A nearly perfect SS solution for Yankees: Steal Marcus Semien from Toronto

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Marcus Semien HR at Yankee Stadium
Marcus Semien HR at Yankee Stadium

Even before the Yankees moved Gleyber Torres off shortstop this month, it was fairly clear behind the scenes that a change would come before next season.

The question of whether Torres is a middle infielder at all -- or, for that matter, a player worth keeping in the organization -- is one that deserves its own examination. For today, it’s enough to say that he shouldn’t be the shortstop in 2022.

Poking around over the past few weeks for the Yanks’ preliminary thinking about how to fill that important position, we found the following to be true:

-- The Yankees will dabble in the free agent shortstop market and will be linked, at least fictionally, to all of the big ones: Trevor Story, Javier Baez, Carlos Correa and Corey Seager.

-- The team can imagine Torres at second, Gio Urshela at third, Anthony Rizzo, Luke Voit or someone else at first and DJ LeMahieu playing all over the infield (as was the original plan when the Yanks first signed LeMahieu after the 2018 season). Some of those names might change, but the basic structure leaves an opening at shortstop.

-- The Yankees really like their two shortstop prospects, 21-year-old Oswald Peraza and 20-year-old Anthony Volpe. They don’t appear in a rush to block those players.

From where we sit, the above factors practically scream two words: Marcus Semien.

The Yankees could sign Semien to play shortstop and move him to second in a year or two if either of those prospects proves as legit as expected. And in doing so, they can steal a major piece from the Toronto Blue Jays, who have made clear they will be a force in the American League East for years to come.

Semien will be expensive, but because he’s 31 years old he would be more affordable in both years and dollars than some of the other shortstops. One industry source suggested that Semien could command a contract of four or five years at $22 million per season.

Baez, by comparison, could earn $150-200 million over five to seven years. After former Mets GM Omar Minaya made that prediction recently on SNY, other industry sources agreed with the range.

The Yankees have talked internally about Baez, though they were spooked by his handling of thumbs down-gate over in Queens. Baez has been a good citizen since then and shouldn’t be totally ruled out.

Seager and Correa are also possibilities, though Correa was the face of a Houston team that the Yanks are still angry at for three years of sign stealing. The Yanks already tried to trade for Story.

With so many quality shortstops available this winter, and CBA negotiations threatening to slow or undermine free agency, it’s hard to say that all of these players will receive the massive contracts that they surely all expect. Perhaps one will land in the Yankees’ lap on an irresistible pillow contract.

But each is likely to ask for a longer deal than Semien. It’s that, more than the dollars, that could make the Yankees hesitate.

The one drawback to Semien is that his defense at short ranks below average, at least from an analytical standpoint. He registered a negative outs above average at short in every season but 2018, when his OAA was 1. He rates much better at second base this season, with 6 OAA (Torres has -9 OAA as a shortstop this year, worse than all but one of Semien’s seasons at the position).

After slogging through the Torres era at short, the Yankees would benefit from a slicker fielder at the position. But it helps that Semien’s OPS this year is better than Story’s, Seager’s, Correa’s and Baez’s. And at .878, it is nearly 200 points (yes, you read that correctly) higher than Torres’.

If the Yankees sign Semien, they can expect more offense from the position, while continuing to be excited about Volpe and Peraza. What’s not to like?