NEW YORK, NEW YORK – AUGUST 21: Josh Donaldson #20 of the Minnesota Twins in action against the New … [+] York Yankees at Yankee Stadium on August 21, 2021 in New York City. The Yankees defeated the Twins 7-1. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
The New York Yankees have revamped the left side of their infield.
In a stunning trade with the Minnesota Twins, the Yankees traded catcher Gary Sanchez and infielder Gio Urshela for third baseman Josh Donaldson, shortstop Isiah-Kiner Falefa and catcher Ben Rortvedt
After having worked with Sanchez for years on his defense behind the plate, the Yankees decided it was time to make a permanent catching change. They will likely use a platoon at catcher, with veteran right-handed hitting Kyle Higashioka and left-handed swinging Rortvedt splitting time in the role. It may not be a straight platoon, but one that will be dictated by the circumstances and situations.
In offseason discussions, it was stated that if the Yankees didn’t upgrade their shortstop role with one of the many high-profile free-agent shortstops, Urshela was said to be the likely shortstop for the coming season. Gleyber Torres would move to second base.
The Yankees did not sign any free-agents from among middle-infielders Trevor Story, Javier Baez, Carlos Correa, Corey Seager or Andrelton Simmons. Rather, they chose to make the trade with Minnesota for Kiner-Falefa, a very versatile, 27-year-old, right-handed hitter.
Donaldson takes over at third base, bringing a very dynamic bat and superb defense to the position. However, Donaldson carries a history of serious calf and hip injuries to his new team.
But when healthy, Donaldson will add another loud bat to an already dangerous lineup.
To this scout, catcher Ben Rortvedt may be the best part of this trade for New York.
With their three new players, it is the opinion of this writer that the Yankees are a much better and more consistent defensive baseball team.
MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA – JULY 11: Ben Rortvedt #70 of the Minnesota Twins hits a solo home run in … [+] the ninth inning to tie the game against the Detroit Tigers at Target Field on July 11, 2021 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Minnesota Twins defeated the Detroit Tigers 12-9 in ten innings. (Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images)
About Ben Rortvedt:
Ben Rortvedt was a 2nd round selection of the Minnesota Twins in the 2016 draft out of Verona High School in Wisconsin.
The Twins got a bargain when they signed Rortvedt. According to MLB.com, he signed for $900,000, and the value for that slot in the draft was $1,141,000.
At 5-10, 205 pounds, Rortvedt is a superb defensive catcher. He has outstanding mechanics behind the plate, and to this scout, it will be obvious that Yankees pitchers will enjoy throwing to him. Rortvedt blocks balls in the dirt extremely well, which will be welcomed in New York. He has a strong arm and a good release.
Rortvedt had a knee injury in 2019, but that seems to be behind him at this point. He is currently dealing with an oblique issue, and he is behind in spring work.
Watching Rortvedt in Twins spring training camp in the past, and with a brief look in the 2019 Arizona Fall League, it was obvious to this old scout that Rortvedt is a defense-first catcher. He won’t hit much for the Yankees, but he will save runs and shepherd his pitchers well, which the team needs.
MINNEAPOLIS, MN – SEPTEMBER 10: Josh Donaldson #20 of the Minnesota Twins hits a three-run home run … [+] against the Kansas City Royals in the first inning of the game at Target Field on September 10, 2021 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by David Berding/Getty Images)
About Josh Donaldson:
At the age of 36, Josh Donaldson will be playing for his sixth major league club.
Selected by the Chicago Cubs in the 1st round of the 2007 draft out of Auburn University, Donaldson signed for $652,500 as the No. 48 selection that year.
Donaldson never got to play for the parent Cubs. In a multiple-player deal, Chicago sent Donaldson to the Oakland Athletics on November 28, 2014.
Donaldson has played for Oakland, Toronto, Cleveland, Atlanta, Minnesota, and now New York.
Donaldson has appeared in three All Star Games, and has won two Silver Slugger Awards.
Donaldson won the American League Most Valuable Player Award in 2015 with Toronto, when he hit 41 home runs, drove in 123 runs, scored 122 runs, registered 352 bases and stole six bases without getting thrown out. He hit .297/.371/.568/.939.
As this writer has observed, Donaldson has the capability of hitting loud line drives to right field off high velocity fastballs. In Yankee Stadium, those line drives to right may easily clear the short porch, making Donaldson a very dangerous hitter in a lineup with Aaron Judge, Joey Gallo, Anthony Rizzo, Giancarlo Stanton and Gleyber Torres, just to name a few.
In 2017, Donaldson played only 113 games with the Blue Jays, as he battled through a sore calf, and finally had to miss games. Given his history of hip and calf injuries, the Yankees have to monitor his playing time and use care and caution in handling his workload.
ARLINGTON, TEXAS – AUGUST 31: Isiah Kiner-Falefa #9 of the Texas Rangers celebrates a run scoring … [+] single to beat the Seattle Mariners 3-2 at Globe Life Park in Arlington on August 31, 2019 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images)
About Isiah Kiner-Falefa
Isiah Kiner-Falefa was a 4th round pick of the Texas Rangers in the 2013 draft out of Mid Pacific Institute High School in Honolulu, Hawaii.
The Rangers chose him in slot No.130, and he earned a $365,000 signing bonus.
Kiner-Falefa spent parts of seven seasons in the Rangers development system, reaching the big leagues with Texas in 2019.
Having just turned 27 March 23, 2021, Kiner-Falefa is now in the prime of his career.
Kiner-Falefa played in the 2016 Arizona Fall League, where this old scout got a good look at him. He drove the ball hard, but he didn’t have much to show for his efforts. At that time, however, he was being used as a catcher, a second baseman, a shortstop, a third baseman and an outfielder. Due to his defensive skill and ability to move around the diamond, he was the ideal type of player that could save roster spots for a big league club.
In the shortened 2020 season, Kiner-Falefa won a Gold Glove at third base with the Rangers.
Basically a singles hitter, Kiner-Falefa should be able to get on base, and possibly steal second to get in scoring position. Last season, he stole 20 bases in 25 attempts, but he doesn’t have blazing speed. He’s just a good base runner with fine instincts and technique.
In 1,523 big league plate appearances, Kiner-Falefa has hit 16 home runs. Power is not among his tools. And to his credit, he has not tried to change his hitting mechanics in an effort to hit the ball out of the park.
Kiner-Falefa makes good contact. Last year, he struck out only 90 times in 629 plate appearances. He has a good eye at the plate, is patient, and recognizes pitches out of the hand well.
What the Yankees are getting is a good defender with a strong arm. He can move around the diamond if they need him. He is a clear defensive upgrade at shortstop over Baez.
Trading for Kiner-Falefa and not signing one of the “elite” and expensive free-agent shortstops may allow the Yankees the resources to upgrade their most obvious unmet need. To this writer, the team is woefully short on quality pitching depth.
The Yankees will be without starter Domingo German due to a shoulder impingement. He could be sidelined for quite a while. Their current rotation, according to fangraphs.com, includes Gerrit Cole, Jordan Montgomery, Luis Severino, Nestor Cortes and Jameson Taillon. Both Cortes and Montgomery are left-handed.
The Yankees might be a club in talks with the Oakland Athletics for one of their starters. However, as things now stand, their pitching options are limited.
While the Yankees may need to supplement their rotation, the offense remains solid.
Adding Josh Donaldson to play third base should give the team an additional home run, and RBI threat. If he stays healthy, and if his hip and calf don’t cause problems, Donaldson could be an ideal fit in The Bronx.
While newcomer Isiah Kiner-Falefa won’t do much to bring fear to opposing pitchers, his solid defense at shortstop will help save runs.
The Yankees biggest defensive upgrade should take place behind the plate, as catcher Ben Rortvedt should provide the pitching staff with a very reliable and competent catcher to manage games. He won’t hit much, but his defense will be greatly welcomed. The team needs Rortvedt to return quickly from his oblique injury, as Kyle Higashioka has also come down with a side injury of his own.
The Yankees assumed roughly $50M in his contract when they traded for Donaldson. Even at that, the amount was less than if they had signed one of the “elite” free-agent shortstops.
New York manager Aaron Boone can keep all his infielders fresh by rotating them in and out of the lineup and/or using them as a designated hitter at times. Boone can use Rizzo, Torres, Kiner-Falefa, Donaldson and the very versatile DJ LeMahieu on a rotating basis. Each of those players should still get 500+ at-bats.
The Yankees are currently in the midst of a bit of an internal hiccup with star outfielder Aaron Judge. Judge filed for $21M as a third-year arbitration eligible player. The team filed at $17M. Judge will be eligible for free-agency at the end of this season.
Fangraphs estimates the Yankees 2022 payroll to be $245M at this point. That’s above the first of four thresholds of the MLB Luxury Tax. Maybe the team will increase spending by adding a pitcher.
The infield defense for the Yankees has improved, and there is little doubt the New York Yankees have a deeper and more consistent offensive and defensive team with the additions of Isiah Kiner-Falefa, Josh Donaldson and Ben Rortvedt.