A shoulder injury in the third game of the season sidelined 2018 Rookie of the Year runner-up Miguel Andujar for 28 games. The Yankees incumbent third baseman avoided surgery, but is it possible he's losing his grip on his stature as a consequence?
Despite suffering a bruised knee Wednesday that might keep him out a couple of days, Gio Urshela is likely to man third base on a regular basis. Yankees manager Aaron Boone suggested that his lineup strategy, based on his active 25-man roster, would have Urshela primarily playing third base and Andujar at designated hitter.
Long term, if Urshela maintains his upward trend and Andujar continues to struggle, the Yankees might have a decision to make before long. That could include what to do with the latter's tenure with the Yankees.
Ride the hot hand
While Urshela uncharacteristically made errors in two straight games, he is an easy choice over Andujar from a defensive perspective. The Yankees tolerated Andujar's defense last season because of his potency at the plate, maybe more so because the roster dictated the role was his alone.
At this stage, the Yankees cannot go wrong because Urshela has been fantastic overall at third base and he has been extremely productive at the plate. In 88 plate appearances through Wednesday's game, Urshela is hitting .346 with a .409 on-base percentage and .526 slugging percentage.
The cautionary note here is that Urshela came into the season with a career .225 batting average in 466 major-league at-bats. Urshela had some offensive success in the minors -- .270 average in over 3,600 plate appearances -- but the general consensus concerning his game was that he was at least an above average fielder with little hitting skills.
Urshela, who is 27 years old, might be a late bloomer, or might be in for a massive regression.
Is Andujar still hurt? Rusty? Or is it the new role?
With the Yankees wisely bringing Andujar along slowly as the club's DH, it is reasonable to wonder if he is playing at 100 percent considering his .156 batting average in 32 at-bats this season. The sample size is small, but the production (and lack of hard hit balls) begs the question of whether Andujar is completely healthy.
The Yankees would have been unwise to bring back Andujar earlier than he could perform at max capacity, and hopefully for everyone he is forthcoming with the team about his health. As such, this is likely a case of rust. Unfortunately for New York, we're talking caked on corrosion that might take a while to remedy. With Giancarlo Stanton nearing a return, it is Andujar who would lose reps at the plate.
In addition to getting up to speed, Andujar is simultaneously learning to deal with a new role, so there is a chance he is getting in his own head while he laments his slump in between at-bats. Andujar's player profile might suggest being a DH fits best, but that doesn't necessarily mean that he'll take to the role quickly.
As the Yankees battle through a large collection of injuries, looking into the future becomes a murky venture. However, one thing that appears certain is that the club will be active in the trade market.
The Yankees' farm system is intriguing in that its fairly deep, but a majority of the club's best prospects are located at the lower levels. This could create some difficulty in landing top-tier trade pieces and puts Andujar, a mostly known commodity, firmly back into the trade market.
No one expects Urshela to maintain his torrid pace at the plate, but does he really need to hit above .300 in order for the Yanks to investigate what Andujar brings back in a trade? If Urshela plays Gold Glove defense and hits league average the rest of the way, the Yankees might believe that's as valuable as Andujar's incredibly poor defense and strong bat.
Finally, consider that if Andujar continues to flail at the plate, it's probable his trade value would take a hit at the same time. How many teams are going to invest in a player that profiles as a DH, who is not hitting and was recently shelved with a shoulder injury that might eventually need surgery?
The Yankees might have contemplated trading Andujar in the offseason, so if the pressure to land an expensive talent emerges, the team could reassess his value.
Looking at the constants -- Urshela's elite defense and Andujar's struggles in the field -- is only part of the equation. The Yankees would have to determine which player is best to use at third base in the near future and then decide if that same player (or either player) is the long-term solution.
Like everything else, there is fluidity to the situation, including the health of the rest of the club. The Yankees are rolling with Urshela because it is the obvious choice at the moment, but should he regress and Andujar finds his stroke, the tide could swiftly change and the conversation of shipping the latter out of the Bronx will fade.