The freshened Manny Machado-to-the-Yankees conversation is captivating. It’s also rational, to a certain degree. But there’s one glaring impediment that’s keeping this dialogue from turning into action of any kind.
Before the ambivalent Baltimore Orioles can even consider trading the All-Star infielder to one of their division rivals, New York’s front office has to determine if the future of rookie Miguel Andujar is worth investing in. And considering that the 23-year-old has flourished at third base — also known as the position Machado would return to in the Bronx — it’s not an easy decision to make.
This topic is magnified because the Yankees brass reportedly has mixed feelings on Andujar, although some of those sentiments have only been shared behind closed doors.
According to Joel Sherman of the New York Post, multiple Yankees executives are concerned about Andujar’s free-swinging plate approach and work-in-progress skills on defense. One executive told Sherman, “Andujar is a horrendous third baseman. This all feels like the Yankees building up a player’s value to trade him for a young, controllable starter and then they will revisit the issue of third base in the offseason with [Brandon] Drury, an outside third baseman or signing Machado.”
In short, Andujar has exceeded expectation in the majors. As a legitimate American League Rookie of the Year candidate, he’s hit .282 with 27 doubles, 12 home runs, and 39 RBI. As far as his “horrendous” defense is concerned, Andujar has only committed six errors in 161 total defensive chances. Last season between Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (115 games), he committed 17 errors. So, the numbers indicate that he’s made positive strides.
That metric, along Andujar’s innate ability to get on base via extra-base hits, is the makeup of a major leaguer with a high ceiling. Yes, things are far more sophisticated than that. This is just a foundation.
But that’s why Yankees’ general manager Brian Cashman doesn’t agree with the skepticism revolving around Andujar, according to Sherman.
“That [executive’s opinion] is completely false,” Cashman said. “I think [Andujar] is a hell of a player. We have said ‘no’ to him [in trade talks] not just this year but from Double-A on up. I have not included him any deals and that should say how I feel about him.
“We have been challenged many times to move him or coerced to move him. He is here because of what we think of him. And I mean ‘we.’ His makeup is off the charts. His work ethic is off the charts. His energy is off the charts. And his physical ability is off the charts. He is a major contributor, which is what we thought he’d be.”
Cashman’s comments are true. Other teams have expressed interest in Andujar. Over the winter, the Pittsburgh Pirates wanted him packaged in a deal for starter Gerrit Cole, but Cashman balked at the notion.
Even if that one executive’s criticism of Andujar isn’t necessarily valid, his argument holds some weight, in the sense that Cashman could be trying to boost Andujar’s market value with constant acclaim. By no means is that an original strategy. It often plays to a general manager’s advantage.
But on the flip side, Cashman’s attitudes toward Andujar may be entirely genuine, and perhaps he has no intentions of moving a young, controllable player for a two-month rental pitcher or hitter.
And if that’s true, then there really is no place for Machado on the Yankees’ roster, even though he’s a special talent who will soon make a lasting impact on a playoff contending team.
Trust in Andujar also means trust in Didi Gregorius. It’s no secret that Machado would like to play shortstop — his natural position — for the rest of his career. He’s been pretty vocal about that. But would the Yankees be willing to move Gregorius out of his shortstop role if Machado demanded it? It’s a hypothetical question, and maybe it’s a little ridiculous, too. But is that not something the Yankees have to consider, should they make a hard push for him this month or in the offseason?
If Cashman wants Gregorius to be their long-term option at shortstop — and that decision will be made soon, since he’s eligible for free agency after the 2019 season — then Machado is now in the way of two Yankee infielders. In this regard, acquiring Machado isn’t a no-brainer trade for the Yankees like it is for other clubs reportedly in the mix.
“It doesn’t worry me,” Andujar recently told NJ.com about trade rumors. “It doesn’t. Ever since I’ve been playing professional baseball in the minor leagues, there has always been someone ahead of me. So it doesn’t worry me. Like I keep saying, it’s about giving the best I have and trying to help the team as much as I can.”
Look, it’s hard to ignore Machado’s shine and flair. There’s no question that he would make the Yankees a stronger team. There’s no question that he would turn the Yankees into the World Series favorite.
But Cashman knows the situation is far more complex. He’s not naive.
And if Andujar is highly valued by the executives who make the hard-hitting decisions, then Machado might be a better fit in some other lineup.
“I think [Andujar] is an above-average player at that position at a young age,” Cashman told Sherman. “Whatever his deficiencies, he can improve on them, like Robinson Cano was able to develop into a bigger, better player for us. If he is a free swinger, his chase rate will improve. If he has defensive deficiencies, they will improve. Because he already has. Where he was and where he is now, I feel vindicated not moving him.”
Cashman is a big fan of Andujar. How big of a fan? That will be answered within the next few weeks.