If the New York Yankees’ second-year third baseman doesn’t improve his defense, he could wind up being replaced with stud Nolan Arenado.
Truth bomb coming, folks, so brace for impact.
Miguel Andujar is a terrible defensive third baseman. You know it. I know it. Even our beloved New York Yankees know it. In this new age of analytics, logic dictates he’s better off switching positions. If not that, switching to DH full-time would seem ideal.
And yet, the Yankees seem intent on keeping Andujar at the hot corner in 2019. Back in November, GM Brian Cashman even said on “The Michael Kay Show” he felt Andujar could improve his defense.
Keep in mind, ladies and gentlemen, Cash has said this despite Manny Machado’s excellent third base defense being available in free agency. Now that DJ LeMahieu is aboard, all signs seem to indicate New York is out on Machado despite taking a meeting with him last month.
That’s all well and good, but what if the Yankees are playing the long game here? No, not in terms of Andujar’s defense, but regarding next year’s free agent class. I ask because Colorado Rockies slugger Nolan Arenado will hit the market then, and his defense and bat speak for themselves.
Miguel Andujar may have dodged the Manny Machado bullet, but he shouldn’t get too comfortable. The Arenado shot is coming next season, and Andujar needs to really show he’s improved defensively if he wants to dodge that one too.
A one-sided season
As a hitter, the Yankees could not have asked for a better season from Miguel Andujar. Coming up a year early thanks to Brandon Drury’s injury, he hit .297 with 27 home runs and 92 RBI. Andujar also broke Yankees legend Joe DiMaggio’s record for most doubles by a rookie with 47 and had 76 total extra-base hits. When he came up to bat, fans got excited.
Defensively, Andujar was the complete opposite. The man graded out as the worst defensive third baseman not just in the American League, but in MLB. Per Fangraphs, he posted a DRS of -25 and UZR of -16. There is no spin here. Those numbers are awful.
How awful, you ask? Well, consider this. The next worst DRS at third base after Andujar was Boston Red Sox youngster Rafael Devers, with a mark of -13. The next worse UZR was -6.6, belonging to Colin Moran of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Andujar wasn’t just bad, Yankees fans. He was BAD. I’m talking worse than KISS’s Music from “The Elder.”
His defense became so unreliable late in the season, manager Aaron Boone would sub in Adeiny Hechavarria as early as the fifth or sixth inning in close games. Now, think of Andujar’s bat and how big a risk Boone was taking. What if Hechavarria doesn’t make that catch against the Oakland A’s in the AL Wild Card Game? Big as New York’s lead was, it could have started a rally.
This is exactly why, despite his age and upside, Andujar needs to fear Nolan Arenado next offseason. Everything he does in the field, Arenado can do ten times better.
From the Rockies to Rockefeller
Speaking of Nolan Arenado, he’s excellent. Every step he has taken since debuting in 2013 has been a big one forward. He has led the majors in RBI twice and the National League in home runs three times. Arenado is also a four-time All-Star and has 186 career home runs at just 27 years old.
Granted, Arenado can thank Coors Field for a lot of his success. He has hit .320 there for his career compared to .263 on the road. But he has 108 home runs at home and 78 on the road. Home field advantage is definitely a factor, but he could prove just as effective a hitter with Yankee Stadium’s short porches.
But the real reason the Yankees need to consider Arenado as insurance for Miguel Andujar is his defense. He has won a Gold Glove every year he has been in the league and the metrics prove him more than deserving. He has a career DRS of 109 and UZR of 37.6. Sure, he may need to switch positions at some point of his next contract, but he’s much more trustworthy than Andujar, at least in the field.
If Andujar struggles in the field again in 2019, Cashman would make a rare mistake in not considering Arenado. It’s like the old adage says. Offense wins games, but defense wins championships.
The good news for Miguel Andujar is that, despite his defense, he’s still young enough to have an improvement window. He’s just a couple months shy of his 24th birthday and, per Erik Boland of Newsday, has already spent some time in Tampa to work on his glove.
However, with Arenado’s free agency looming, Andujar must realize that window is not wide open, but narrowly. His name has already been bandied about in trade talks this winter, and next year will be no exception if his defense doesn’t take a step forward.
Look at it this way. Andujar is Law and Order: Special Victims Unit. The series as a whole is great, but there are some episodes that are just plain terrible. The bad episodes here are Andujar’s defense.
Nolan Arenado, meanwhile, is Breaking Bad. He’s just, well, GOOD. The negative things that can be said about him are few and far between. A few nitpicky flaws aside, he truly is the gold standard.
Thus, the Yankees could be at a crossroads a year from now. Do they stick with Miguel Andujar and hope he gets better with age, or do they trade him and sign Arenado with the full knowledge he will be great, despite not having Coors Field to play in anymore?
It’s a tough question, but Cashman and the front office have a year to come up with an answer.