The Yankees have a lot on their plate this offseason. But one of the more interesting questions facing the team is the complications of what to do at third base…
The Yankees have two (relatively) equally qualified third-basemen as we enter the offseason. A multitude of options prevails regarding the future of Gio Urshela and Miguel Andujar. But sometimes, as is the case here, more options only make things more complicated.
Yankees fans already know most or all of the backgrounds, so we’ll condense it here.
Gio Urshela – the alien from outer space
Gio Urshela came out of nowhere when Andujar went down with a season-ending injury in April. Picked up on a flyer by Brian Cashman, Urshela went on to man third base for the Yankees with a defensive flair that gave pitchers comfort in knowing he was there.
But even more startling was the offensive production generated by Urshela, formerly a player who barely hit in the .220’s when he was with Cleveland and Toronto in a limited role.
Urshela batted .300 or better (.314 final average) from the day Aaron Boone inserted him in the Yankees lineup until the last day of the season and on into the ALCS where he hit two home runs on a challenged hitting team.
As a bonus in already power-laden Yankees lineup, Urshela hit 21 home runs and drove in 74 runs. His OPS (.889) was far better than the league average of around .750 as well.
Typically, there needn’t be a discussion as to where Urshela fits into the Yankees plans for 2020 and beyond.
Miguel Andujar – the heir apparent to the throne
But Miguel Andujar is there to complicate things. Andujar, himself a second-place finisher in the AL Rookie of the Year award for 2018, is coming off an injury that shut his 2019 season down after only 47 at-bats.
Almost a phenom during the 2018 season, Andujar appeared in 147 games for the Yankees, hitting just under .300 (.297) with a .889 OPS, 27 home runs, and 92 RBI.
Impressive as that was, questions about his fielding persisted within the Yankees organization, and 2019 was labeled as his do it or go home season to prove he is a major league third baseman. The Yankees and Andujar, of course, were denied that test.
Yankees struggle with incomplete lab tests
All of which leaves the Yankees in limbo and faced with the need to decide between the two players without having all of the “lab tests” at their disposal.
Nothing in baseball is scientific regardless of what the sabermetrics gurus insist, but still, it would be helpful for the Yankees if they had a broader picture to study for each of the two players.
Some ask, why do the Yankees need to choose, and can’t they keep both players? Well, the answer would be definitely yes if their name were DJ LeMahieu, and they were a wiz at several positions. But here, both players are nailed in as third basemen.
Both players are relatively “cheap,”, and the combination of the two on the Yankees payroll would have little impact on the team’s drive to remain under the luxury tax limit, set this year at $208 million.
But still, until the next contract between owners and players expands roster limits, every one of the 25 spots is precious.
So, you trade one of them, right? Well, there you go again. Both Urshela and Andujar are, objectively, in only their sophomore season as major league players. Are they real – or not?
Plus, Andujar carries the weight of a player coming off season-ending surgery with the floating question hanging – is he fully repaired and ready to play a full season?
No one knows at this point, but it’s a complication or hurdle Brian Cashman needs to overcome when he presents Andujar to another team.
Even more puzzling to other teams is Urshela, who, as we indicated before, transformed himself into a bonafide major league hitter – on his own – with no walk up the ladder in-between.
Yankees – Ultimately defense reigns supreme
Allow me a guess, and we can talk about it later, but it would behoove the Yankees not to keep Urshela, who shines defensively and to trade Andujar.
Andujar’s value was higher last year at this time, and that can’t be recovered. And that may force Brian Cashman to seek a multi-player deal with Andujar included that lands some help (no – not an ace) on the Yankees starting staff.
Another factor in Urshela’s favor is he’s been through the war, a season in which the Yankees survived 30 teammates going on the Injured List. He was part of a clubhouse that endured the revolving injection of players to cover the wounds left by departed teammates.
Still, no one can predict what the Yankees and Cashman will do this winter. To be sure though, the marsh at third base, while an excellent problem to have between two outstanding players, is likely to be resolved before the team opens camp in Tampa in February.
Stand by for action on that front…