Blue Jays vs. Yankees: Who has the upper hand in a position-by-position breakdown?

New York Yankees v Toronto Blue Jays
New York Yankees v Toronto Blue Jays / Vaughn Ridley/GettyImages
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Catcher

Jose Trevino got to live his childhood dream last May. Trevino grew up in Texas as a Yankees fan. His father would always ask him to imagine he was in the batter’s box at Yankee Stadium, the game on the line, as he knocked in the game-winning run.

He did just that on May 24 against the Orioles, on what also happened to be his late father’s birthday. It was a reminder of the magic of the sport, how it’s a game that, at its core, is really about fathers passing it on to their son’s in their backyards.

Trevino enters the 2023 season coming off an All-Star season behind the plate with the Yankees. He hit a career-high 11 home runs while also winning a Gold Glove for managing the Yankees’ pitching staff. He’s firmly taken the job away from Kyle Higashioka, who was once considered the Yankees’ catcher of the future, as he gets to continue the journey he began with his father in his backyard as a kid.

The Blue Jays boast such depth behind the plate that they were able to deal top prospect Gabriel Moreno in the trade that brought Daulton Varsho to Toronto. Danny Jansen hit 15 home runs in only 72 games; Alejandro Kirk, still just 24 years old, added 14 splitting time between catcher and designated hitter. Jansen’s .855 OPS was second among catchers with at least 200 at-bats, while Kirk ranked eighth at .786.

Trevino is a feel-good story, but arguably no other team can field a combo at the position quite like the Blue Jays.

Advantage: Blue Jays

First base

Anthony Rizzo and Yankee Stadium were made for each other. Rizzo made full use of the short porch in right field during his first full season in the Bronx in 2022, tying a career-high with 32 home runs. His .817 OPS ranked seventh among first basemen with at least 400 at-bats.

The Yankees brought back the 33-year-old veteran, signing him to a two-year contract in November. In the middle of a powerful Yankees lineup, Rizzo was behind just reigning AL MVP Aaron Judge in OPS. The Yankees, like the Blue Jays, are predominantly right-handed, with only Rizzo and the departed Joey Gallo getting at least 200 plate appearances from the left side last season. He provides balance and experience for a Yankees club that has firm World Series aspirations.

But he’s not Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Guerrero matched Rizzo’s 32 home runs, while also batting .274 with a .818 OPS. He also won his first Gold Glove. And that was in what was considered a down year, at least compared to his 2021 season when he led the league with 48 homers and flirted with the Triple Crown for much of September. Guerrero flashed his prodigious potential and, still just 24 when the 2023 season begins, will be an MVP candidate for years to come.

Advantage: Blue Jays

Second base

Gleyber Torres is still just 26 years old, but he’s the veteran in a deep crop of young Yankees middle infielders that will establish themselves in the lineup in the coming years.

Torres is entering his sixth full season with the Yankees. In his breakout season in 2019, when he was just 22 years old, Torres hit 38 home runs, the second-most ever hit by a Yankees middle infielder. While he hasn’t been able to replicate that performance again, Torres did rebound with 24 homers last season after hitting just 12 combined over the previous two years. He was fifth among qualified second basemen with a .761 OPS, while only Jose Altuve and Marcus Semien hit more homers.

DJ LeMahieu, a two-time batting champ, is a utility player that can fill in at second in Torres’ absence. But the Yankees’ plan going forward is to have their middle infield consisting of prospects Oswald Peraza and Anthony Volpe. Torres and LeMahieu will split the job, for now, but the Yankees will have an eye on the future and look to get their young stars playing time.

Santiago Espinal got his chance of playing full-time in 2022, and he made the most of the opportunity. He has batting .271 at the break when he was named to the AL All-Star team, joining teammates Guerrero, Alejandro Kirk, George Springer, Alek Manoah, and Jordan Romano in Los Angeles. His second half didn’t go as well, as Espinal hit only .258 with one home run in 44 games. His OPS declined by nearly 70 points after the break.

He’ll form a righty-lefty platoon at second with Cavan Biggio. Whit Merrifield, a regular second baseman with the Royals who was used more often in the outfield after a midseason trade to the Blue Jays, will also get his share of opportunities. Neither of the three options can match the power potential of Torres.

Advantage: Yankees

Third base

A familiar face will be across the diamond at third base when the Blue Jays play the Yankees next season.

Josh Donaldson, who won the MVP Award with the Blue Jays in 2015, is entering his second season with the Yankees. But that MVP-level form is long gone. Donaldson set career worsts in 2022 with a .682 OPS and a .222 batting average. His 15 home runs were the fewest he’s hit since his rookie season a decade earlier.

Donaldson would likely be gone from the Yankees if not for one inconvenient fact: they owe him more than $21M this season, whether he plays or not. The Yankees were pleased with his defense, so the job remains his for now.

Like Donaldson, Matt Chapman goes into his second year in a Blue Jays uniform with a firm grasp on the job as the full-time third baseman. Chapman was expected to be a powerful bat in the middle of the Blue Jays lineup, while also providing Gold Glove-calibre defense, and he played as advertised. He was second on the club with 27 home runs and committed only five errors in the field. Over the last three seasons, Chapman has the third-best Outs Above Average of any player at the hot corner.

Donaldson’s peak years with the Blue Jays are a thing of the past. Chapman’s are still going, to the Blue Jays benefit.

Advantage: Blue Jays

Shortstop

Derek Jeter is long gone, but the Yankees will get a good look at what their future at shortstop looks like in 2023. To signify just how young the Yankees are at the position, the player with the strongest hold on the job going into the season only made his MLB debut last September.

Oswald Peraza appeared in 18 games after being called up late last season. He had five multi-hit games over his last 15 appearances, batting .306 in 49 at-bats. While he hit just one home run, he had 19 at Triple-A, and MLB Pipeline projects he has 20-25 home run potential in the big leagues.

Peraza is the Yankees’ third-ranked prospect. Their top prospect, Anthony Volpe, will get a hard look this season and has a chance to debut for the big-league club before 2023 is done. Volpe was the hitting prospect of the year in 2021, when he had a 1.027 OPS and 27 home runs across two levels of the Yankees minor league system. He struggled at times after being promoted to Triple-A last season, but he still added 21 homers and a .802 OPS in 132 games. Volpe is just 21; Peraza is 22. The future of the Yankees' middle infield looks bright, even as they try to adjust to life in the big leagues this year.

Bo Bichette was once in their situation, a talented, young prospect seeking to crack the club. He’s now entering his fifth season with the Blue Jays, where he’s completely rewritten the record books for franchise shortstops. He’s already second in franchise history for home runs by a shortstop with 69; his .831 OPS is nearly 70 points better than any other Blue Jay at the position.

Bichette hit 24 home runs in 2022, second-most in franchise history. Bichette himself holds the record, with 29 in 2021. He’s the only Blue Jays shortstop to ever collect 100 RBI in a season. Bichette is still just 24 and already a perennial All-Star and a cornerstone of the Blue Jays franchise.

Advantage: Blue Jays

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