Despite what many think, I like Miguel Andujar. He had a great rookie campaign, and while I agree Shohei Ohtani deserved the Rookie of the Year Award, I was still disappointed when Andujar didn’t win. He wasn’t 2017 Aaron Judge levels of “must-see TV”, but it was fun to watch his at-bats and see what he would do. His aggressive approach and propensity for lacing double after double was fun.
On the other side of the ball, the experience wasn’t as fun. Andujar’s defensive woes have been discussed plenty, so I won’t rehash those arguments, but we all know his defense isn’t great. He has limited range, and lets far too many would-be outs get past him for hits. Fortunately, there’s a simple solution for this problem.
I’ve long been in the camp that if the Yankees can get proper value for him, they should trade Andujar and then in-turn sign Manny Machado, but I won’t suggest that today. Instead of sending Andujar away, what if they just took away his glove?
The only way this works is if Clint Frazier starts the year at Triple-A. If Frazier is in the majors, he will probably (or at least should) be playing regularly in left field, which would then put Giancarlo Stanton back as the primary designated hitter. However, it’s very likely that Frazier starts the year in the minors to shake off rust and and re-calibrate. If he does, there’s a way to make this work.
After a brutal finish to last season, Brett Gardner’s optimal role may be as a speedy, defense-first backup outfielder. That opens up a spot in left field for Giancarlo Stanton, who can more than adequately handle those duties. That would allow DJ LeMahieu, Troy Tulowitzki, and Gleyber Torres to man the left side of the infield from third-to-second, respectively.
This plan is not without its risks. Relying on Tulowitzki is not a safe bet, but when the Yankees signed him, it was to be the everyday shortstop until Didi Gregorius returns. So for now, they might as well make that the plan, at least until Tulowitzki breaks.
While LeMahieu hasn’t really played anywhere besides second base in four years, he at least has experience playing third base and was expressly brought in to be the utilityman. Force him out of his comfort zone and see what he does. Even though I hate the idea of putting someone in an unfamiliar position, I’d rather take my chances with LeMahieu’s Gold Glove-winning defense playing at third than seeing Andujar butcher the hot corner again.
This also allows Gleyber Torres, a natural shorstop, to stay at second base where he played all of last year. He can continue to learn and grow there instead of being jerked around into different positions. Let’s keep the kids in their comfort zone and give them the best chance to succeed.
I know Andujar has supposedly been working on his defense this winter, but I see no reason to expect any vast improvement when there’s been none for the last seven years. Or, if there has been improvement and it’s still this bad, well, that’s an equally horrifying thought.
Obviously, this doesn’t have to be the plan for the whole year, but at least starting the season this way could be the most optimal way to set up the team as currently constructed. If/when Tulowitzki breaks or if Frazier plays his way onto the team, or if anything else comes up, the Yankees have the flexibility to slide Andujar back to third. They’ll live with his defense if it means getting his offense. Great offense can make awful defense easier to stomach, but why stomach it if they don’t have to?