After the Yankees traded Jose Ramirez and Ramon Flores to the Mariners for Dustin Ackley, most people were unimpressed. When it turned out that was the only move they even made at the deadline, a lot of people seemed pissed off. While the team viewed him as an improvement to the major league bench for the rest of the season, they also seemed to view Ackley–who is under contract through the 2017 season–as more of a move for next year.
It's hard to blame anyone for being unhappy with his addition to the team as, despite New York's infatuation with the 27-year-old, he has been a below-average hitter three out of the last four seasons. He was hitting an underwhelming .215/.270/.366 with six home runs at the time of the trade, though the Yankees seemed to value his ability to play all three outfield spots, first base, and second more than anything else. He could be the ultimate utility man for them, able to play five different positions and make their roster a little more flexible. Then he hurt his back and missed a month of the season.
Returning in September, Ackley has wasted no time by collecting seven hits in just 18 plate appearances across nine games. He hit a huge three-run home run off R.A. Dickey against the Blue Jays and just tripled off Noah Syndergaard on Saturday. It's an incredibly small sample size and it's hard to say why he's been so successful with his new team so far (did the Yankees see something they could fix; did he just need a change of scenery; is this all just luck?), but if he keeps hitting like this (big if), could he be considered an option at second base for next year? And even if he doesn't, if the Yankees could go an entire season with Stephen Drew, Ackley might at least be given serious consideration.
After half a year of being absolute garbage at the plate, Drew has become an almost league-average hitter in the second half of the 2015 season. It's possible that the Yankees see him as a legitimate option to return for 2016, but at $5 million and below-average production, they might prefer to go for someone cheaper. Ackley made $2.6 million this year and might not even see $5 million in arbitration over the next two years, while Rob Refsnyder–which, who the heck knows what the Yankees plan to do with him at this point–would only make the league minimum. There's a serious lack of free agent options this winter and no one comes to mind when considering a trade, so it's incredibly possible that the last few months have given Brian Cashman enough confidence to re-sign Drew for another year.
If that is the case then Ackley will likely be used as a left-handed bat off the bench, replacing what Garrett Jones was supposed to offer the team, and if he's still the same hitter he was in Seattle, that's probably the right decision. He was only moved off of second because of the Robinson Cano signing in 2014 and split time in the outfield due to his bat, so his defense should fall somewhere between Drew and Refsnyder. The only other factor that effects his place on the team is that with Mark Teixeira again, and if Greg Bird is now considered a legitimate big league option for next year as well, the Yankees won't really need him as a backup first baseman and it could turn him into a strict outfielder again. Even if they don't choose him to play second base full-time in 2016, if Stephen Drew returns, he'll likely get another shot in the infield at some point in the season.
Let's see how he performs through the end of the season, and It makes sense to give him a chance in spring training, but the best place for Ackley might be on the bench going forward. He's able to do enough things that he should be able to accrue semi-regular playing time anyway. It's just a matter of whether or not that will be a good thing or a bad thing. Let's all just hope the Yankees find someone better who can play second base, even if that end up being this (potentially) improved Dustin Ackley.