Remember Miguel Andujar? The Rookie of the Year runner-up in 2018 missed almost the entire year due to a torn labrum in his right shoulder, and that somehow gets lost among the fantastic season the Yankees had in 2019.
He only played 12 games of (bad) baseball: he batted .128/.143/.128 over 49 plate appearances, with negative ratings with the bat (-9.1) the glove (-3.2) and on the basepaths (-0.6). He accumulated a -1.0 WAR.
Andujar, however, has many things working in his favor. He has youth on his side, being only 24 years old, and he has a natural hitting ability that measures up with almost any third baseman in the American League.
In his 2018 full-season debut with the Bombers, he slashed .297/.328/.527, with a whopping 76 extra-base hits (47 doubles and 27 home runs, plus a couple of triples) and a 130 wRC+, good for 25th among all qualified batters. Remember, the ball wasn’t “juiced” in 2018. The kid raked.
Make no mistake, despite the injury and his shaky defense, Andujar is one of the most valuable players the Yankees have. That’s regardless of if they plan to keep him or trade him in their quest for a young, impactful pitcher.
Speaking of the Yankees’ plans, there haven’t been many indications or clues about which possible path they could take with their prized infielder. There are several possible scenarios:
Keep him at third base
The good thing is that the Yankees have several avenues they can explore with Andujar. One of them is keeping him at third base, but he was among the worst fielders there in 2018, his only full season in the majors so far.
In the 2018-2019 offseason, before he got injured, Andujar was said to have worked diligently on his defense, specifically in his throwing motion (he had a tendency for sidearm throws that affected his accuracy) and footwork. Sadly, he got hurt and we didn’t get to see for a sustained period whether the extra work paid off or not.
Another issue with keeping Andujar at third is that he may have been effectively Wally Pipp’d by now. If he is starting in the hot corner, Gio Urshela, who broke out offensively and played adequate defense this year, would have no clear path to regular playing time. It isn’t known who would be favored by Boone and the Yankees’ coaches.
The only certainty is that in order to maintain his spot as a third baseman, Andujar needs to show that he is healthy come spring training, and he will need to demonstrate improvements with the glove. After all, we are talking about a guy that was replaced by his manager in the sixth inning (!) in a postseason game.
Keep him and explore a position change
The Yankees could also explore the option of keeping Andujar to play in another position. He may be able to pull off a switch to first base, but the Yankees have several capable options there with Luke Voit, Mike Ford, and even DJ LeMahieu.
Boone and his coaches might even try him in the outfield, but the Yankees are also stacked out there, even with Aaron Hicks slated to miss a sizable portion of next season. They have Mike Tauchman, Clint Frazier, Aaron Judge, and Giancarlo Stanton, and that’s without counting Brett Gardner if he returns.
Andujar has the throwing arm to play even in right field, but would he have any semblance of accuracy? What about his instincts and route running? A position change needs some time for the player to get acclimated; will he have it?
Playing in the outfield is completely different than doing it on the infield. Chasing fly balls means getting a good read on the baseball, very quickly picking the best route and moving efficiently, and lastly, positioning for the throw. It is not as easy as it sounds, and elements such as the handedness of the hitter and the type of batted ball (hook, topspin, slice…) come into play.
Another avenue for playing time would be the designated hitter spot. That way Urshela would be at third base and the outfield would be Stanton-Tauchman-Judge. Including Hicks when he comes back or any of the Yankees’ pending free agents (Gardner, most notably) may complicate things, though. However, the DH is a likely landing spot for Andujar should the club decide to keep him around.
Another realistic option could be trading Andujar. His value may not be as high today as it was after the 2018 season when he was fully healthy and coming off a strong rookie campaign, but it is still high.
It is not a secret that the Yankees need an ace, and while there are a couple of them in free agency, they could also make a deal with someone. Would Andujar be enough to be the headliner? It would depend on the hurler, of course, but he may be paired with a prospect or two to get something done.
The Tampa Bay Rays have several major-league ready hurlers and at least one could become expendable, although it may be difficult for the Yankees to trade Andujar within the same division. The Detroit Tigers have an impressive collection of young arms and no offense whatsoever, but most of those hurlers are still prospects. The Atlanta Braves could be a match.
Of course, we don’t know how well will Andujar respond after being injured for so long, and in such a critical body part. The surgery was to his throwing shoulder, after all, and we don’t need to tell you how important in the batter’s box, as well. It may affect his throwing and his hitting. We don’t know yet.
One thing is certain: the Yankees, barring any setbacks, will recover an important piece of their lineup, and if they can’t fit him in their plans, they could always explore a trade.