At the moment, Gio Urshela is the toast of New York. His hot start could convince the Yankees that it’s time to trade Miguel Andujar.
The litany of injuries that have befallen the New York Yankees this season has forced quite a few unknown players to step up into roles of prominence. No one has done a better job of seizing their unlikely opportunity than third baseman Gio Urshela.
The 27-year-old has arguably been manager Aaron Boone’s best player on the relatively young season. Tuesday night’s massive two-run home run in the 9th inning to tie the game against the Mariners was just the latest in a string of impressive games for Urshela. The big hit lifted his average to a scorching mark of .370 in 75 at bats on the season. Perhaps more importantly, he’s getting on base at an impressive clip of .424 to help key big innings for his teammates.
While Urshela’s offense start is almost certainly unsustainable, he’s also played a terrific defensive third base in his 27 games. That was billed to be his specialty when he was acquired last season from the Blue Jays in a trade for cash, and it’s been every bit as good as advertised. Urshela isn’t the flashiest fielder in MLB, but he makes almost every play that can be reasonably expected of him. That’s a significant upgrade over what Miguel Andujar provides the Yankees at the hot corner.
Andujar, of course, was slated to be the team’s every day third baseman before suffering a partially torn labrum that opened the door for Urshela to log significant time at his position. The second-year player finished second in last year’s Rookie of the Year voting behind Shohei Ohtani, but he’s far from a perfect player.
The 24-year-old is one of the weakest defensive infielders in the game. He spent a lot of time working on his glove work in the offseason, but it would be a significant surprise if he ever becomes an average defensive third baseman. He’s never going to overcome Urshela in that department.
Andujar’s hitting can be a huge plus for the Yankees. He hasn’t really gotten started this season due to his injury, but last year he was an absolute doubles machine for the ball club. His ability to hit for average and power makes him a valuable slugger to get into the lineup every day.
The natural question to answer now is what the Yankees will do when everyone in their infield returns to full health. Eventually Didi Gregorius is going to come back to reclaim his starting shortstop position. That will presumably shift Gleyber Torres back to second base full-time. Luke Voit has the first base job sewn up at the moment. D.J. LeMahieu is going to get regular playing giving guys days off all over the infield.
That leaves Urshela and Andujar to battle it out for the third base position. It’s easy to dismiss Urshela’s chances to win the job because of his inexperience. His hitting this season has come out of nowhere. Nothing about his past seasons in professional baseball indicated a breakout season like this was coming.
It’s also impossible to argue against what he’s meant to the team so far this season. He’s stabilized the left side of the infield with his defense. Even when his hitting almost certainly begins to regress to the mean, he’ll still be an above average defender. That gives him a significant advantage over Andujar.
When comparing the two players it’s fair to assume that Urshela will always be the better defender. It’s also fair to assume that Andujar will be the better hitter. That leaves GM Brian Cashman with an interesting future problem to deal with.
In the long run, the starting lineup is only going to have room for one guy. It’s true that Andujar could get some regular at bats at DH, but that’s not enough for a hitter of his caliber. If he’s healthy, he’s got to be in the lineup almost every day.
The same isn’t true for Urshela. He is a player who could remain on the Yankees bench as a super sub. It might be difficult to fit he and LeMahieu into that role on the same roster though. The team has elected to go with three bench position players for most of the season. Austin Romine has to be one of the three as a backup catcher. The team also needs a backup outfielder on the bench. In essence, Cashman and company would have to switch to a four man bench if they want to keep Urshela and Andujar on the active roster.
Some fans will inevitably start to think that now is the time to trade Andujar. Despite his slow start to the season his stock is still very high as a hitter. Quite a few teams would love to get their hands on a young, slugger with his potential that still has multiple years of team control left. In theory, the Yankees could deal him to acquire a top-end starting pitcher.
Expect Cashman and the front office to consider that type of trade, but ultimately it’s safe to assume they’ll decide against it. The unfortunate truth about the Yankees infield is that expecting the starting group to stay healthy for an extended period of time isn’t a good bet at the moment. The team needs to be careful to retain as much organizational depth as possible.
That, coupled with the organization’s belief in Andujar’s long-term potential, are the two reasons why Yankees fans shouldn’t be looking for a big trade anytime soon. Cashman is going to let the season play out with both Urshela and Andujar barring an obscene trade offer for one of his third baseman. The Yankees might reevaluate things next winter, but don’t expect either guy to leave the Bronx anytime soon.