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Yankees trade Gary Sanchez to Twins for Josh Donaldson in blockbuster move

The New York Yankees are acquiring Josh Donaldson and Isiah Kiner-Falefa in a massive deal that will send catcher Gary Sanchez to the wheeling and dealing Minnesota Twins.

The teams announced that the Yankees will send Sanchez and third baseman Gio Urshela to Minnesota for a package that will remake the left side of their infield in one swoop. Donaldson, the veteran slugger and former MVP, will be joined by defense-focused shortstop Isiah Kiner-Falefa — who the Twins acquired just this weekend from the Texas Rangers — and catcher Ben Rortvedt.

The Twins have created a tangled web of moves since the lockout ended. They sent away two big infield pieces in the same day they acquired Sonny Gray to bolster their rotation. Reports indicate that the Yankees are taking on all of the $50 million of guaranteed money that remain on Donaldson’s deal.

Donaldson joins a crowded corner infield and designated hitter picture that currently includes DJ LeMahieu and Luke Voit.

The deal may also have wider ripple effects. A former catching prospect who has since become a smooth defender at shortstop, Kiner-Falefa could fill the Yankees’ needs and signal that they are out of the Carlos Correa sweepstakes.

Urshela, who started at third for the Yankees, joins the Twins as a readymade replacement, assuming their carousel of moves slows down.

Gary Sanchez's sometimes-rocky tenure in New York ended Sunday night when he was traded to Minnesota. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
Gary Sanchez’s sometimes-rocky tenure in New York ended Sunday night when he was traded to Minnesota. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

What does the trade mean for the Yankees?

The Gary Sanchez era is over in the Bronx. After a bombastic debut season where he blasted 20 homers and nearly won AL Rookie of the Year in only 53 games, Sanchez has struggled to round out his game. His batting average has floated around the dangerous .200 mark and his receiving skills have frequently been questioned at the sport’s most crucial defensive position.

He rated as a below average pitch framer and overall defender by Baseball Prospectus metrics in 2021. Rortvedt, the 24-year-old catcher joining from the Twins, rated solidly above average in a small sample.

What the Yankees gain in the deal could dramatically change their offseason outlook. Speculation swirling around how they would fill their shortstop position may now be quieted without a flashy free agent signing.

Kiner-Falefa, who established himself as a starter with the Texas Rangers over the past two years, looks to be Yankees general manager Brian Cashman’s solution at the six spot — at least for now. He impressed in most defensive metrics (though not all of them) at short after winning a Gold Glove at third base in 2020. He’s also a more flexible player who could move into a utility role in future seasons if the Yankees’ prized shortstop prospect Anthony Volpe emerges at the big-league level.

With Correa and Trevor Story still on the market, this thriftier, fielding-focused approach is certainly not what the big-spending Yankees are known for. But that usual impulse may yet manifest in a different way. Reports Sunday night indicated they are still considering glitzy external options at first base including Freddie Freeman or a trade for Oakland’s Matt Olson.

If the star free agents land elsewhere and the offense sputters again, the worries about the Yankees’ recent run of frustration will get louder.

Don’t count out Donaldson’s potential to be an impact addition. The 36-year-old has struggled with injuries in recent seasons, but when he’s on the field he still regularly produces stellar batting lines. He hit .247/.352/.475 for the Twins in 2021, crushing 26 homers and logging an adjusted OPS that was 27% better than league average. Urshela and Sanchez both finished with below-average batting lines last season as the Yankees offense hit a perplexing rough patch.

What is the endgame for the busy Twins?

Since the lockout ended Thursday night, the Twins have been furiously remaking a roster that collapsed to a disappointing 73-89 finish in 2021.

First, they dealt catcher Mitch Garver to Texas to get Kiner-Falefa, who it appeared they would pair with Donaldson (in a different way) to fill their infield. Then, in a nod toward contending immediately, they sent their 2021 first-round draft pick to the Cincinnati Reds on Sunday to add starting pitcher Sonny Gray.

Now they are making a move that doesn’t necessarily signal a change of direction, but does slash the payroll. Sanchez could be an interesting upside play as a designated hitter if they don’t force him into regular catching duties — which appear to rest with Ryan Jeffers at the moment.

They could play Jorge Polanco at shortstop, but he thrived at second base last season. It’s possible all the moves have been a type of misdirection to give themselves the financial posture they want to pursue a bigger fish like Trevor Story. They could also still use more proven pitching options if they hope to compete for an AL playoff spot.

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