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Gio Urshela’s future will be interesting if the Yankees get healthy

When I close my eyes I like to imagine it’s the fall. It’s the 10th inning of Game 2 of the World Series and Joe Buck just mentioned that the man on second, Clint Frazier, is wearing some rapper’s shoes. They talk about it while Gio Urshela gets ready in the box. The pinstriped design on the shoes has a glow to it from Yankee Stadium’s lights. As this happens, people on Twitter new to their 30’s are obviously complaining how Clint needs to worry about his fielding instead of his shoes – a reflection of them freaking out that their childhood has passed them by and somebody younger is living their best life.

Seconds later, Kenley Jansen delivers a fastball to Urshela. He makes contact – something Buck hadn’t expected as he complained a few innings earlier that the Yankees shouldn’t have taken Miguel Andujar out for a defensive replacement. Buck screams Urshela’s name when that ball drops right in front Cody Bellinger.

“Goddamnit, we’re the Buffalo Bills,” the Fox camera catches Bellinger saying.

Bellinger’s dad, nods his head in disapproval: “Life was better for the Bellingers when we wore Yankee jerseys during the World Series.”

Clint flies on down to home plate while Urshela raises his fists in the air. If there’s a God he believes in, he thanks him. The Yankees just took Game 2 in dramatic fashion. Bellinger’s throw misses the plate by a mile and Clint scores.

In my fantasy, this castaway just helped the New York Yankees win a World Series game. Then I open my eyes. A part of me wonders why I just spent my time thinking about a situation which may never happen. Another part of me wonders why I didn’t keep myself in that fantasy because it just felt so damn cool. Plus, what better feeling is there than a brand new hero you never could have expected saving the day for the Yankees?

We’ve seen a lot of replacement players come our way during the RailRiders era. Of all of them though, the one who probably needs to land a job on this roster the most is Urshela. Up until this point he’s been an animal.

2 HR, 12 RBI, .346 AVG. .409 OBP, .529 SLG, .935 OPS, 148 OPS+

Another fun Gio tidbit: He has a .8 WAR while Bryce Harper has a .3.

With a guy like Urshela, a decent OPS and coming up every now and then in the batter’s box is really all you can ask for, but he has exceeded expectations. It’s his defense that’s the reason why he has a job on the major league roster and the way he’s swung a bat is a plus.

Okay maybe there’s a better word to use than “plus.” Whatever the case, he’s definitely more than what you can ask for out of a replacement player who is out of options and has been shuffled around the American League for a few years. If he keeps this up, the Yankees will surely have to keep him on the roster. It seems like an easy decision.

There is a problem with this, though, and maybe it isn’t that big of a problem because it would mean the Yankees are fully healthy. The Yankees would have to change their bench philosophy for Urshela. As we’ve seen, this team is dead set on having a backup catcher and two guys on the bench. They want to maximize pitching and after passing on Manny Machado and instead getting Zack Britton and Adam Ottavino, it’s not a surprise at how dead set they’ve been at sticking to this plan. It’s philosophical, and more important than that, it’s financial.

Before we knew that Tyler Wade was going to do Tyler Wade things again, he was having a great Spring. The Yankees, strictly sticking to this three man bench, broke his heart and sent him down to triple-A for an unknown from Colorado by the name of Mike Tauchman. It didn’t matter that Wade looked like he turned the corner. He was going down, and if he hit .700 that wouldn’t have made the Yankees deviate.

And when Wade did come back… Well… If you don’t know if he replicated his spring in the regular season…

Spoiler Alert:

Let’s assume everyone’s healthy come late July, early August. Where do you fit Urshela? The Yankees picked between Andujar over Machado so chances are they aren’t going to let Urshela have his spot.

Clint  and Brett Gardner are probably going to flip every few games in order to keep Gardy rested so there’s that spot. You’ll also have DJ LeMahieu subbing in to keep guys rested like the plan was from the beginning of the year so Gio won’t be taking his spot. Unless Urshela can figure out how to be a catcher, this puts the Yankees in a touchy position.

To add Gio, the Yankees would have to change an entire philosophy in how they’ve managed a bullpen all year. In order to keep him, they’ll have to be down a relief pitcher. To the Yankees – and can you blame them – bullpen depth has been viewed as a premium; it should be, too. Just think back to the Wild Card game. Luis Severino was dealing but his pitch count was high. When he gave Oakland an inch, they pulled him out and allowed Dellin Betances to do his dirty work.

For that game, it worked out brilliantly. You can argue that the two of them combined put on an ace effort:

Delli & Sevy: 6IP, 10 K, 4 BB, 0 ER

You didn’t have to trade away the farm in order to get a quality start, zeroes on the board and double digit k’s. The Yankees just had to rely on their home grown guys to shut the door down. There was also game 4 of the ALDS where the unsung hero of a lost effort was the entire bullpen. CC came out of the game early and the bullpen did its job. Unfortunately the offense let them down:

ALDS Game 4 Bullpen: 6 IP, 11 K, 2BB, 1 ER

This was another ace effort. If Angel Hernandez doesn’t make up his own strike zone and rattle CC a bit, maybe we’re talking about that series differently. Whatever the case, the bullpen was solid. Does Gio constitute manipulating what has worked so well?

The idea of deleting an arm in order to make room for Gio is something I kick around in my head. I have gone back and forth a lot.

Obviously baseball is a long season and he can fizzle out and this makes the decision easier, but let’s say he doesn’t. Then what? Are they really going to keep him off the field? Are they going to just flat out DFA him? Can you trade the guy? Will the tunnel nerds ACTUALLY allow them to change both the bullpen and bench plan? What do you do with a journeyman that is out of options and who has all of a sudden found success?

Maybe this is an aberration? Look at what he has done before he came to the Yankees. The numbers aren’t all that sexy:

Cleveland & Toronto 2015 – 2018: 499 Plate Appearences: 8 HR, 39 RBI, .225 AVG, .274 OBP, .315 SLG, .589 OPS, .57 OPS+

In that time he has been well below average. It’s the reason why he has been a journeyman going from team to team.

Then again at the plate and with his glove, Gio has been so good, doesn’t he deserve a shot to stay with this team? If he keeps this up, he gives the Yankees a good reason to have one more bench player. Boone told the Athletic this week that Gio is getting his “A-swing off a lot.” If you remember, Gio hit well in Spring Training, so maybe there is something deeper going on with his mechanics that we don’t see because, well, we’re n00bs.

Spring 2019: 28 AB, 2 HR, 3 RBI, .321 AVG, .345 OBP, .679 SLG, 1.023 OPS

Mike Axisa, formerly of River Ave. Blues, dove into this a little deeper with CBS Sports:

“Going into Tuesday night Urshela’s average exit velocity (89.7 mph) was up nearly three full miles an hour from 2015-18 (86.8 mph) and his hard-hit rate had jumped from 31.7 percent to 37.7 percent. As a result, Statcast has Urshela’s expected batted average at .341. That is in the 98th percentile. His expected slugging percentage (.465) and expected weighted on-base average (.384) are both much better than the league averages as well (.408 and .318, respectively).”

I guess it’ll be a waiting game that’s contingent on Andujar hopefully picking it up, and Gio continuing to be a bargain basement Manny Machado. We’ll have to file this under “Wait-and-See” for now.

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