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How Rougned Odor can benefit the Yankees

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New York shook up its middle infield depth yesterday, but what exactly was accomplished by doing so?

Los Angeles Dodgers v Texas Rangers Photo by Ralph Freso/Getty Images

It’s safe to say that when Rougned Odor was designated for assignment by the Texas Rangers at the end of March, almost no one expected the Yankees to be interested. Fast-forward one week, and Odor is in the organization thanks to a trade that will keep all of the monetary burden on the Rangers.

At first glance, Odor is simultaneously a welcome addition and a strange fit. The Yankees had a clear lack of MLB-ready middle infielders on the depth chart below their starters, with Tyler Wade filling in as the backup on the 26-man roster and Thairo Estrada the immediate understudy. Derek Dietrich is still with the team after failing to make the roster in spring, but hasn’t shown enough to warrant being ahead of either Wade or Estrada (and that’s a low bar). The team has plenty of promising middle infield prospects down the pipeline — but none of them have much, or any, experience in the upper levels of the minor leagues, and a season lost to the pandemic hasn’t helped their development.

In this regard, it makes perfect sense to grab Odor for the price of two prospects stuck in the lower levels of the minors — essentially lottery tickets. However, there’s the matter of Odor’s play itself. While he was once a promising bat in the core of the Rangers’ lineup, those days are long gone. Odor might still be able to hit his share of long balls, but despite that skill, he has remained below-average at the plate in each of the last four seasons, and three of the four were significantly atrocious. He’s still young — he’s entering his age-27 season despite seven years in the majors — but he’s played enough games to show that this is far from a slump or a single bad season. He has plenty of flaws at the plate.

Despite all this, it seems the Yankees aren’t grabbing Odor just to stow him away in case they need him. Aaron Boone commented on the acquisition, noting that there was a chance Odor could be heading up to the Yankees after clearing an intake period. Estrada was designated for assignment in order to add him to the 40-man, and YES Network analyst Jack Curry mentioned that Wade could lose his spot for Odor if he’s called up. Curry is as connected to the front office as anyone in the country — if he’s speculating on it, there’s a good chance that will end up being the move.

So what are the Yankees getting out of this? They’ve added a suspect bat with some potential to play around the diamond, though not as much as their in-house options, and have cut one of their lesser options to bring him in. First, to address the roster concerns, it’s possible — and most likely, probable — that Estrada winds up getting assigned back into the minors. He hasn’t exhibited enough in the majors, and he isn’t that highly regarded of a prospect for other teams to be champing at the bit to pick him up. It’s not guaranteed, but it’s a bet that the Yankees are willing to make. Once that clears, they’ll have officially added depth instead of just changing who the depth pieces are.

As for Odor specifically, the Yankees see potential for another reclamation project. Boone had plenty to say about the second baseman, praising his defense and adding that they believe aspects of his game could be unlocked by playing in pinstripes. It’s clear that the team sees some upside left in Odor’s bat, perhaps more than the options they already had. This is the team that managed to get incredible value out of players like Mike Tauchman, Luke Voit, and Gio Urshela, and while they haven’t hit on all of their gambles, it’s fair to say they’ve got an eye for finding guys that fit their mold.

There’s also some short-term benefit that the Yankees could gain out of having Odor on the roster instead of Wade. While the team wouldn’t have a true backup for shortstop, they would have the potential to put players in more comfortable roles across the diamond. Currently, with Voit out, they have Jay Bruce filling in at first — despite it being an off-role position for him. Bruce got out to a hot start in camp, but slumped enough immediately after that it appeared he wouldn’t even make the roster until Voit’s injury forced the team’s hand. This could be a correction of sorts, now that the front office has had time to scout out an adjustment.

DJ LeMahieu is a stellar glove at second, but he filled in adequately at first when the team needed him. The Yankees also experimented with Urshela filling in as the backup shortstop, though we haven’t really seen them test it out in a game. If they’re comfortable with both of those conditions, an Urshela-Torres-Odor-LeMahieu infield becomes possible, with either Odor or LeMahieu covering third when Urshela has to shift over to short. It’s still a weird fit to imagine, but it’s clear that the team has at least given this idea some thought based on how they’ve talked about Odor.