As we barrel towards real, actual baseball, there are probably better things on our minds than the recent acquisition for utility man Brandon Drury. Sure, he’ll likely be the starting third baseman come Opening Day, but there are definitely some important story lines, paramount among them being Giancarlo Stanton in pinstripes for the first time.
But I’m drawn to this trade not because of the profound change to the playoff odds, but because once again we get an insight into the front office’s thought process and machinations. Based on a recent article in the Daily News, there are a few observations to glean.
First among them is that the front office believes Drury has a “a swing that profiles well at our ballpark,” according to VP of Baseball Operations Tim Naehring, meaning that his average power combined with opposite field abilities would do well in Yankee Stadium, which is likely true, as he is in the upper crust of players in opposite field percentage:
Naehring also describes Drury’s swing as “fundamentally sound,” and that the main adjustment they believe will ignite his performance is to “get him in position to swing at fastballs.” This is certainly true, as his 123 wRC+ against fastballs means that he already performs well against them. He currently has a Z-Swing% of 58.2 against fastballs, which would be among the lowest of qualified hitters.
If you have been watching the front office for the past four years or so, this move is exactly in line with this philosophy: find young players under team control with a glaring, fixable flaw, and then tweak them into an above-average position player. The obvious examples of this strategy are Didi Gregorius and Aaron Hicks, but that doesn’t necessarily guarantee future success. The Yankees have hunted utility men in the past, as they did with, say, Dustin Ackley, who they also pursued for “quite some time” as Brian Cashman said regarding Drury.
That also doesn’t mean it wasn’t a smart move, future performance notwithstanding. The Yankees gave up Nick Solak and Taylor Widener, who were just listed as a 45 and 40 future value per FanGraphs, and Drury will only cost the league minimum this season, both keeping the team under the cap and making sure the Yankees are not tied down in case the experiment fails. Drury is also suspiciously similar to a previous infielder in terms of offensive output:
Of course, Drury’s defense leaves much to be desired. Unlike Castro, who at least was competent at second, Drury has been worth -18 Defensive Runs Saved in his career. That’s why his one advantage is his versatility, as the team could potentially save a roster spot with his ability to play second, third, and a corner outfield position.
That said, Drury is and shouldn’t be the final answer here. Both Miguel Andujar and Gleyber Torres are likely the more long-term answers, and even Tyler Wade is a dark horse candidate for a starting spot. That also shouldn’t preclude the Yankees from adding young, cost-controlled players acquired for a light prospect haul. You can never have enough young talent, and while it’s more likely that the Yankees end up with an Ackley than a Didi, it can never hurt to buy another cheap lottery ticket.