The Yankees are a shell of a team that was supposed to win a World Series at this moment. While they look like a different team since losing two out of three against the White Sox, there has been a massive combination of injuries (13 players, including Aaron Judge) that make the team’s 12-10 start look like a complete miracle.
The good news is that the injured list finally looks like it is going to clear up. Gary Sanchez is set to return during the Angels series, and Aaron Hicks and Giancarlo Stanton are not too far behind. Others are projected to be back in May. With all of these impending moves comes a roster crunch, which is where Miguel Andújar comes in:
Assuming he returns this season, Andújar would be playing on a torn shoulder labrum (think Masahiro Tanaka continuing to pitch with a torn UCL). That means it would take a while for him to effectively play third again. One can say “just move him to DH”, but the DH spot (on a fully healthy roster) would already be crowded with the rotation of Voit, Frazier, and Stanton, plus Sanchez’s half rest DH days.
So what other possibilities are there to get Andújar back in the lineup? The Yankees seem to have a possible answer: a move to first base. A quick, short term position change so that he can rehab his shoulder.
This short term plan sounds like a great idea. So great in fact, that it should be a permanent thing. Here’s why:
1. His Offense (21.3 Offensive Value)
The only reason we are having this conversation in the first place is because Andújar has such a presence in the middle of the Yankee lineup.
Analytics will point towards his minuscule walk rate (4.1%) and his consequently low OBP (.328). This may be in connection to seeing the lowest percentage of fastballs in 2018 (46.0%) (the next player on that list, Javier Baez, also had a very low walk rate). Additionally, people foreshadowed a possible regression due to his significantly low walk rate, a low hard hit percentage of 36.5%, and a low .321 xwOBA. Yet, despite these unfavorable numbers, he still managed to put up a .855 OPS and 128 wRC+, the latter which ranked 30th among qualified players. Among the 36.0% of pitches he chased, he made contact with 65.0% of them. His oWBA was .361, which ranks just below the “very good” range of .370.
Aside from those numbers, it is argued that Andújar (along with Giancarlo Stanton) kept the Wild Card Game from being played in Oakland down the stretch. His statistics were pretty consistent throughout the year. However, a strong August, when he had an OPS of .967, a wOBA of .403 and a wRC+ of 157, is when he really showed his impact. With RISP situations, he had a 139 wRC+ (.294/.345/.571 line), only trailing Aaron Hicks and Gleyber Torres.
Deflecting the critics on Andújar’s offense is an easy job. This is the same man that has opposing teams—including the Red Sox—standing to watch his at-bats. His overall value will decrease with a move to a heavy-hitter first base position. However, with continued development and/or simply taking a couple more walks, Andújar will develop into an offensive superstar.
2. His Defense (-15.5 Defensive Value)
While the offensive production can be acclaimed, there is zero defense to be made about his defense. His 2018 was horrifically bad at the hot corner: -25 DRS, -16.0 UZR, and -15.4 Defensive Value bad to be exact. It was so bad that Aaron Boone and company elected to bench him for Game 4 of the ALDS, the most important game of the season.
There were reasons for the Yankees to stick with Andújar. They have explained that he was supposed to be in the minors for the majority of the 2018 season before he stole the job from Brandon Drury early. Throughout the offseason, his efforts to improve on defense (including working with recently retired defensive wizard Adrian Beltre) were well noted. With all of those considerations, the Yankees elected to stick with him rather than sign Manny Machado, a premier defensive talent at third base with the ability to play shortstop if needed.
This plan has not gone well so far. Spring training saw very few improvements, as he continued to double clutch errant throws and show a lack of range. Most of the plays that he made continued to look sloppy. In fact, the one good, less sloppy play he made was almost robbing Jonathon Villar of a base hit:
With his shoulder injury, it would be ill-advised to have him play third full time. The number of strong throws that he would need to make would put a lot of stress on his arm. For someone who is already bad at making throws to first, it is not worth the possibility of exacerbating the injury. The cold corner features less of a need for a strong arm, but once his shoulder is healed (whether by surgery or rehab), the arm would be a bonus.
Unlike in the offseason, there are good, in-house third base options available to replace him. Giovanny Urshela has looked amazing there full time, and DJ LeMahieu and Gleyber Torres could easily spell a couple of games there. All three would provide much more defensive value than a fully healthy and improved Andújar, who gets to focus on improving his bat.
3. The Incumbent First Basemen Are No Longer the Answer
As I’m writing this Luke Voit has a 31-game on-base streak and has begun to heat up with the bat. Numerous “expected statistics” early on, including an xwOBA of .405 and a hard hit percentage of 47.2% reveal that Voit is not a one-hit wonder in New York just yet. However, the other first baseman on the roster might have found his way out of New York.
To put it in simple terms, Greg Bird has been terrible to start the year. Along with a miserable .550 OPS and .258 wOBA and continued drops in solid and hard-hit contact, he has struck out in 39.0% of his plate appearances, the third worst in the league among players with at least 40 PA. This comes before his most recent injury, a left plantar fascia tear that will sideline him for four-to-six weeks. The Yankees have continuously given him chances to stay healthy and contribute in the bigs, but with little results. After this latest injury, the Yankees are likely to move on from him.
The plan is simple: If Voit regresses, they could move Andújar to first full-time. If Luke Voit hits as expected, or continues to get on base at the percentage he has, the Yankees could rotate Voit and Andújar between first and DH, the same thing they did early in the season with Voit and Bird. This would move rookie Mike Ford to a valuable role as a lefty off the bench. Once he is fully healthy, they could reassess where he fits on the roster defensively.
4. Try That Whole Free Agent Thing Again
Whether the Yankees should have splurged for Manny Machado and traded Andújar for an ace pitcher is a debate we can save for another day (let’s not). While Urshela is a good short term option, they have another chance to find their future third baseman in next year’s free agent class. That guy may be Anthony Rendon.
Rendon is one of, if not the, most underrated players in baseball, stated by his former manager Dusty Baker. After a slow beginning to his career sans 2014, he has been a top-five third baseman. Over the past two years, he has slashed .305/.389/.534, which have resulted in a wOBA of .389 and a wRC+ of 140. Making him that much more valuable is his high walk rate of 11.6% combined with a very low 13.6% strikeout rate. He has started off terrifically in 2019 with a .379/.449/.776 line, 209 wRC+ and a .493 oWBA. His defense took a step back in 2018, with his dRS and UZR dropping to -3 and 5.9 respectively, but this outlier follows two very good defensive seasons.
Unlike Machado, a player who has been in the media recently for his antics, Rendon plays the game quietly. He does not have the on-the-field detriments of Machado, one of the possible reasons for the Yankees passing on the latter. His two career ejections are illegitimate ones, one being a quick hook from Bob Davidson after arguing balls and strikes and…whatever he did here.
The Yankees are running out of backup plans in case Andújar simply cannot improve. The best long term options in the organization are LeMahieu and Torres. With extension season running wild in baseball, Rendon is one of the few star third basemen left on the market over the next three years. Moving Andújar to first now gives the Yankees a clear path to go after Rendon (or another infielder on the trade market) and make him their third baseman of the future.
(Of course, this is all assuming the Nationals let their best player go on the market for the second straight season).
Andújar is a player that Cashman elected to keep throughout a 2018-19 offseason full of rumors of trading him for an ace pitcher and replacing him with Machado. So it should not come as a surprise that Andújar’s shoulder tear early in the season left a hole in the Yankee lineup. With rehab, the Yankees plan on having him play again in 2019 in some capacity. There is no question where he will slot offensively, the only issue is where he will fit on defense. Do they make him a full-time DH? Do they make him work in left field? Do they test the shoulder strength at third base?
The real answer is a full-time move to first base. While his offensive production is great in the middle of the lineup, if he does not improve on defense, he will be a detriment to the club. Platoon him between first base and DH over the rest of 2019 and then make him the full-time first baseman in 2020 (or the next time he is healthy). The Yankees could then find a third baseman they like, either on the free agent market or through trade or somewhere through their farm system, that can produce on both ends. That way, you continue to have Andújar’s offensive prowess in a great lineup and have a better defensive team, a perfect storm for a World Series Championship team.
Really, this is a move that should have been made a long time ago. A shoulder tear should make the decision that much easier.
Featured Photo: Keith Allison/Flickr
Follow Payton Ellison on Twitter (@realpmelli14) and check out his podcast.
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