Brian Cashman recently declared that J.A. Happ, a seemingly obvious trade candidate following a rough 2019 season, would be the Yankees’ fifth starter heading into spring training. Barring any unexpected turn of events, Happ will be in the rotation come Opening Day, and will look to carry over his strong finish to the 2019 regular season after months of struggles.
Miguel Andujar, another potential trade chip, doesn’t appear to be on the move, at least not in the immediate future. After missing almost the entire season due to a torn labrum, Andujar’s trade value is likely down, and his defensive struggles are well documented. Offensively, Andujar was excellent in his rookie season, but some underlying numbers (like his .361 wOBA outpacing his .326 xwOBA, suggesting a little bit of luck in 2018) along with his minuscule walk rate of 4.1 percent suggest that his rookie campaign will be hard to replicate.
But the apparent decision to keep both Happ and Andujar for the 2020 season does have its benefits, especially when we look back on what transpired in 2019.
If there is anything the 2019 season showed the Yankees, it’s the value of depth. Despite crippling injuries of historic proportions, the Yankees relatively easily marched their way to a division title thanks to reserves like Mike Tauchman, Mike Ford, Gio Urshela and Cameron Maybin stepping up and producing almost as well as the starters were expected to. It was an unprecedented injury bug that was somehow overcome, but despite a change in the team’s training staff, injuries can still occur.
A player like Andujar can still hurt his shoulder sliding back into third base. A player like Giancarlo Stanton can still hurt his knee sliding into a base as well. Injuries happen, and having Happ and Andujar provide potentially valuable bodies that can step up in more regular roles should the situation call for reinforcements.
What the Yankees endured in 2019 was unprecedented. That doesn’t mean key injuries can’t show up again. Happ may need to be more than a fifth starter if someone in the rotation goes down, and after posting an ERA below two in September, perhaps he can actually make an impact. We’ve seen him pitch effectively in pinstripes, especially down the stretch of the 2018 season. Perhaps Andujar can improve his plate discipline and continue to be a doubles machine in a regular role again should an infielder (or even an outfielder: you never know where Andujar will play this year) hit the IL. Should Urshela or Tauchman regress heavily, Andujar could come in handy there as well.
It helps to have options, especially given the fact that the Yankees were damn near out of them last season. Keeping Happ and Andujar around provides the 2020 Yankees a higher floor, and helps insure against another potential round of injuries. Given their recent history, it doesn’t hurt to have Happ and Andujar on the roster if a suitable trade partner doesn’t bowl the Yankees over with an offer.