Yankees have only two left from their once dream team of youngsters

Gleyber Torres and Aaron Judge in the Yankees team of 2018

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Aaron Judge is back in pinstripes after giving anxious moments to both the Yankees and their fans. He is hailed as one of the greatest-ever Yankees. The “Aaron Judge era” for the Yankees started in 2017 and the Yankees soon felt they got a young, powerful offensive core that was capable of becoming a dynasty with a World Series legacy.

But five seasons later, the Yankees have only Aaron Judge and Gleyber Torres of that dream team of youngsters they had. Torres would have made his debut in 2017 had he not suffered an elbow ligament breakup during a Triple-A game.

A year before Aaron Judge became the Rookie of the Year, Gary Sanchez amazed everyone despite getting only 53 games and coming second to win the rookie title. Greg Bird had his own surprising season in 2015, but he missed the 2016 season because he needed shoulder surgery and an ankle injury kept him out for most of the 2017 season. Miguel Andujar and Jackson Frazier both made their debuts in 2017.

Greg Bird had his breakout season in 2015. Sanchez had it the next year and Judge began took it over in 2017, when the Yankees reached the ALCS. If Shohei Ohtani hadn’t arrived, it was Andujar’s turn to become the rookie of the year in 2018. That year a debutant Torres came in third.

Bird had a good first season of 46 games in 2015, but he never hit better than .199 in any of the three seasons that followed. Bird could never stay healthy or get back to his early form. After the 2019 season, he was put on waivers and hasn’t played in the major leagues since. In April, he tried to get back with the Yankees by signing a minor league deal. He was let go from Triple-A on July 13 after hitting .218 with six home runs in 59 games. Since then, he hasn’t played for any other team. In November, he will turn 30.

The Yankees were affected by the way he changed. He was the only left-handed player in the team’s planned core of six, and when he left, the Yankees became way too right-handed. Frazier had problems with concussions, and after he left the Yankees, he said he was also having problems with his mental health. After last season, the Yankees let him go. The Cubs gave him $1.5 million to play for them because they thought he could be useful. But in June, he was sent to the minor leagues after being put on waivers. But at Triple-A, he hit just .190 with six home runs in 66 games. In his last 36 games, he hit just .139 with one home run. This month, Frazier turned 28.

When Sanchez first came to the team, he was thought to be a great hitter with a lot of power. But Sanchez gave up his great hitting skills to get more power. During the regular season and playoffs of 2017, Sanchez’s defense, especially his inability to block pitches well, came under more scrutiny. In 2018, things only got worse. But Sanchez’s offense got worse the more the Yankees and Sanchez worked on improving his defense.

From 2018 to 2020, he hit 85 home runs, which was tied for the 46th most in the major leagues with Anthony Rizzo. But Sanchez hit .201, which was the third-worst of anyone with at least 1,000 at-bats. Before this season, the Yankees sent him and Gio Urshela to the Twins in exchange for Josh Donaldson, Isiah Kiner-Falefa, and Ben Rortvedt, who failed to boost their lineup.

Sanchez was hitting .210 with 15 home runs going into the last week of the season. His defensive numbers are fine, but his reputation as a defender is still not great. In December, he will turn 30. Even though he isn’t on the team this season, it’s hard to ignore how much better the Yankees are at stopping runs overall. This is due to improvements in many different areas.

But the catcher position is the most important. Jose Trevino, in particular, has done a great job of guiding the Yankees’ pitching staff. Rortvedt was supposed to be a big part of that, but he hurt his oblique in the spring, which led to the Yankees trading for Trevino. Rortvedt never played for the 2022 Yankees again.

At third base, Andujar was always going to have trouble holding on defensively, but the end came faster than expected. Early in the 2019 season, he was injured while stealing a base. Urshela took his place and he failed to make a comeback. Andujar moved from the infield to the outfield and worked hard enough to be able to do it. But every time he went to the majors, he seemed to try hard at the plate to prove that he was still the best hitter of 2018. From 2020 to 2022, Andujar only got 324 random at-bats for the Yankees. He hit .244 with an OPS of .618.

The Yankees held on to Andujar and Frazier for a long time because they wanted to increase their trade values. People on the team used to joke that when that duo was popular, and even after they had lost some of their shine, they would be key pieces in trades for difference-makers. Like they did with Frazier, the Yankees let Andujar go on September 22 because they thought there were better ways to use his spot on the 40-man roster.

Andujar was picked up by the Pirates, and in his first three games with the team, he went 4-for-11 with two doubles and five runs batted in. Unlike Bird or Frazier, there seems to be a way for Andujar, who will be 28 in March, to prove he can be, say, a 15-homer, 35-double complement to a lineup outside of New York.

Yankees need a plan for Torres

The Yankees finally admitted to Torres that he was not a shortstop when they bought Kiner-Falefa, who is liked by the defensive metrics, and in the case of defensive runs saved, he is loved. But sometimes IKF has tense hands, which makes me wonder what it means for him to play behind a pitching staff that makes a lot of ground balls in the playoffs.

Still, the move made the Yankees better overall because it put Torres at second base, where he is much better and more confident. Also, his offense has gotten better since 2020-21, when he was the main shortstop. Overall, though, his performance at the plate has been up and down. When Torres uses the whole field, especially when he’s trying to get an RBI, his bat is much more powerful.

But the Yankees will have to decide what to do with Torres both in the short term and in the long term. Baseball Reference says that his 4.0 WAR is second-best for the Yankees, behind Judge. He won’t be a free agent until the end of the 2024 season, which is after he turns 26. Many fans favor trading him following the emergence of Oswaldo Cabrera, Oswald Peraza, and Anthony Volpe. Others see DJ LeMahieu as a better alternative.

Andujar’s move to Pittsburgh makes him the eighth player to have signed his first professional contract with the Yankees and then played for the 2022 Pirates. Donaldson and Anthony Rizzo both had 251 home runs when the season began. Rizzo has hit 32 home runs, which is his career high. Donaldson only has 15 home runs, which is by far the least he has ever hit in a season where he played at least 100 games. At the start of 2021, they were tied with many other players for 240th all-time in home runs. With 266 points, Donaldson is now in 214th place. Rizzo is in 183rd place, with 283 home runs.

Rizzo is 13th in career home runs among those who have played in the major leagues this year, and Donaldson is 17th. And look who moved into the active top 20: that would be Judge. His 61st home run of the year gave him 219 for his career, putting him in the top 20. That makes Judge the 309th best player ever. Judge had hit 158 home runs before this season. At the moment, that is 533rd.

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