Manny Machado is a tight squeeze with the New York Yankees, but just tight enough to work. He’s the type of superstar teams make room for.
Granted, the Yankees did indeed take a meeting with the star infielder. Moreover, multiple reports say Machado’s preferred free agency destination is New York. Well, things got crazy this week when Machado apparently followed the YES Network, the Yankees’ home TV channel, on Instagram. The drama increased when he subsequently unfollowed the network.
fwiw, Manny Machado has started following YES Network, the Yankees' station, on instagram. could be a sign. or could be nothing.
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) January 1, 2019
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) January 1, 2019
Machado hit .297 with 37 home runs and 101 RBI in 2018, and his ability to play both shortstop and third base ups his value. On numbers alone, and in general, he would indeed be a good fit with the Yankees.
There is just one problem. The Yankees have a crowded infield. AL Rookie of the Year runner-up Miguel Andujar is currently penciled in at third base, and Gleyber Torres and Greg Bird have second and first covered. That leaves room for Machado at shortstop, but what about when Didi Gregorius is due back from Tommy John surgery? Machado could theoretically fit, but finding a permanent home for him isn’t easy.
What are the Yankees to do? The lineup as it is now won 100 games last season and that was with Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez missing two months apiece. The sad truth is even the strongest of chains are only as strong as their weakest link, and the Yankees have some weak links.
Making room for Machado is indeed tough, but the right moves on Brian Cashman’s end could find him a permanent place in the lineup.
Finding the weak link
In the chain of New York’s infield, two names, in particular, stand out: Miguel Andujar and Greg Bird. Andujar hit .297 with 27 homers and 92 RBI last year, and also added 47 doubles. He was fully locked in at the plate, but his fielding told a different story. Andujar graded out as the worst defensive third baseman in all baseball, with an abysmal DRS of -25 and UZR of -16.
And for all of Andujar’s flaws, he still fared much better than Bird. The southpaw-swinging first baseman missed two months recovering from bone spurs in his ankles and struggled with consistency all year. Bird had 11 home runs with 38 RBI but hit just .199. He slumped so badly in the second half, he was ultimately benched for Luke Voit and left off the playoff roster. The sad part is, looking at Fangraphs, it looks like Bird was just having bad luck as opposed to a decline in skill.
This puts Cashman at a crossroads, assuming Machado picks the Yankees. Does he trade Andujar’s hot bat and poor defense, or Bird’s mixed results and high ceiling?
Picking one’s own poison is tough, but this is just the more practical choice. If the Yankees are serious about signing Manny Machado, Miguel Andujar has to be traded.
Now, before the pitchforks are sharpened and the torches are lit, there’s a method to the madness of trading Andujar. He’s not even 24 years old, so surely his defense will improve, right?
That may very well be, but Machado is a proven A-list talent while Andujar has one good year under his belt. As I’ve said before, he has every chance of being the next Joe Charboneau as he does the next Adrian Beltre. Not only that, but Machado will easily put up numbers greater than or equal to Andujar’s at the plate while already being an elite defensive third baseman. He has a career DRS of 84 and 50.6 UZR at the hot corner.
Does Bird’s track record raise a lot of questions? Of course it does. His beautiful swing is tailor-made for Yankee Stadium’s short porch in right field, but injuries have been a problem. Ankle and foot injuries have robbed him of much of the last two years, and Bird already missed all of 2016 with a shoulder injury.
But from a practical standpoint, the Yankees need Bird more. Trading him and moving Andujar to first base leaves the lineup without a valuable left-handed presence. Unless there’s a secret plan to also add Bryce Harper, moving Bird is a bad move. He’s looked more like the guy from Operation than he has a reliable ballplayer, but to risk losing his ceiling could be a bad move.
Finding the market
Now that we’ve established Andujar is the one to be moved, it’s time to find a proper market for him. Baseball is elbow deep in the age of analytics now, so teams will surely hesitate to pay a lot for Andujar given his suspect defense. Not only that, but so many teams have set infields already, that all New York could wind up getting in any deal is minor league depth. That isn’t bad by any means, but the Yankees should be making every effort to trade Andujar for MLB-ready talent.
That said, after combing through each team’s roster, the Yankees should make either of the following deals:
- Trade Andujar to Cleveland Indians for Jake Bauers plus a package of prospects
- Trade Andujar to New York Mets for Dominic Smith plus a package of prospects
The reasons behind these deals are simple. In losing Andujar, the Yankees gain a left-handed bat. In the case of the Mets, Smith is expendable since top first base prospect Peter Alonso is expected to debut in 2019. By swapping him for Andujar and sticking the latter at third base, the Mets suddenly have a strong power tandem in their infield.
In Cleveland’s case, Andujar is there to play first base with Jose Ramirez already occupying the hot corner. Bauers, who was just acquired from the Tampa Bay Rays, would suddenly make a return to the AL East.
Each man comes with a risk. Smith hit just .224 last year and has a reputation for being lazy. Bauers hit just .201 as a rookie. Still, they are just 23 years old and have some pop in their lefty bats. Adding either generates a three-man race for first base between themselves, Bird, and Luke Voit.
If either loses that battle, they can easily be stashed in the minors to build their trade value.
This is a conversation no Yankees fan has wanted to have since Manny Machado’s free agency became a hot topic. Having such a great young lineup already makes one hopeful for the future, and maybe a major change isn’t necessary.
But as Harry said of the McCallister house in Home Alone, this is the silver tuna. Manny Machado is truly a once-in-a-generation talent who would be a great boon to any team. Yes, I know I’ve said Manny Machado isn’t a good fit with the Yankees. Part of me still believes that.
And yet, as much as I want to see this young lineup take more steps forward, I can’t deny the truth. Manny Machado would be a great addition to the team and Cashman can make it happen. If it happens, put him at third, Torres at short, and Tyler Wade at second until Gregorius is healthy.
Now, we all play the waiting game.
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