Yankees Should Not Be So Anxious to Trade Miguel Andujar
The emergence of Miguel Andujar last year was one of the best stories of the 2018 season. The 23 year old rookie hit .297/328/527 and finishedsecond in the Rookie of the Year voting. Andujar proved himself able to hit big league pitching and demonstrated impressive power for such a young player clouting 27 home runs and 47 doubles. Despite this, throughout much of 2018 and thus far in the offseason, there has been a lot of attention paid to Andujar’s shortcomings. His defense was terrible-his negative -2.2 dWAR negated much of his offensive value. Additionally, Andujar only drew 25 walks while striking out 97 times in 606 plate appearances in 2018.
Given the Yankees need for starting pitching, this had contributed to speculation that the Yankees would move him in the offseason. This speculation has grown as the Yankees have become a likely landing spot for free agent infielder Manny Machado. If the right offer came along, trading Andujar would make sense, but the Yankees should be wary of selling low on him. Andujar is a young ballplayer under team control for several more years who has demonstrated an ability to hit big league pitching reasonably, actually very, well. Focusing too much on what Andujar cannot do obscures this. Andujar will never be another Adrian Beltre, or for older fans Mike Schmidt, winning Gold Gloves every year while ranking among the leagues best sluggers. However, if used right, Andujar can still be a very valuable player. This means that the Yankees must work with what Andujar can do while limiting his opportunities to hurt the team through the things he does poorly.
The biggest problem in Andujar’s game is his defense. When he began 2018 in the minors, the Yankees knew he could hit, but were worried about his ability to field. After being promoted, he demonstrated why those worries were legitimate. The Yankees, and Andujar, need to address this, but can do so in several ways. First, Andujar can work on his defense. While he will never be a great defender, even if he could become only a slightly worse than average third baseman, Andujar would greatly increase his value to the team. Second, and more easily, the Yankees can recognize his limitations and use him accordingly. This means replacing Andujar after his third or fourth plate appearance in a close game and putting a better defender at third base for the last inning or two. Aaron Boone did that with some success during the latter part of 2018. The Yankees can also try Andujar at first base as well. Andujar may never be good at that position either, but would a player who is slightly below average at two positions, is more valuable than if he can only play one position.
Even if the Yankees sign Machado, rushing to trade Andujar could be a mistake. Machado may eventually end up at third base, but he would start the 2019 season at short due to Didi Gregorius’s injury. In that case, the Yankees will need a third baseman and could do a lot worse than Andujar. Even when Gregorius comes back, given his impending free agency, the lack of clarity at first base and the realities of injuries and slumps, Andujar can still be a valuable player on the Yankees.
The Yankees are fortunate to have a sufficiently strong offense, that Andujar will not be asked to be the biggest bat. Last year he played a valuable role as a second line slugger along with fellow rookie Gleyber Torres while Aaron Judge and Giancalo Stanton did the heaviest offensive lifting. Nonetheless, there were periods when Andujar carried the team coming up with clutch doubles and home runs at key moments during the season. On the other hand, his poor ALDS when he was held to one single in ten plate appearances was one of the often overlooked reasons why the Yankees lost that series to the Red Sox. A few big hits by Andujar and the Yankees probably would have beaten the Red Sox.
No player should be untouchable, particularly one who has only one big league season under his belt and who has yet to prove himself with the leather. However, rushing to judge Andujar based on his weaknesses and swapping him for a middle of the rotation pitcher or a couple of pitching prospects would be a mistake. A wiser course would be to recognize what Andujar can do and use him accordingly. He may become their starting third baseman for years to come or perhaps the kind of player who between first base, third base and DH gets 500 or more plate appearances a year. Championship teams need those kinds of players and Andujar could be very good in that role.
Photo: cc/Keith Allison