trade by Brian Cashman has made things more difficult and this may create more chaos in 2023.

Surprisingly, almost every player who was part of that trade is facing scrutiny seven months later, with the Yankees two losses away from getting eliminated from the American League Championship Series against the Houston Astros, none of them has a particularly secure future with their new team.

When the Yankees agreed to pay the remaining $50 million on Donaldson’s contract for the last two years, they were hoping to get a hitter who was going into his 36th season after two straight great offensive seasons with the Twins and had never finished a season with an OPS lower than .798.

But, because of a shoulder injury, Donaldson’s output dropped off significantly. He hit 15 home runs and had an average of .222. His OPS was .682 and his OPS+ was 94, which is below average.

And for most of the postseason, he’s been a strikeout machine. In the first two games of the Division Series against Cleveland, Donaldson got on base six times. In the last five games, he has 3 for 18, including two walks and 11 strikeouts. His double in Thursday’s 3-2 loss in Houston was his first extra-base hit since October 1, and he hasn’t hit a home run since September 17.

This season, the Yankees did improve their defensive play, and a significant portion of that improvement can be credited to Donaldson’s glovework at third base.

But while Donaldson remained a good third baseman, he also kept getting into trouble, most notably with White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson in a racially charged incident. Donaldson called Anderson “Jackie” a lot, which made Anderson and some of Donaldson’s own teammates upset.

Kiner-Falefa was supposed to be a stopgap at shortstop until top Yankees prospects Oswald Peraza or Anthony Volpe came up from the minor leagues. He won a Gold Glove at third base for the Rangers in 2020, but has turned out to be a shaky defender who makes a lot of mistakes at short.

He wasn’t expected to hit much, and he didn’t. The Yankees lived with his defense and even excused it for much of the regular season until the manager benched the player in the first two games of the American League Division Series against Cleveland. Kiner-Falefa was replaced by Peraza for Game 2 of the American League Championship Series after he went 1-for-4 with two strikeouts in the first game of the series.

It was helpful to get Torres back to second base. Torres went back to being a good defender, and even though he wasn’t always good at the plate, he went back to being one of the best hitters in the lineup.

Rortvedt arrived with an injury to his oblique, and then he hurt his knee, which needed surgery. This kept him from trying out for a spot on the major league roster. But Trevino did better than expected, and Kyle Higashioka hit well in the second half.

The Twins, on the other hand, added Sanchez and Urshela and made one of the biggest moves of the short offseason by signing star shortstop Carlos Correa.

Sanchez’s career saw a downward trend and the player just survived the replacement level (0.9 bWAR) while hitting .282 with 16 home runs in 471 plate appearances. The 29-year-old is set to hit free agency, and the Twins are unlikely to re-sign him.

Urshela had a good season at the plate (an OPS of.767) and should get a raise to about $9 million in his last year of arbitration eligibility.

The futures of both Donaldson and Kiner-Falefa in The Bronx are still unknown at this time.

In order to trade Donaldson, New York have to add a good prospect or pay a big chunk of what is left on his contract, or both.

And since the Yankees didn’t call up Peraza until September and then only let him play a few games, it’s unlikely that he’ll be ready to take over at shortstop to start next season, which could give Kiner-Falefa another chance.

Can Cole save the Yankees?

When Gerrit Cole pitched in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series (ALCS) between the Yankees and the Astros for the last time, he went seven innings without allowing a run, leading Houston to a victory over the Yankees and a 2-1 lead in the 2019 series, which they went on to win in six games.

On Saturday, Cole will try to beat his old team and get the Yankees back in the series. Cole will try to do as well as he did against Cleveland in the Division Series. The pitcher beat them twice, including a game that could have ended the series, had a 2.03 ERA, and struck out 16 batters in 13.1 innings.

But the Yankees’ problems in this series haven’t been with their pitchers. In the first two games, the offense has struck out a crazy 30 times. Cole can’t do much about that if it doesn’t change.

The other side

On Thursday, Eduardo Nunez made the announcement that he will be retiring. The Yankees, who signed him in 2004 as an amateur free agent from the Dominican Republic, were the player’s team for his first four seasons in the major leagues. The player is now 35 years old.

At one point, the Yankees thought that Núñez could replace Derek Jeter at shortstop. In 2011, Núñez played 112 games, mostly as a backup for Jeter at short and Alex Rodriguez at third.

But in 2012 and 2013, he didn’t do much at the plate for the Yankees, and he was traded to the Twins in April 2014 after being put on the “designated for assignment” list.

In 2016, Nunez became an All-Star for Minnesota, and in 2018, he helped the Red Sox win the World Series. He was with the Mets in 2020 the last time he played in the major leagues.

What do you think can help the Yankees avoid the chaos?

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