After landing Alex Verdugo from their arch-rival Red Sox in a rare trade between the sides earlier this evening, the Yankees still figure to look for upgrades to a lineup that ranked 19th in the majors with a 94 wRC+ in 2023 despite another fantastic season from team captain Aaron Judge, who slashed .267/.406/.613 with 37 home runs in just 106 games this season. Those upgrades don’t appear likely to come in the form of an addition at third base, however, as GM Brian Cashman told reporters (including MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch) earlier today that the club feels “covered” around the infield and does not consider third base to be an area of need this offseason.
While the Yankees figure to return Anthony Rizzo, Gleyber Torres, and Anthony Volpe as established regulars at first base, second base, and shortstop respectively, the hot corner features a little more uncertainty next season. Yankees third basemen slashed a collective .225/.302/.361 this past season, good for an 85 wRC+ that ranked better than just eight teams in 2023. Veteran infielder DJ LeMahieu took most of the club’s reps at the hot corner last season with 67 starts, though each of Josh Donaldson, Isiah Kiner-Falefa, Oswald Peraza and Oswaldo Cabrera also contributed as the Yankees mixed-and-matched at the position.
With Donaldson and Kiner-Falefa both having departed the organization, that would seemingly leave LeMahieu in line to receive the most reps at the position once again in 2024. The 35-year-old veteran just completed the third season of his six-year, $90MM contract with the Yankees. LeMahieu got roughly league average results (101 wRC+) at the plate in 2023 with a .243/.327/.390 slash line in 136 games. While LeMahieu’s 15 home runs tied his 2018 total with the Rockies for the second-highest of his career in a single season, the added power came at the cost of discipline. LeMahieu struck out at a career-high 22.2% clip this past season, well above both his career average of 15.2% and the 13.1% mark he posted in 2022.
Despite the additional whiffs as LeMahieu enters his mid-thirties, the veteran is likely still the club’s best option at the hot corner entering the year as both Cabrera and Peraza are coming off disastrous offensive seasons at the plate. While Peraza performed solidly at the Triple-A level with a 108 wRC+ in 300 plate appearances, the 23-year-old looked over-matched in the big leagues with a meager .191/.267/.272 slash line in a 52 games in the majors. Cabrera, meanwhile, appeared in 115 games for the Yankees as a utility player and struggled similarly across 330 big league plate appearances, slashing just .211/.275/.299 in that time.
Even as Cashman suggests the club is set at third with their internal options, Hoch reports that the club is at least considering adding one more bat to their infield mix: Kiner-Falefa. Jon Heyman of the New York Post echoes Hoch’s report of interest in bringing IKF back to the Bronx, but makes clear that the Yankees are far from alone in their interest in the utilityman; Heyman suggests that as many as 12 teams have interest in Kiner-Falefa’s services this offseason. The 28-year-old doesn’t contribute much at the plate, as he posted an 82 wRC+ in 2023 that nearly matches his career mark of 81, but he makes up for that lack of offensive ability with strong glovework all around the diamond.
Kiner-Falefa began his big league career as a backup catcher, though he hasn’t appeared behind the plate since the 2019 season. Since then, he’s proved to be an elite defensive infielder, winning a Gold Glove at third base in 2020 while offering strong defense at shortstop as well. IKF further expanded his defensive profile in 2023, appearing in 78 games on the outfield grass including 278 1/3 defensive innings of work in center field. While Kiner-Falefa’s strongest defensive marks come on the infield dirt, he posted a respectable +1 OAA and -1 DRS in center this season, potentially making him an attractive bench piece for teams in need of defensive versatility.
IKF isn’t the only outgoing free agent the Yankees reportedly have interest in retaining, as both Heyman and Hoch suggest the club has discussed a reunion with lefty reliever Wandy Peralta. Peralta, 32, has spent parts of eight seasons in the big leagues splitting time between three organizations but saw his career reach a new level since joining the Yankees partway through the 2021 season. Across 165 appearances in pinstripes, Peralta posted a 2.82 ERA that was 49% better than league average by measure of ERA+, though his 4.00 FIP leaves something to be desired. Advanced metrics are particularly critical of Peralta’s 2023 campaign. Despite a sterling 2.83 ERA in 54 innings, the southpaw posted a 5.05 FIP, 4.50 xFIP and 4.44 SIERA this past season.
Much of that disparity is thanks to a whopping 13.2% walk rate that was papered over in terms of Peralta’s raw run prevention numbers thanks to a microscopic .218 BABIP allowed and a career-high 85.2% strand rate. Despite those red flags, however, Peralta has gotten results in each of the past four seasons with a 3.01 ERA dating back to the start of the 2020 season. Much of that success has been thanks to Peralta’s excellence against left-handed pitching, to whom he’s surrendered a slash line of just .213/.308/.330 throughout his big league career. That’s surely a particularly attractive trait for the Yankees, who currently sport just two left-handed relief options on their 40-man roster in Nick Ramirez and Matt Krook.