Red Sox Rival #2: New York Yankees
The 2021 Bronx Bombers were a fatally flawed team. Their lineup was a collection of low OBP/high strikeout right-handers who were well below average in the field and at the plate. The pitching staff was much stronger than in recent years but was still far too dependent on Gerritt Cole and far too susceptible to an Aroldis Chapman blowup.
So what have they done this offseason to fix that? Well, they undoubtedly upgraded their defense with the trade for Josh Donaldson and Isiah Kiner-Falefa, but to do so, they needed to give up catcher Gary Sanchez and infielder Giovanny Urshela.
Sanchez might have needed a change of scenery, but he is still the rare catcher who is at least league-average offensively, and his departure leaves Kyle Higashioka as the starter catcher. Urshela, meanwhile, was arguably the team’s best defensive infielder, and while he had a down season in 2021, he posted a 134 OPS+ from 2019-2020.
There are no knocks on the acquisition of Kiner-Falefa. He is an even better defender than Urshela, and his 20 stolen bases would have paced the Yankees last year. He doesn’t have a lot of punch, but there is enough firepower surrounding him in the Yankees lineup where he doesn’t need to do much at the plate. His defense and baserunning will provide more than enough value.
Donaldson, though, has a number of questions surrounding him. The Yankees are clearly banking on his elite batting ball metrics and still-above-average defense, but as he enters his age 36 season, it remains to be seen how long he can sustain that.
He also comes with significant injury risk, playing in only 69% percent of games over the last five years. The fact of the matter is that Donaldson is yet another slow, injury-prone right-handed slugger who will be earning $40 million over the next two seasons.
The Yankees’ next move was bringing back Anthony Rizzo, a popular mid-season acquisition with a strong pedigree and equally strong on-base skills. As I’d pointed out in my “Free Agents to Avoid” article, however, Rizzo is not the same player he once was. His xBA, his expected batting average based on the quality of his contact, has fallen 24 points since 2017.
His 9.0 BB% was his lowest total since 2017, while his strikeout rate was his highest since 2016. With the Yankees rumored to be in on Matt Olson and Freddie Freeman, it was clear that Rizzo was the better option from a Red Sox standpoint.
With Rizzo brought back, incumbent first baseman Luke Voit became expendable, and the Yankees unceremoniously dumped him to the Padres. Voit is coming off a disastrous, injury-riddled season, yet it’s still startling seeing a recent home run champion traded for a Single-A pitcher.
So does a Josh Donaldson/Isiah Kiner-Falefa for Gary Sanchez/Luke Voit/Gio Urshela make the Yankees a better team? It unquestionably makes them a better defensive ballclub, but it also leaves them without a starting-caliber catcher and a surplus of infielders with significant question marks.
Simply put, these moves do not change the balance of power in the AL East, and the Red Sox should be much more worried about the Rays and the Blue Jays.