The Yankees came into the 2019 season fully confident that they had found their third baseman of the future, and rightfully so. Miguel Andujar finished second to Shohei Ohtani in the 2018 AL Rookie of the Year Award voting, having batted .297/.328/.527 with 47 doubles, 27 homers, and a 127 OPS+ in 149 games.
The Yankees were so confident they decided to not include Andujar in any trade packages for a much-needed starting pitcher. They also passed on signing Manny Machado, despite his eagerness to don the pinstripes and his defensive prowess, the latter of which Andujar lacks.
Unfortunately, things didn’t go according to plan, as Andujar suffered a torn right labrum that will keep him out for the 2019 season. Savvy offseason moves by Brian Cashman have the Yankees in first place, however, with great production from the hot corner. DJ LeMahieu and Gio Urshela stepped up tremendously when everyone outside of the Yankees had written them off.
Urshela, widely regarded as an excellent defender, played in 167 games across three seasons with the Indians (2015-17) and Blue Jays (2018), batting .225/.274/.315 with 16 doubles and eight home runs. With the Yankees, Urshela has drastically improved into a solid hitter while batting .304/.355/.469 with seven home runs and a 117 OPS+. LeMahieu, on the other hand, was brought in as a more polished addition with a respectable background that features three Gold Gloves, two All-Star appearances, and a batting title.
The Yankees initially envisioned LeMahieu as a utility player filling in for players whenever they needed rest. That role has completely changed with LeMahieu leading the AL in batting average at .336, hitting 12 home runs and driving in 63 runs as a key piece at the top of the Yankees’ vaunted lineup. The knock on DJL was that he was a product of Coors Field, which is infamously known for Rockies players enjoying better stats due to higher altitude the baseball travels better and further.
Coors Field leads the majors in most offensive categories this season, but that hasn't stopped LeMahieu. He’s become one of the best overall hitters in the American League and arguably the team’s MVP.
Due to the productivity of Urshela and LeMahieu, the Yankees now have a good problem on their hands. They have two gifted defensive infielders who allow Aaron Boone to fluctuate the lineup in ways that benefit the players in terms of rest and production. They also have the pieces to pursue a trade for a starting pitcher.
This begs the question: Do the Yankees make Andujar available on the trade market, or do they hold on to him for a bounce-back season in 2020? These are tough questions to answer because the Yankees have Andujar under control until his age-28 season in 2023, while LeMahieu will be 32 at the conclusion of his two-year deal. Urshela will be 28 in October with three years of arbitration following the 2019 season.
This season taught the Yankees that while you can't predict the future, you can be as prepared as possible. Injuries happen, depth is becoming increasingly important. The teams that have it clearly boast a competitive edge that other teams beg for. The current 2019 Yankees have a lineup filled with All-Star players from top to bottom; the first hitter in the order can do damage just as much as the ninth. The inclusion of Andujar in 2020 only makes this lineup that much scarier.
The 2019 season marks 10 years since the Yankees have won—or appeared in—a World Series. That’s a drought the Yankees are unfamiliar with, having appeared in a Fall Classic in every decade since the 1920s. The need for a starting pitcher is evident, but the starters that are available may not warrant giving up Andujar.
In 2017, Justin Verlander hit the market and the decision to pass up on him ultimately hurt the Yankees, as he just about single-handedly eliminated the Bombers in the ALCS. The team saw how important a top pitcher can be in the postseason, so it’s up to Cashman to once again work his magic. That said, he should utilize the pieces in the farm to reel in a starter, not Andujar.