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The fall of Miguel Andújar

The one-time Rookie of the Year runner-up’s career has, and continues to be, in purgatory

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

There are two moments that probably represent the peak of Miguel Andújar’s Yankee career, one private and one very public. In the 2017 offseason, the Yankees were pursuing a trade for Gerrit Cole, a pitcher who the team had coveted since drafting him in the first round out of high school in 2008. The Pirates wanted a package of both Clint Frazier and Andújar, a sticking point for Brian Cashman.

That faith — or perhaps stubbornness, a theme we’ll return to — was rewarded once baseball started up again. Andújar triple-slashed .297/.328/.527, famously broke Joe DiMaggio’s franchise record for doubles by a rookie with 47, and in that public peak, finished second in AL Rookie of the Year voting to Shohei freakin’ Ohtani. Miggy and Gleyber Torres actually finished second and third in RoY voting in 2018, building hope that the left side of the Yankee infield would be held down for a decade.

When Andújar was optioned to Triple-A on Wednesday, his .239/.257/.269 slash line was the worst of his career, save for 12 games in an injury-shortened 2019. His inability to find a defensive position, his shocking lack of any power whatsoever, and the emergence of guys like DJ LeMahieu, Matt Carpenter, and now perhaps Oswaldo Cabrera have made it impossible to get him on either an infield or outfield rotation. There’s no room on the roster for Andújar, and his play hasn’t forced the Yankees’ hand. He seems ticketed for another organization, a Frazierian end to a New York career full of potential.

How did we get here?

There were always signs that Miggy’s 2018 wasn’t going to be repeatable, or at the very least, was going to be difficult to repeat. He had one of the worst defensive seasons of all time, and was the beneficiary of the third-largest delta between wOBA and xwOBA in all of baseball. Neither of these things alone mean that a player’s performance should be doubted, but they presented challenges that would plague the rest of Andújar’s time in the majors.

Bad defense — truly bad defense — means you need to produce proportionally higher offense. Runs are runs, and if you cede a bunch in the field, you need to produce more at the plate. There was plenty of evidence that Miggy would cede a bunch of runs at third, but there were questions about his ability to sustainably produce at the plate. He didn’t walk, which meant that his ability to get on base was always going to be related to contact, and like other players with that profile such as Javier Báez or Isiah Kiner-Falefa, prone to both slumps where balls don’t land and surges when they do.

The offensive regression is at such a building block level, though, which is why I don’t think he still has the ceiling of Báez — and even Javy’s ceiling can be questioned at this point.

Since Andújar’s 2018 campaign, he has lost 50 points of wOBA against fastballs, 54 points against off-speed pitches, and more than 100 points against breaking balls. There’s just no pitch that he can effectively square up, meaning that the hit tool that was once raved about on blogs just like this one has disappeared.

Of course, it wasn’t just on-field performance. Part of the tragedy of Miguel Andújar is the injuries — the stuff he can’t control. A torn labrum robbed him of a 2019 follow-up season, and he lost most of 2021 as well. I’m not sure whether you’d rather have, as an organization, a guy like Giancarlo Stanton, who you know will have at least one IL trip a season, or gamble on a guy like Miggy, who has basically lost two full years and stayed off the IL otherwise. Regardless, the Yankees’ roster isn’t exactly the healthiest, and comparing Andújar to a few of his high-risk contemporaries doesn’t shed positive light on him:

Maybe you can quibble with whether the Yankees should have given Andy more of a chance than stashing him in Triple-A, but if the best ability is availability, he hasn’t been available for half the baseball that’s been played since 2018.

Similar to the offense-defense trade-off, there’s a performance trade-off to injury. Yes, Stanton needs some time off every season, but when he’s on the field, he’s produced a 134 wRC+ since 2019. Josh Donaldson, 122. Indeed, one of the reasons Aaron Hicks is so frustrating is because when he does avoid injury, he’s only produced a 99 wRC+ over this timeframe. However, that’s still a damn sight better than Andújar’s 56 wRC+ since his rookie season.

So, you have a player who brought a significant amount of downside risk to the field when he was on it, and who then spent enormous chunks of two full seasons off it. You can start to see why the Yankees have begun to distrust his ability to produce as a full-time regular, even if he had more of a position in the outfield.

And then there’s what’s put the nail in his Yankee career coffin, in my opinion. He went from an everyday player to a role player — part of that was him being usurped by Gio Urshela, part of that was missing time to injury, neither of which are really his fault — but the thing about being a role player is that when you’re given your opportunity, you have to make it count.

Jose Trevino is a great example of this. He was brought in as a defensive specialist, with a minor league option that signaled to some observers that he could be the third-string catcher, behind Kyle Higashioka and Ben Rortvedt, who was expected to recover from whatever injury has since disappeared him. Trevino split duties with Higgy, has taken full advantage of that opportunity, and been one of the absolute best catchers in the game, forcing the Yankees to abandon their earlier catching plans and make him the de facto starter.

Matt Carpenter fits in this group as well — a literal castoff who any team could have signed, that got a shot at playing with the Yankees, hit 15 home runs with a 217 wRC+, and made the Yankees attempt a bunch of juggling outfielders and infielders just to get that left-handed bat in the lineup.

Andújar has been given those chances too. He was an everyday player for almost two full months last year and managed a .667 OPS, with just eight extra-base hits for the one-time Miggy Two-Bags. He hasn’t quite had that same consistent amount of playing time this year, but that’s the nature of being a role player — you’re not going to be the primary option unless you force it, unless your performance is too good for a team not to play you. It sucks to be this blunt about a guy who was obviously talented enough to make the majors, but in the last two seasons, when Andújar’s been handed the ball, he’s fumbled.

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

So where do we go from here?

It’s been very telling, to me, that the Yankees have been so reluctant to call Andújar up this year, and how quickly they’ve optioned him back to Scranton when he has been up. Of course Miggy’s play never forced the issue, but it seems like the org always knew that he couldn’t really cut it on an MLB roster anymore (though they did choose to keep him as an $1.3 million lottery ticket insurance policy for 2022 rather than non-tender him).

Anyone can be traded, and this is perhaps one of Brian Cashman’s most underrated skills. He was able to find a trade partner for Joey Gallo, and to Gallo’s credit, he’s been able to make the most of his short playing time out in Hollywood. Andújar, in my opinion, seems ticketed for this kind of treatment in the winter. Some team will try to work through his bad footwork at the dish, figure out why he’s so scared of breaking balls, and that will be the end of Miguel Andújar, New York Yankee.

But perhaps more important than the trajectory of his career is why the Yankees seem to struggle so much with maintaining a player’s level of output. Aaron Judge has been remarkably consistent in the majors, and stepped it up this year in a way that’s almost comical. Andújar, Gleyber Torres, Gary Sánchez were all guys who came up within a couple years of each other, had the same development team and coaches and represent a full third of the lineup, but they haven’t been able to stay at their best, much less improve while in the majors.

I don’t just mean, like, Gary’s 2016 season. That was never sustainable, but I think we all kind of thought that with the 125-130 wRC+ peaks we saw from those three players, one of them would be able to stick at that level. Prospects miss all the time, but to have essentially an entire cohort of core position players see regression once the league got 150 games of data on them raises eyebrows, and not in a good way.

I’ve always been the low man on Andújar, His offensive tools are not the things that I personally value in a hitter, and if you’ve read my work since I started writing here six seasons ago, you know I’ve been pretty consistent in that belief. If you’re new to my writing, and think this is just hindsight, that’s your prerogative. But I don’t write this as a “haha, I told you so.” Andújar is a minor baseball tragedy.

His abilities have regressed and he’s effectively lost two years to build consistency and adjust. He’ll be out of options next year, on a team where entrenched regulars always make it hard to crack the 26-man roster. When he’s been given chances to produce, he’s fallen flat on his face, and to such a degree that it’s hard to look at his stat line and say he just needs a change of scenery. He needs a new swing and approach and hitting philosophy — if everything about Miguel Andújar was different, how different would he be?

I would be surprised to see him wear Yankee pinstripes again. I’m sure he’ll be flipped for some interesting but project-y relief pitcher in December. A Yankee career that started with him garnering a few first-place Rookie of the Year votes over Shohei Ohtani, that began with him being too valuable to deal for Gerrit Cole, will end with a whimper. We all know that baseball is an unfair game, but seeing it happen in real time is something else entirely.