Mariners Interested In Gleyber Torres

The Mariners have interest in Yankees second baseman Gleyber Torres, Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports.  It isn’t known if the two sides are particularly close on any sort of trade, though Sherman theorizes that the M’s could potentially offer the Yankee some bullpen help in return — akin to Seattle’s deal for Teoscar Hernandez earlier this week.

Second base is an area of need for the Mariners, and Milwaukee’s Kolten Wong is another name reportedly on Seattle’s trade radar.  Acquiring a second baseman would allow the Mariners to keep J.P. Crawford at shortstop, which president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto has said is the team’s preferred scenario for 2023 and beyond.  This even extends to this winter’s shortstop market, as Dipoto is hopeful of finding a top-tier shortstop who could be willing to move to the other middle infield position to accommodate Crawford.  Trading for a player like Torres would allow the M’s to sidestep the free agent shortstop market altogether, and perhaps save some payroll space to address other needs.

Torres is a former shortstop himself, as the Yankees’ ill-fated attempt to use Torres as the everyday shortstop resulted in some lackluster defensive numbers.  A greatly improved team defense was a big part of New York’s success in 2022, and Torres was part of that effort at second base, in the eyes of the Defensive Runs Saved (+9) and UZR/150 (+4.8) metrics.  The Outs Above Average metric wasn’t as kind with only a -1 rating, yet there is certainly no doubt Torres has more defensive value at the keystone than at shortstop.

How Torres’ glovework might translate to the 2023 season is an open question, given the incoming rules limiting defensive shifts.  Still, the Mariners have confidence in Crawford’s ability as an elite (when healthy) defensive shortstop, and he could potentially make up for some or any struggles Torres might have under the new rules.  It could be that Seattle also thinks Torres’ bat can make up for any shortcomings in the field.

Torres hit .257/.310/.451 with 24 home runs over 572 plate appearances last season, resulting in a 115 wRC+.  It was a solid bounce-back from Torres’ 94 wRC+ in 2021, as there was some thought that the defensive change would also help Torre get more focused at the plate.  Torres hit for a lot more power and made much more hard contact in 2022 than in 2021, though his strikeout and walk rates actually decreased to below-average numbers from the previous season.  That said, there has always been some variance in Torres’ K% and BB% rates, even dating back to his best seasons (2018 and 2019), whereas 2022 marked the first time Torres’ hard-hit ball percentage topped the league average.

On the financial side, Torres is arbitration-controlled through the 2024 season, and is projected to earn $9.8MM this winter in his third trip through the arb process.  As a Super Two player, Torres has four years of arbitration eligibility instead of the usual three, and his projected 2023 salary represents another notable raise from his $6.25MM figure in 2022.  While the Yankees are one of baseball’s biggest spenders, that doesn’t mean they’re necessarily willing to keep meeting this escalating cost, especially if they have any doubts that Torres’ production will continue to merit this price tag.

As well, New York has some intriguing cheaper options coming up from the farm system.  Oswaldo Cabrera and Oswald Peraza each made their MLB debuts last season, and star prospect Anthony Volpe is expected to get his first taste of the majors in 2023.  Sherman writes that “the Yankees let executives at the GM meetings know they were open for business with their middle infielders,” meaning that both Torres and Isiah Kiner-Falefa could be dangled in order to both upgrade at other positions and to create some lineup space for the youngsters.  The Yankees avoided arbitration with Kiner-Falefa yesterday, agreeing to a one-year, $6MM deal for the 2023 campaign.

There is enough turnover potential that Sherman “would be shocked if at least one [of Torres or Kiner-Falefa] was not moved” before Opening Day.  Other than the newly re-signed Anthony Rizzo at first base, there’s a lot of potential flux around New York’s infield, given that DJ LeMahieu is still figuring out the best course of action to treat the toe injuries that hampered him last season.  If surgery does become necessary for LeMahieu, that might make the Yankees less open to moving a proven contributor like Torres.  The Yankees seem ready to open up the third base position by moving Josh Donaldson, yet the combination of Donaldson’s offensive decline, his poor clubhouse reputation, and his big contract (at least $29MM remaining through 2023) might mean the Yankees could just end up releasing Donaldson if they just want to on move on from the former AL MVP.

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