Yankees’ Josh Donaldson benched again as team determines future role

NEW YORK — Josh Donaldson was approached by reporters at 11:15 a.m. ET inside the Yankees clubhouse to discuss being out of the lineup for the third straight game. If Donaldson is at his locker during the hour when media are allowed into the clubhouse, he is generally accessible and rarely refuses an interview. But Sunday morning was different.

After arriving at the stadium, Donaldson got dressed, grabbed a bat, and headed to Yankees manager Aaron Boone’s office after refusing to comment from a group of reporters.

“No. Impossible,” Donaldson said before walking through the clubhouse.

Boone was supposed to speak to reporters for his normal pregame availability at 11:30 a.m., but didn’t speak until 12 p.m. It’s rare for Boone to be even five minutes late for a pregame press conference. He even joked that he usually picks on reporters who can arrive a few seconds late.

“JD and I were talking,” Boone said of why he was late. “It just boiled over into a long conversation. That’s all.”

Boone said he and Donaldson had a few conversations over the past two days and said they were “on the same page.” Boone declined to go into detail about what the nearly hour-long conversation entailed, but it appears Donaldson’s role going forward doesn’t match what chief executive Brian Cashman said last week. .

Cashman told reporters he wanted Donaldson to get “regular hits.” Sitting for three games in a row does not equate to getting consistent beats. But Boone remains adamant that Donaldson will “play a lot” in the future. What “playing a lot” actually means remains in question.

“He’s okay,” Boone told Donaldson to get consistent playing time. “It’s just a stretch where I felt like giving him a few days to sort of work. It was kind of my decision about it during this little stretch, but I expect him get constant beats.

Third base production has been a disaster for the Yankees this season. Heading into Sunday’s game against the Rangers, the Yankees rank 27th with a 68 wRC+ on third base. Donaldson and DJ LeMahieu haven’t produced at productive levels this season. Boone said LeMahieu and Donaldson were going to have enough playing time to move forward. Before Donaldson returned from a hamstring injury that sidelined him for most of the season, Boone told reporters in May that he envisioned the veteran as an “everyday” player. A month later, Donaldson is out of training for three straight days.

“I think he should be an everyday player,” Boone said. “It was a small reset that I decided, at some point, that I felt like a few days was worth it.

“We have a number of guys out of which there will be one guy who will be solving the puzzle, but, like I said, he’s going to play a lot.”

Since returning from the injured list on June 2, Donaldson has struggled. He’s 6 for 48 (.125 batting average) with a .641 OPS. On numerous occasions since last season, the Yankees have defended Donaldson’s lack of production since his trade. Boone told reporters during spring training in March that “I think you’re crazy to think a rebound isn’t there offensively. He’s a guy who still has batting speed and is super talented and I think physically he’s in a much better place than he was a year ago.

The reality is Donaldson hasn’t been the player the Yankees thought they’d get from Minnesota, where he hit 26 home runs and had an .827 OPS in 2021. Since joining the Yankees last season, Donaldson has been hitting .210/.295/.378 with 21 homers in 617 total appearances. This year, Donaldson has posted a 59 wRC+ in 21 games, which means he’s 41% worse than the average MLB hitter.

“It’s a bit of a small sample of the season,” Boone said. “If you really sit there and watch every individual at bat, I feel like in many ways he has better bats than at various times when he was battling a little bit last year. . Like he was swinging a lot. The impact is there. He hit a lot of hard balls straight at people, and when you go through him and you don’t get a lot of hits, it adds up. And then you factor in a few days where maybe he didn’t swing well after a number of games where maybe you didn’t get a hit when you had a few good hits. It adds up and becomes the grind of the season.

Advanced metrics show Donaldson’s barrel rate is 12.4 percentage points higher than last season. Its average exit speed is slightly better. The underlying measurements could indicate that there is still life in Donaldson’s bat, but the results haven’t been there.

If Donaldson continues to brawl, nominating him for an assignment will likely become a consideration. He still owes about $10.5 million on this year’s $21 million salary. He also has a $6 million buyout for next season, and he certainly won’t return to the Yankees if he lasts the rest of the year on the roster.

“I’d like to give him a track here where he gets consistent beats and then can get going and be in a better position to judge,” Cashman said last week.

This track could soon be exhausted.

This article will be updated after the game when Donaldson is expected to meet with the media.

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(Photo: Wendell Cruz/USA Today)

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