What Will the Yankees Do With Gio Urshela?
What Will the Yankees Do With Gio Urshela?
By Chris O’Connor
November 7. 2021
Will Gio Urshela be back with the Yankees in 2022? At first glance, this seems like a no-brainer: yes. The 30-year-old is projected to make a very reasonable $5.25 million in his second year of arbitration and will not become a free agent until after the 2023 season. While he fell short of expectations last season, he was very good the prior two years. He has tremendous goodwill among the fans and front office for both being a diamond-in-the-rough finding and settling the third base position with competent defense after the fiasco that was Miguel Andujar in 2018. Dig a little deeper, however, and the writing may be on the wall for Urshela’s time in pinstripes.
Brian Cashman hinted at some of his offseason strategy when he admitted after the season that the Yankees are not as athletic or contact-oriented as he would like them to be. Urshela would thus seem to fit the bill as someone to upgrade on. Per Fangrpahs, he rated as the fifth-worst baserunner in the whole sport in 2021 due to his propensity for hitting into double plays, dearth of stolen bases, and inability to take the extra base when the opportunity presented itself. On that list, he is surrounded by massive sluggers like Giancarlo Stanton, Miguel Cabrera, and Franmil Reyes. And while one could say that a hamstring issue limited him throughout the season, his slow-footedness is nothing new. He ranked in the 24th percentile among all players in Statcast’s sprint speed in 2021, this coming after a 13th percentile ranking in 2020. Speed and athleticism is something that Urshela has never brought to the table, but his contact skills suffered in 2021 as well. His strikeout rate ballooned to a career-high 24.7% after coming in at just 18.3% and 14.4% in 2019 and 2020, respectively. Who is Cashman talking about when he says he wants to upgrade on speed and contact? Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton are obviously not going anywhere, and it seems like the Yankees are high on Joey Gallo’s potential to bounce back in 2022. So while Brian Cashman’s comments on contact and athleticism might clearly spell the end of Luke Voit’s time in the pinstripes, I would not overlook Gio Urshela’s place in this as well.
Urshela’s Yankee prospects become particularly ominous when one considers the rest of the offseason strategy. I think it is pretty clear at this point that the Yankees will pursue a legitimate shortstop after the Gleyber Torres experiment unsurprisingly failed in 2021, and I am more confident than most that the Yankees will be getting either Carlos Correa or Corey Seager. Hal gets criticized for not spending like his father, and rightfully so. He has, however, proved that after re-setting the team’s luxury tax situation to avoid the repeater tax, he is willing to spend. He did so after 2017 with the acquisition of Giancarlo Stanton and did so after 2019 with Gerrit Cole. And when the New York Yankees want their guy, they get him. Simple as that. Let’s say they get Correa. Correa is plugged in at short, Gleyber moves to second, and that leaves the Yankees with the flexibility to get either a first or third baseman because of D.J. LeMahieu’s ability to play both. It is highly unlikely that any team is willing to take on LeMahieu’s contract, so he will almost certainly be back after a difficult 2021. In a sense, it comes down to this: does the team want Rizzo at first and LeMahieu at third, or Gio at third and LeMahieu at first? In that situation, I think the Yankees would choose Rizzo. He brings excellent defense at first base and natural leadership skills, and his lefty, contact bat brings more diversity to the lineup. Reports indicate that Rizzo, a free agent, would welcome a return to the Yankees, and he seems like exactly the kind of player that the Yankees would want at first base in a revamped infield.
While I would be surprised if the Yankees do not get either Correa or Seager, they will get a new shortstop. For the sake of this article, let’s say they worry about paying big money to those two premier options and instead wind up with a defensive specialist in Andrelton Simmons. In that case, Cashman understands that he has to do something to reinvigorate a punchless offense. In that case, I could absolutely see Matt Olson being a prime target. With the A’s appearing to signal the start of a rebuild by letting manager Bob Melvin go to the Padres, Olson would be a better version of Anthony Rizzo for the Yankees. Failing that, and this is again after whiffing on a big-time shortstop, I can see the Yankees doing everything they can to get Jose Ramirez from the Indians. Either way, I think the Yankees are due for an offensive splash in their infield. With one of the best free-agent classes in recent history, and very intriguing trade candidates rumored to be available, this is the perfect time to do that. With Gleyber Torres and D.J. LeMahieu unlikely to go anywhere, that may leave Gio Urshela as the odd man out.