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Miguel Andújar has another chance at Yankees greatness

The former Rookie of the Year runner-up has lost his luster, but the team now has reason to keep him around.

Tampa Bay Rays v New York Yankees Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

A lot can change in two years’ time. Over the last 24 months, Miguel Andújar has gone from hitting in the heart of the Yankees’ order as an American League Rookie of the Year candidate to a complete afterthought. Due to injuries, inconsistency and an unforeseen COVID-shortened 2020 schedule, Andújar has only played in 33 games over the last two seasons. During that time, he’s mustered a lackluster .193/.219/.257 triple slash, just four extra-base hits, and has made little tangible improvement to his defense.

Andújar’s path to success for the Yankees was simple: crush the ball. In his excellent 2018 season, Andújar did just that as a .297 hitter with power. He laced 47 doubles, the seventh-most in Yankees history for a single season, and the most since Robinson Canó hit 48 in 2012. Add in 27 home runs, 92 RBI and an above-average 16 percent strikeout rate (particularly good for such a free swinger), and the Yankees had a sneaky-good hitter in their lineup.

Even then, questions remained about Andújar’s true talent level. Could he survive as a hitter with just a 4.1 percent walk rate and 36 percent chase rate? What would he have to hit over a full season to make up for his butcher’s defense at third base?

As it turned out, Andújar crashed down almost as quickly as he ascended. An early-2019 shoulder strain became a full-on torn labrum, which cost him most of the season. Over that time, Gio Urshela made like Lou Gehrig to Andújar’s Wally Pipp and played so well that when Andújar returned in 2020, he was out of a starting job. No one could have predicted Urshela would be so good, and he is now truly one of the game’s top third basemen.

It was bad break after bad break for Andújar. The Yankees tried to shoehorn his bat in the lineup, but to no avail. There was no room for him at designated hitter, he wasn’t a fit at first base (undeserving of playing time over Luke Voit anyway), and he never got comfortable in the outfield. Andújar was repeatedly yo-yoed from New York to the alternate site, and grew frustrated with the Yankees’ handling of him. It looked like the potential end of the line for Miggy in New York.

However, a sudden opening exists for Andújar once again. After a COVID scare earlier in the offseason, Urshela underwent surgery to remove a bone chip from his elbow last week, and is expected to be out for three months. This is a fairly common surgery for ballplayers, but who knows how Urshela will recover? Andújar will likely get a healthy dosage of reps at third base in spring training, which could be his best chance to show that he still has life in his bat. What if Andújar rakes again like he did in 2020 summer camp while Urshela takes his time to recover? The Yankees would certainly have to keep his bat in the lineup.

There is some evidence that Andújar can still recapture his 2018 form if granted the opportunity. Remember, it’s only been a 33-game sample size for Andújar since those days. Yes, he’s looked totally lost at times over that stretch, but there’s plenty of reasons why. Torn labrum? Check. Jockeyed in and out of the lineup each day? Yup. Constantly shuffling around to new defensive positions that he’s trying to learn on the fly? Yessir. The best hitters thrive no matter the circumstances, but Andújar has had suboptimal conditions for two years running, mostly due to bad luck.

Andújar’s analytics weren’t particularly encouraging the last two years, but he had just about the same hard-hit rate and strikeout rate in 2020 as he did in 2018. He didn’t swing and miss that much, showing off his innate zone-contact ability at the plate. The big difference was a drop-off in power, which might be expected to return in a full season under more normal conditions.

There’s also a value proposition here. Andújar is still under club control, and not even arbitration-eligible. He costs the Yankees practically nothing, and is just two seasons removed from a solid performance. Why not take the gamble on keeping him around? It’s not even a gamble, really, when he makes around the MLB minimum and isn’t expected to anchor a lineup spot. He doesn’t have much trade value anyway, and if Andújar rediscovers himself, great. If not, the Yankees aren’t really any worse for wear, given that they likely have Urshela to fall back on. They might as well try to catch lightning in the bottle one more time, especially with Urshela going under the knife.

Although he’s no sure thing, there’s still some hope with Andújar. He’s not a totally lost cause. Urshela’s injury isn’t expected to be major, but these factors can be unpredictable. It certainly doesn’t hurt to keep Andújar around as some potentially risky but high-ceiling insurance. He’s inexpensive, and he’s their only other option at third base outside of the punchless Tyler Wade, who hasn’t spent much time at the hot corner anyway. Andújar isn’t so far removed from his strong 2018 season that it’s impossible for him to ever reignite that spark. Funnier things have happened.