“I played my entire minor leagues [and major leagues] at third base. Then, moving to shortstop, I kind of liked it,” he said. Urshela was exaggerating a little bit, as he had played a little bit of shortstop before this year, but not a lot. In 2017, he logged 20 innings at short while with Cleveland, then racked up 65 more for the Blue Jays in 2018. That was the sum total of his big league shortstop experience, 85 innings. He got a bit more in the minors, 276 1/3 shortstop innings from 2013 to 2018. But over 2019 and 2020, he didn’t play shortstop at all, majors or minors. “I really enjoyed playing shortstop because you get more involved in the game,” Urshela continued. “Every play, you’re going to be involved. Third base, I just wait for the [ball] and that’s it. You don’t move that much.”
On September 13th, Yankees’ manager Aaron Boone announced that the club would be moving Gleyber Torres from shortstop to second base “to take some pressure off” him. This followed years of speculation about the eventual move, given Torres’s defensive struggles. At that point, Urshela had appeared in parts of 11 games at short on the campaign, but then made 17 more appearances there over the season’s final three weeks. And how do defensive metrics like Urshela’s work? On the season overall, Statcast’s Outs Above Average rated Urshela at zero, Defensive Runs Saved had him at minus-1 and Ultimate Zone Rating gave him minus-0.2.
It’s probably not wise to use these small-sample numbers as any kind of cudgel to attack Urshela’s future as a shortstop, but he was around average offensively this year as well, as his slash line of .267/.301/.419 amount to a wRC+ of 96. (League average is 100.) That’s a drop-off from his 2019-2020 output of .310/.358/.523, wRC+ of 132. It seems fair to deduce that the Yankees will consider shortstop an area of potential improvement and will thus be very interested in this winter’s crop of shortstops. The market is loaded with stars, such as Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, Marcus Semien, Trevor Story, Javier Baez and Chris Taylor.
This will be lead to an interesting financial decision for the Yankees, in terms of the luxury tax. In the estimation of Jason Martinez of Roster Resource, their 2022 luxury tax number is already $222MM, when factoring in estimates for the team’s massive arbitration class of 19 players. That’s well over the lowest threshold for this season, which was $210MM, a line the Yankees made a point to avoid crossing. However, it’s entirely possible that the entire luxury tax landscape looks completely different in a few months, given that the current Collective Bargaining Agreement between the league and MLBPA expires December 1st, with the negotiation of a new CBA widely expected to be contentious, leaving many variables undetermined for the time being. Regardless of whether the thresholds change significantly or not, that’s a heavy payroll to be carrying before the offseason even begins. Any of those aforementioned star shortstops would likely add at least $20MM to their luxury tax ledger, if not more, taking the Yankees above $240MM, before even factoring in any other offseason signings. Under the current CBA, the luxury tax penalties increase at $230MM and again at $250MM.
If the Yankees do add a shortstop of some kind before next season, it might squeeze Urshela’s playing time, as moving Torres to second base means DJ LeMahieu should be slotted into third base most of the time. Urshela played 2021 on a salary of $4.65MM and MLBTR’s arbitration projections for 2022 estimate that could increase to the vicinity of $6.2MM for his second of three arb years. That would be a bit steep for a bench infielder who offers up league-average offense, but it could also be a bargain if the club thinks he’s capable of returning to the form he showed in 2019-2020.