Miguel Andujar’s troubling, injury-laden 2019 season came to an unceremonious end on Wednesday when he elected to undergo season-ending surgery on his right shoulder.
The New York Yankees have been no stranger to injuries this season, especially among their position players, with Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Hicks, Didi Gregorius, Gary Sanchez, Troy Tulowitzki, Clint Frazier, and Greg Bird winding up on the injured list already. Only Sanchez (who’s crushing it) and Hicks have returned, and that’s not even mentioning the pitchers.
While those injuries vary in severity, Andujar is the first Yankees player who’s lost for the season. New York has generally been able to weather the storm, somehow continuing to win with an incredibly depleted roster. But that’s been happening with the expectation that the team would eventually be whole again.
Andujar’s production will be missed. He hit .297/.328/.527 with 27 home runs and 47 doubles as a rookie in 2018, and the 24-year-old’s presence partly pushed the Yankees toward passing on Manny Machado in free agency this past winter.
With him gone, here are the team’s options to fill its hole at the hot corner.
Option 1: Pull off a massive, blockbuster trade
The days of big-name rental acquisitions at the trade deadline are waning. But if the Yankees are desperate and injured enough, channeling George Steinbrenner’s way of doing things may be the most logical step.
The best option in this scenario is Washington Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon, though he may not be a realistic target.
Rendon is slated for free agency this offseason, making him a front-runner to be traded if Washington doesn’t ink him to an extension. He’s open to signing a new contract with the club, but so far no significant progress has been reported.
With the Nationals nursing a disappointing 17-25 record and a minus-25 run differential entering today, trading the MVP hopeful may be their best course of action to reload for next season. Remember, Washington tried to ship out Bryce Harper last summer before ownership nixed the deal.
The problem for the Yankees lies in who they would offer. Their top prospect is outfielder Estevan Florial, and pitcher Jonathan Loaisiga (on the 60-day IL) is the team’s only other player in MLB Pipeline’s top 100. The Yankees’ minor-league cupboard isn’t exactly bare, but many of their top names have either graduated or been dealt already.
Meanwhile, addressing their outfield isn’t an immediate need for the Nationals, with Juan Soto, Adam Eaton, and Victor Robles already on the roster. Florial could serve as Eaton’s long-term replacement, though, which would sweeten the pot.
If that asking price – which might not be enough for Rendon – is too steep, the other options on the trade market may be slim beyond him.
Detroit Tigers outfielder Nicholas Castellanos came up as a third baseman, but he’s never been a very good defender, which helped lead to his position change. The veteran has been productive at the plate, though, as Castellanos has hit .283/.335/.488 with 52 home runs, 94 doubles, and 202 RBIs since the start of 2017. If they’re desperate enough, the Yankees could sacrifice defense for offense while trying him at third again.
Elsewhere, the San Francisco Giants probably want to trade Evan Longoria, but he’s under contract through 2022 at an average of $16.7 million annually, a tough price and commitment even for the Yankees.
Option 2: Go for a smaller trade
This seems like a more realistic path considering the dearth of big names that appear available at third base.
Texas Rangers infielder Asdrubal Cabrera is the perfect small-trade candidate. He’s on a one-year deal, and at 33 years old Cabrera won’t cost the Yankees their top prospects. The Rangers would likely ask for a lottery-ticket prospect in exchange for the veteran.
Cabrera still wields medium-range power. Through 35 games this season, he’s hitting .231/.309/.446 with seven home runs, all after going deep 23 times in 2018.
Otherwise, would the Yankees take a flier on any of the Miami Marlins’ veteran infielders like Martin Prado, Starlin Castro, or Neil Walker?
Walker is the only source of offense in south Florida at the moment, but he was dreadful with the Yankees in 2018 (.219/.309/.354 in 113 games). Castro, meanwhile, has only played second base and shortstop – converting primarily to the keystone position during his own Yankees tenure. And Prado offers little pop, and he’s had trouble staying on the field recently. The risk associated with the cost for him is negligible, but the reward would be minimal, too.
Past that, two Arizona Diamondbacks infielders – Wilmer Flores and the currently injured Jake Lamb – may be the next best thing. Lamb can’t hit lefties to save his life, but he smacked 30 home runs as recently as 2017 and is relatively young at 28. However, his injuries are likely more trouble than they’re worth, especially with the training-room headaches the Yankees have endured this season.
Slightly more expensive, and far less consistent, is Los Angeles Angels infielder Zack Cozart. Good on Cozart for turning his All-Star 2017 campaign into a three-year, $38-million contract with the Angels. But he’s hit .197/.268/.308 in 88 games since then and appears to have lost his starting gig to a hot-hitting Tommy La Stella. The Yankees wouldn’t have to give up much, but Cozart isn’t even an improvement over their internal options.
Option 3: Solve internally, upgrade in offseason
The Yankees don’t panic, and that’s paid dividends in the past. Even in their injury-ravaged state, the Bronx Bombers are 26-16 this season and sit only a half game back of first-place Tampa Bay in the AL East. Yes, Andujar’s absence is a difficult pill to swallow, but it likely won’t be crippling when the rest of New York’s key players return from injury.
Didi Gregorius is nearing a rehab stint as he recovers from offseason Tommy John surgery. While using Gregorius at third base isn’t in the cards, his return will free up the Yankees to move DJ LeMahieu over, and that may be enough.
Playing him there isn’t ideal, but if New York can’t acquire a top-shelf replacement, then why bother? LeMahieu’s versatility is why signing him may not wind up being such a head-scratcher after all.
The Yankees’ lineup as it appears on a nightly basis can’t possibly remain this productive, though it feels like we’ve been saying that all season. But closer to full strength, there won’t be the pressure to make a massive splash. Instead, the team needs to wring every last bit of value out of Gio Urshela and juggle other pieces around, hoping that’s enough. It very well could be with Judge and Stanton eventually back.
If they forego quick, temporary fixes, the Yankees will then be on the lookout to land a free-agent third baseman in the offseason. Nolan Arenado won’t be on the market anymore, so after learning from the mistake of eschewing Machado, maybe the Yanks give Rendon a massive contract regardless of the compensation pick attached to him after he rejects the Nationals’ eventual qualifying offer.
That way, they can keep Florial and any other prospects the front office would have to surrender in a trade and get far more out of Rendon long term than in 2019 alone.
Comedy option: Move newly-acquired Kendrys Morales to third and watch the world implode.