Yanks Have Decision To Make On Torres, And It’s An Easy One
This is a simple scenario, so let’s just lay the numbers out there, as painful as they may be for one of the Yankees’ favorite prospects. Tyler Wade isn’t hitting major league pitching, and Gleyber Torres is hitting just about every baseball he sees at the Triple-A level. So, later this week, the Yankees will have a decision to make, because according to the collective bargaining agreement, this is the time of the season when teams finally can start getting serious about putting their best players on the major league field. Baseball’s collective bargaining agreement is a wordy, complicated litany of policies that, frankly, is a mess the Players Association is going to try to overhaul in upcoming seasons. But as it stands now, free-agent years kick in for players at different times, depending on when they get their first big-league call-up. For a player on a 40-man roster who has not yet made his big-league debut, which Torres is, a call-up any time after the 20th day of the season’s start delays his foray into free agency by a year. In other words, Wednesday is the day the Yankees can call up Torres and essentially hand themselves a year on his current contract. That means, team control of one of the top prospects in baseball through the 2024 season, at a cost that just about anyone who evaluates prospects for a living or has seen Torres play for an extended period of time realizes will be far under his actual value to the team. Those are exactly the kind of players every team is looking for to avoid pushing payroll past the luxury tax threshold, and guys like Gleyber Torres can help a team compete for championships, to boot. Here’s where the debate comes in. The Yankees can call Torres up next Wednesday, or the Wednesday after that, or some Wednesday in July, for that matter, and still get the extra year of control. Now, it’s about whether they believe Torres is ready or, at the very least, worth some consideration for a team that has been up and down since the season’s start and could badly use a spark. Which is why this decision is as much about prospects the Yankees really do rightfully like, guys like Wade or Miguel Andujar, who are young and have minor-league options. Guys who are getting the type of playing time at the big-league level that will help them develop, but who also have struggled. Friday night against Detroit, Andujar started at third base, went 2 for 4, scored twice and raised his average to .156. It’s a start for the 23-year-old, if nothing else. Wade, meanwhile, has never really seemed to get started with the Yankees. He didn’t hit in a smattering of chances last season in the big leagues. After the Yankees’ rough-and-tumble series at Fenway during which their offense was largely outclassed by rival Boston’s, Wade carried an .097 batting average. It dipped three more points after a pinch-hitting appearance Friday. Yep, that’s 3 for 32 in the early going, folks. And in his short career with the Yankees, he’s 12 for his first 90 and has struck out in 33.3 percent of his at-bats, an eye-grabbing number considering that he fanned just 21.5 percent of the time during his minor-league career. Wade is a slick, versatile defender who can create havoc on the bases, but when you’re only getting on base at a .171 clip … you get the picture. So, the Yankees have two young question marks in a lineup in which they have to use them, and either could be sent down. But Andujar has at least shown signs of life at the plate recently; he’s 4 for his last 17, and the Yankees don’t seem to know much about the immediate future of starter Brandon Drury, who went on the disabled list because of migraines that have affected his vision. In other words, if Andujar offers anything offensively, there’s a natural defensive fit for him to get the time he needs in the lineup. Torres, if he’s an option, is a more natural fit at shortstop and second base than he is at third, where he has potential to be a terrific defender but has struggled at times even in the minors. Essentially, that makes this a question about Wade and his role and his immediate future in the big leagues, because he has the more similar defensive profile to Torres and, for whatever reason, has shown he’s not ready for the big leagues offensively. There’s a case to be made for the status quo, for sure. Wade is a really good prospect in his own right, and an argument can be made that he stood out as the RailRiders’ best all-around player in 2017. He earned the shot he got to stick in the big leagues with a strong spring, and he did battle the flu for a good part of the first few weeks of the season. You don’t go very far in player development when you judge a young player’s value on what essentially is a week-and-a-half’s worth of games. But the Yankees are a different team in a bit of a conundrum. After an ugly 0-for-4, three-strikeout performance on opening night, Torres is 12 for his next 27 with seven RBIs and a 1.113 OPS. He adjusts that quickly. Even in one of the most loaded farm systems in baseball, he’s not exactly the top prospect by a narrow margin. He likely would have been the starting shortstop on more than half the teams in the majors last season. If not for the elbow injury he suffered last spring sliding into home in Buffalo, the Yankees probably would have punted on that extra season of team control and brought him up to the Bronx in the second half of 2017 anyway. Some wonder if the Yankees will just stay the course with Wade and Andujar and let Torres continue to develop with the RailRiders. They might be right. Make no mistake, though: If they think Torres is a better player than Tyler Wade right now, they’ll call him up later this week and see if the production winds up matching the hype. Nobody who has seen Torres at the Triple-A level would be surprised if they did, as good as those same people know Wade can be. We’ve seen hundreds of prospects come through PNC Field over the years, but some prove themselves rather immediately to be different. Chase Utley was different. Cole Hamels was different. Ryan Howard was different. Gleyber Torres is different, too. That’s why it’s time for his tenure with the RailRiders to end. DONNIE COLLINS is a sports columnist for The Times-Tribune. Contact him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @DonnieCollinsTT.