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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

For Yankees and Gleyber Torres, it’s about wins, not money

GM Brian Cashman insists the service-time clock will not be a factor if Torres is ready to help the Yankees on Opening Day.

Yankees' Gleyber Torres throws to first against the

Yankees' Gleyber Torres throws to first against the Phillies during spring training at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Fla. on Feb. 24, 2017. Photo Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

TAMPA, Fla. — As far as baseball decisions go, if Gleyber Torres hits .448 with a 1.281 OPS during the Grapefruit League schedule — as he did a year ago — starting him with the Yankees, either at second base or third, would be a no-brainer.

From a business standpoint? Well, then it gets more complicated.

By now, everyone is familiar with the service-time clock, right? Three years to arbitration and six total to free agency. According to the collective-bargaining agreement, each season consists of 187 days, and a player needs 172 days to be credited with a full season of service time.

So do the math. If Torres’ major-league debut were delayed by 16 days or more, he would fall short of that critical full season, enabling the Yankees to squeeze an extra year from him before his salary begins to skyrocket through arbitration and then free agency.

For those in charge of talent compensation, such as general manager Brian Cashman, paying less for a longer period of time would seem to be the optimal course of action, as the Cubs did with Kris Bryant in 2015.

And yet Cashman insists the service-time clock will not be a factor if Torres is ready to help the Yankees on Opening Day, which is March 29 in Toronto.

“It’s not part of my evaluation process,” Cashman told Newsday. “We’re trying to win. If we feel that somebody could benefit from more time in the minors, we’ll make that decision at the end of camp. But I’ll take all the information from what I see and factor that into the evaluation. Every win for us is valuable.”

That’s a bold statement these days, in the midst of this depressed free-agent market and more teams being tighter with a buck. But it’s also not surprising coming from Cashman, who knows the huge expectations the Yankees are facing after falling a win short of the World Series last October and then trading for Giancarlo Stanton. It’s the stance the Yankees’ GM is expected to take.

On the surface, an extra year of a cheaper Gleyber Torres certainly seems worth those 16 days. But during that 13-game stretch, the Yankees play four at Toronto, followed by a six-game homestand against the Ray and Orioles, then three at Fenway Park. Could Torres, 21, make a difference in those divisional games? If he plays up to his potential as one of the sport’s top prospects, it’s entirely possible, even coming off last season’s Tommy John surgery on his left (non-throwing) elbow.

“I’m the same guy,” Torres said Saturday.

An almost identical scenario played out with the Cubs and Bryant in 2015. Bryant, the sport’s No. 1 prospect according to Baseball America, drilled nine homers in 14 exhibition games with a slash line of .425/.477/1.175 — and found himself shipped to Triple-A Iowa well before Opening Day.

Thanks to his mid-April call-up, Bryant (not coincidentally) finished with 171 days of service time. He also was named Rookie of the Year and finished 11th in the National League’s MVP voting.

Naturally, his agent, Scott Boras, wasn’t too thrilled with the proceedings and filed a grievance against the Cubs for their handling of Bryant. In these cases, however, teams can come up with any number of reasons for sending a young player — even a top prospect — down to the minors for more polishing. And it would be even easier with Torres, who is returning from the Tommy John surgery that limited him to 55 games split between Double-A Trenton and Scranton in 2017.

The Yankees did not allow Torres to play winter league ball during the offseason, preferring that he take those months off, but he reported to Tampa a few weeks early in an effort to make up for lost time.

As good as he’s looked while working out at the minor-league complex, however, last season’s gaping hole in his development would be reason enough for the Yankees to open him in Scranton. That also would give them an unassailable excuse to delay his service-time clock.

“I feel like he’s cleared the final hurdles for a while,” manager Aaron Boone said of Torre’s rehab. “I think the biggest thing I look for with Gleyber is just being a young player having missed the second half of the season, so he hasn’t played competitively in a while. That’s the only issue that exists. As far as the injury goes, I think there’s no issue.”

The humble Torres says he’s fine wherever he winds up on Opening Day. He’s just anxious to play again and stay healthy. By the end of camp, if the Yankees are a better team with Torres in the lineup, Cashman sounds just fine ticketing him for Toronto.

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