Barring a total surprise, the Yankees will not sign free agent wunderkind Manny Machado. Negotiations between the two sides are said to be “either dormant or completely dead,” and gosh, that sure sounds bad. I won’t rule the Yankees out completely on Machado (or Bryce Harper) until they sign with another team. Things don’t look good right now though.
Rather than spend on Machado, the Yankees are taking a league minimum flier on Troy Tulowitzki, and they signed DJ LeMahieu to be a veteran insurance policy. Should Tulowitzki get hurt or underperform, LeMahieu will take over at second with Gleyber Torres sliding over to short. If Tulowitzki actually works out, LeMahieu will assume the Neil Walker role and move all around.
Passing on Machado indicates the Yankees are committed to Miguel Andujar at third base. Sure, they could play LeMahieu at the hot corner, but I don’t think that’s the plan. I think Andujar is going to receive a legitimate chance to remain at third base. Here’s something Buster Olney (subs. req’d) wrote over the weekend:
Andujar’s consistently strong effort instills confidence within the Yankees organization that he will benefit from his offseason program and improve his defense. He has worked extensively with instructors this winter, and in the past few days, Yankees manager Aaron Boone was in the Dominican Republic, partly to see Andujar’s progress and spend time with him.
Last month Erik Boland noted Andujar had spent time in Tampa to work with infield instructor Carlos Mendoza. “He came down for a few days a couple of weeks ago. We always talk about his work ethic, and the fact that it’s the offseason and he’s already working at his craft, not just physically but baseball-wise,” Mendoza said.
Work ethic won’t be an issue with Andujar. He’s always been regarded as a hard-worker — the guy takes more pregame grounders than any player I’ve ever seen in my few years as a BBWAA member — and if this third base thing doesn’t work out, it’ll be because he lacks the skills and refinement. Not because he didn’t try hard enough. That’s good. Effort and commitment are necessary to get better.
The Yankees sent Andujar home this winter with a workout plan designed to improve his first step and internal clock. Those are the top priorities. Andujar was sometimes a little slow to react to the ball off the bat and he sometimes took a little too much time getting the ball over to first base. We saw a few too many double-clutches last year. That has to improve. Speeding everything up is the top priority.
“What we’re focusing on right now is his pre-pitch setup,” Mendoza added. “We’re trying to put him in the best position so he can react at contact. Making sure that he finds a spot where he’s comfortable on his setup so he can have a better first step, a better read on the ball to create better angles. It starts with his setup and his ready position.”
As good as Andujar was last season — I get a ton of mailbag questions about trading him each week, but it wasn’t long ago that folks around these parts were irate Miggy didn’t win Rookie of the Year — it would’ve been very easy for the Yankees to replace him this winter. Trade Andujar for a pitcher, sign Machado or someone else to play third, and move forward. Heck, even now they could trade Andujar and install LeMahieu at third base (or Gleyber?) full-time, and markedly improve their infield defense.
Instead, it appears the Yankees have doubled down on Andujar at third base, and that makes me happy. I’ve been an Andujar guy for a very long time, you know that if you’ve been reading RAB long enough, and I’m glad the Yankees are seem poised to give him another at third base. It would’ve been easy (and justifiable!) to move him elsewhere. Instead, he gets another chance. I like that they’re showing some confidence in him.
Now, that said, the Yankees did remove Andujar for defensive purposes in the sixth inning (!) last postseason, and I imagine LeMahieu will replace him in the late innings of most games this year. In fact, I’d bet on LeMahieu being CC Sabathia’s personal third baseman this year given all the weak contact he generates to the left side of the infield by pitching righties inside with this cutter. Walker was Sabathia’s personal third baseman for that reason last year.
LeMahieu gives the Yankees a safety net in case Andujar’s glovework doesn’t improve but he is not a long-term solution at third base. At least he shouldn’t be. Machado would’ve been a long-term solution at third base, assuming the Yankees do sign Didi Gregorius long-term. With no Machado, Andujar will — and should — get every opportunity to show he can be the long-term third baseman. The Yankees don’t have another option. It’s Andujar or no one.
On one hand, that’s kinda scary. Andujar might never be even average at third. On the other, if you’re not going to be patient and give talented and dedicated kids a chance to prove you wrong, you’ll never develop players. Machado would be a great addition. I’d take him in a heartbeat. The Yankees probably won’t sign Machado though, and the next best thing is giving Andujar a chance to show he’s improved, with LeMahieu around as a backup plan.
“It’s not that he wants to be good, he wants to be great,” said Mendoza. “That’s the reason he’s doing what he’s doing. He wants to continue to get better. He’s always looking for the details. ‘How can I improve here? How can I improve there?’ That’s what makes him special.”