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Another minor move pays off big time for the Yankees

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman’s relentless pursuit of deals put the Yankees in a position where they can weather the unprecedented injuries they are suffering this season.

Brian Cashman of the New York Yankees may be the most active general manager in MLB.
Brian Cashman of the New York Yankees may be the most active general manager in MLB.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Brian Cashman has executed countless headline-grabbing moves since becoming general manager of the New York Yankees in 1998. He deftly engineered trades that put superstars like Roger Clemens and Alex Rodriguez in pinstripes. He also succeeded in luring many top free agents to the Bronx, including beloved players like Hideki Matsui and CC Sabathia. These acquisitions helped the team win championships, and they etched their names into franchise lore in the process.

Every winter, fans follow every possible move, anxiously awaiting the arrival of the next big star who might put the Yankees over the top. The same is true around the midsummer trade deadline. Giancarlo Stanton, Masahiro Tanaka, and Zach Britton are among those on the current roster who arrived in New York to much fanfare.

While Cashman may get publicity for the big deals he completes (as well as the ones he doesn’t), he also makes lots of smaller moves that fly low under-the-radar. Sometimes, these smaller moves end up making a big impact.

Last summer’s acquisition of Luke Voit is a well-known example. When Cashman shipped a pair of fringe pitchers to St. Louis for Voit and international bonus slot money at the end of July, many believed that the bonus cash would prove to be the best part of the deal for the Yankees. But then Voit exploded down the stretch, evoking memories of Shane Spencer in ‘98.

Heading into the offseason, people openly wondered if Voit could keep it up, or if he would end up remembered as just another flash in the pan. Not only did Voit win the starting job at first base outright, but he has emerged as a very early MVP candidate. On Sunday, Voit reached base safely for the 39th consecutive game — the longest such streak in the majors. He is batting .322/.416/.664 (48-for-149), with 15 homers, 41 RBI, and 33 runs scored during this streak.

Less than a week after acquiring Voit, Cashman purchased Gio Urshela from the Toronto Blue Jays. Urshela was signed as a 16-year-old amateur free agent out of Colombia by the Cleveland Indians in 2008, and made his MLB debut seven years later. He appeared in only 148 games over three years for the Indians, before moving on to Toronto where he played in only 19 last season. Urshela carried a .589 career OPS into the 2019 campaign.

Urshela has proven himself a godsend for the Yankees. Not only has he made all the plays in the field — often dazzling with his glove work — but he has also become an important run producer for the team. In 65 plate appearances with the Bombers, Urshela is slashing 351/.415/.509 with 147 wRC+. His .924 OPS on the year is a whopping 316 points higher than last year’s mark.

Not only do the stats look good, but Urshela has come through for the team time and time again in key situations. For example, during the 14-inning marathon a week ago in Anaheim, Urshela lofted a sacrifice fly in the 12th inning to score Clint Frazier with the go-ahead run. When the Yankees bullpen couldn’t hold the lead, Urshela came through once again in the 14th. His single to center field scored Gleyber Torres to give the Yankees a 4-3 lead, one that they held onto.

Undoubtedly, Cashman originally acquired Urshela as “deep” depth. He was buried so far down on the infield depth chart, it must have seemed unlikely to him at the time that he’d ever make it back to The Show in a Yankees uniform. In other words, he represented an insurance policy in case several injuries occurred.

Well, several injuries did happen. Didi Gregorius required Tommy John surgery. His replacement, Troy Tulowitzki, got hurt. Starting third baseman Miguel Andujar got hurt. And just like that, Urshela is starting every day. Not only starting, but manager Aaron Boone actually hit him cleanup the other day in San Francisco. Urshela went 2-for-5 with a RBI in the Yankees victory.

Cashman deserves major kudos. His relentless pursuit of deals — big and small — put the Yankees in a position where they can weather the unprecedented injuries they are suffering this season. Not merely weathering, but they currently hold the top Wild Card berth in the American League. Urshela is just the latest minor move that has thus far paid off big time for the Yankees, and they wouldn’t be where they are without him.