To say that Gio Urshela has been a welcome surprise to the Yankees would be an insult to welcome surprises. The journeyman third baseman’s 139 OPS+ in 22 games ranks alongside the Knights of the Vale rescuing the Stark army and [Avengers: Endgame spoiler redacted] as top clutch performances to keep a battered squad afloat.
Urshela’s elite performance so far has been more than covered by other writers here at Pinstripe Alley—check out these articles by Freeni and Brett for that analysis. It is time to start asking what Urshela’s long-term role will be on this team once other players begin to return from injury. With Miguel Andujar returning possibly as early as this weekend, it would seem that the time for this decision would be now. Due to the host of injuries this team has suffered, however, Urshela will likely continue manning the hot corner to keep his hot bat in the lineup as Andujar serves as the DH.
Such a setup won’t work for long since more players are expected to return in the next couple of weeks. The DH spot will presumably start being rotated among a few players, with Giancarlo Stanton likely receiving the bulk of the time in the spot. Thus, in order to keep Andujar’s bat in the lineup, he will need to play the field, and Urshela becomes superfluous. If, by this point in time, Urshela returns to his career 67 OPS+ levels, that would certainly be an improvement in the lineup. On the other hand, if his adjustments this year result in a late breakout by the 27-year-old, the Yankees will be forced to keep finding him at-bats.
The best way to do that would be to break out the “DJ LeMahieu” formula that was shelved due to Andujar’s injury in the first week of the season.
The general plan at the beginning of the year was to have LeMahieu serve as a kind of “fifth starter” in the infield, playing all around the infield in a rotation, and giving other players regularly-scheduled rests. For good reason, LeMahieu vacated that role in favor of serving as the starting second baseman due to injuries.
Gio Urshela, however, can force the Yankees to resurrect that role. Despite below-average range (his UZR is -1.0; a surprising stat and one that seems to contradict the eye test and his reputation), Urshela has provided an upgrade to Andujar at the hot corner. He also has extensive experience at shortstop—albeit more so in the minor leagues than at the big league level—and combined for 134 innings at first and second. While he’s unlikely to wow anybody with the glove up the middle, if he continues to put together a career year at the plate, he will more than make up for any defensive shortcomings with his bat, even factoring in regression. At the very least, he would almost certainly provide more value than Tyler Wade or Thairo Estrada project to in the same role.
While this would be a good problem for the Yankees to have, it isn’t one we are likely to see—Yankees fans are very familiar at how quickly things can change, this year especially. Nonetheless, so long as Gio Urshela continues his hot start, the Yankees will find a way to get him in the lineup, even if it means getting a little creative.