The Yankees’ infield seems mostly set for 2024, with a hopefully-healthy Anthony Rizzo back at first base, a resurgent Gleyber Torres — their second-best offensive player last season — entrenched at second and youthful Gold Glove-winner Anthony Volpe, a potential star, at shortstop.
Third base seems like the only spot that could be fluid, barring the Yankees trading Torres for help in another area of need (of which there are, um, a few). Is the infield a must-upgrade area of the roster? Not in comparison to the outfield, obviously.
But there are some players from outside who might boost the lineup and should be considered. There are incumbent possibilities, too.
Here are five suggestions for the Yankees to mull over at third base in 2024. If a different infield spot opens up — hey, you never know what might happen in a baseball offseason — we’ll write another article then.
The Yankees were fascinated by — obsessed with? — Josh Donaldson over the last two years. But because of injury and his underperformance, DJ LeMahieu played by far the most games at third last year (69) and Oswald Peraza (36) was next. Both could be in the mix for the position this year, too.
LeMahieu, 35, was one of baseball’s best hitters in his first two seasons with the Yankees from 2019-20. But he has only mustered a .720 OPS since, a smidge above league average. He had a career-high strikeout rate last season — 22.2%, worse than the league average — and doesn’t have the usual power profile for third. Can the Yanks count on an offensive revival or is DJLM best suited as a roving utility man?
Third also could be, as Brian Cashman likes to put it, a “lane” for Peraza to play regularly. He’s a gifted defensive player — some say he’s a better shortstop than Volpe — but Peraza did not hit in the majors last year during his second big-league stint. Peraza had a .191 average and a .539 OPS in 191 plate appearances. Is he ready enough for this or is he better used in a trade? We’ll see.
Go to the Matt
The top available free agent at third is Matt Chapman, even if he is coming off his lowest homer output (17) since he became a big-league regular (not counting the shortened 2020 season, in which he also had hip surgery). He had a huge first month last year, batting .384 with a 1.152 OPS, five homers and 21 RBI in his first 27 games. But he sagged afterward, batting .205 with a .659 OPS, 12 homers and 33 RBI over his final 113 games.
Still, he offers pop and elite defense — he’s a four-time Gold Glover and won the AL award at third this year. Last year, he was still one of the best in baseball at hitting the ball hard, according to MLB’s Statcast, ranking fifth in average exit velocity. The players ahead of him make a monster list of talent: Aaron Judge, Ronald Acuña Jr., Shohei Ohtani and Matt Olson.
Though Chapman has cut back on strikeouts a bit over the past two seasons, he still fans more than the average big-leaguer. But could the Yankees dream on how his right-handed power might play in Yankee Stadium? After all, their 2023 third basemen only combined for 17 home runs.
Light Jeimer’s way to the Bronx
Jeimer Candelario was one of the most in-demand hitters at the trade deadline and he timed a terrific rebound season perfectly with his looming free agency, a year after being non-tendered by the Tigers.
Now he is one of the finest third basemen available. The switch-hitter had a slash line of .251/.336./471 between the Nationals and Cubs last year and hit 22 homers and 39 doubles. He and Chapman tied for the lead in doubles among third basemen.
Candelario, who turns 30 this month, isn’t the defender that Chapman is. But he’ll also likely be less expensive and won’t cost draft-pick compensation, since he was traded at midseason and ineligible for a qualifying offer.
Justin Turner will be 39 later this month and may not profile as an everyday third baseman anymore, so this would be a positional risk. He only played in seven games at third last year with the Red Sox, since Rafael Devers is their third baseman, and got most of his at-bats as a DH. But he’d provide options at both infield corners and DH and he, seemingly, will never stop hitting.
Turner had 23 homers, 96 RBI and a .276/.345/.455 slash line for Boston last year. Off that, he turned down a $13.4 million player option and took a $6.7 million buyout instead, becoming a free agent. Perhaps signing him is a pathway to giving at-bats to Turner, one of the most consistent hitters of recent vintage, and LeMahieu, while also offering an opportunity for Peraza to see some time, too.
Sing a Madrigal
Here, we are piggybacking on an MLB.com suggestion that Nick Madrigal might be the best third baseman on the winter trade market. It’s not that the Cubs are shopping him — they just could make a move from a surplus of infielders and Madrigal, who can play second base, too, might be a possibility.
We like a potential deal for him for the Yanks. Madrigal will be 26 in March, is eligible for two years of arbitration and is adept at putting the ball in play. Among his career numbers, he has a .280 batting average and 8.9% strikeout rate. For reference, the Guardians had the lowest strikeout rate of any team in 2023 — 18.7%. The Yankees could use someone who makes contact regularly, eh?
Madrigal does not provide power — four homers in 234 career games, however. But his contact skills and versatility could help the Yankees.