TAMPA — After years of underperforming from catcher Gary Sanchez and an unimpressive year and a half of shortstop from Gleyber Torres, the Yankees have moved on. The Bombers acquired former MVP third baseman Josh Donaldson and shortstop Isiah Kiner-Falefa in a deal that sent Sanchez and Gio Urshela to the Twins late Sunday night.
The deal came as the Yankees seemed to be fading in the race to land first baseman Freddie Freeman.
The Yankees’ top priority coming out of last season—when they demoted Torres to second base—was to land a solid defensive shortstop. They had long been frustrated with Sanchez’s struggles behind the plate, but in the last two years the sluggers’ also started having problems at bat.
Now, the Yankees have to sort out their infield. They gave DJ LeMahieu a six-year $90 million deal last year to be their second baseman and potential third baseman. Now, they have Torres and Donaldson in those spots. LeMahieu can also play first base.
But they could not go into the season with their plan of playing Gio Urshela there every day. So.Kiner-Falefa, a player the Yankees have long been tied to, solves the Yankees’ first problem of the 2022 season. .
The 26-year old Hawaii native hit .271/ .312/.670 with eight home runs in 158 games for the Texas Rangers in 2021. He was just acquired by the Twins the day before in a deal that sent catcher Mitch Garver to the Rangers.
He is a career .265/.316/.670 career hitter with 16 home runs in 392 big league games. He moved from third base to short last season and posted a .972 fielding percentage,, leading Major League shortstops in total chances (669), assists (436) and double plays turned (98). Kiner-Falefa also ranked tied for third among MLB shortstops with 10 defensive runs saved, per The Fielding Bible, trailing only Houston’s Carlos Correa (20) and Minnesota’s Andrelton Simmons (15), who signed with the Chicago Cubs this offseason.
Kiner-Falefa is under team control until 2024 and is seen as a short-term shortstop until one of the Yankees’ young prospects at the position, Anthony Volpe or Oswald Peraza takes the job.
Donaldson, the 2015 American league Most Valuable Player, is a three-time All-Star and two-time Silver Slugger Award winner. He is also the player who pointed a finger at Yankees’ ace Gerrit Cole last season when MLB began cracking down on the use of illegal substances by pitchers. The 36-year old is a career 269/.367/.505 hitter with 251 home runs in 1,201 career games over 11 Major League seasons. In 2021, he hit .247 with 26 homers and 72 RBI in 135 games with the Twins.
Donaldson has two years and $50 million owed on his contract with the Twins.
A team source said they spoke to Cole about bringing Donaldson into the clubhouse before they made the deal.
The Yankees also got catcher Ben Rortvedt, a highly thought of catcher who was the Twins second-round draft pick in 2016. He made his big league debut last season, hitting .169/229/.281 three home runs in 39 games. He is a career .241/.316/.355, 21-home run hitter in 325 games in the minors. Rortvedt worked with Yankees catching coach Tanner Swanson in the Twins organization. Swanson was brought in in 2019 to try and help Sanchez behind the plate.
Sanchez, who made $6.35 million last season, showed some improvement at the plate from a disastrous 2020 season, slashing .204/.307/.423 with 23 homers and 54 RBI in 117 games.
The 29-year-old Sanchez was still considered among the bottom five catchers in the big leagues in framing stats, Sánchez ranked 55th out of 59 qualified catchers in Runs From Extra Strikes (-6) and 49th in Strike Rate (45.8%).
And he struggled with the stats that drive fans wild. He was charged with six errors and eight passed balls. There were 60 wild pitches on his watch and 50 stolen bases. In fact, known as having a cannon of an arm, Sanchez had the worst caught stealing rate (17%) by far of his career.
Torres had a breakout season playing almost half the year at shortstop in 2019, hitting a career-high 38 home runs and slashing .279/.337/.535 with an .871 OPS. That power was enough for the Yankees to overlook his defensive woes and let Didi Gregorious walk as a free agent and move ahead with Torres as their shortstop.
But it disappeared.
Torres has hit 12 home runs over the last two seasons.
In 2020, the Yankees—and to be fair other teams’ talent evaluators—felt that Torres was just hindered by the fact he showed up after the COVID-19 spring training shutdown out of shape and that resulted in a leg injury.