Like many others on the New York Yankees, Gio Urshela regressed in 2021. He wasn’t terrible, but he was below average at the plate. It raises a lot of questions for the 30-year-old third baseman who know is entering arbitration. He’s currently slotted in as their starting shortstop, but we all know that’s a bad spot for him. Most Yankee fans would say he’s our starting third baseman, but is that the best move? A deep dive into Gio Urshela could allow us to see what his role should be in 2022.
How Sustainable Was Urshela’s Regression?
Coming into 2021, Gio Urshela was projected at a 98 wRC+ by Steamer. How could a player with a 132 wRC+ in their last 175 games be projected at such a low wRC+? Well, that’s because past production unweighted is rather volatile for projecting future production. Urshela did greatly improve from his 57 wRC+ from years past, but a 6.5% barrel rate with a 36.7% Outside of Zone Swing Rate from 2019-2020 unveils a more disturbing aspect to Urshela’s game. He ranked 115th out of 174 batters in barrel rate, and had the 14th highest O-Swing% from 2019-2020, recipes for disaster. As 2021 rolled in, fans expected Urshela to continue to mash, but instead, he posted a subpar 96 wRC+.
The offensive production for Urshela seems to match the offensive talent. He is an undisciplined hitter who doesn’t possess the requisite hit tool to elevate his offense beyond mediocrity. His power is middling, and his speed is only in the 24th percentile, meaning he’s a liability on the basepaths as well. Ultimately, the future for Urshela seems grim in New York.
Exploring Replacements For Urshela
Externally, the options at third base are rather thin. The Yankees could either sign Kris Bryant who has an exorbitant price tag or trade for Matt Chapman. Now it becomes a question of how desperately the Yankees really need to look externally for a third baseman. Here’s how the Yankees project at each position among MLB teams in WAR
First Base: 9th
Second Base: 5th
Third Base: 17th
Left Field: 2nd
Center Field: 12th
Right Field: 2nd
The Yankees’ strength in the corner outfield is apparent with Joey Gallo and Aaron Judge being consensus top five players at their respective positions. Second base is another strong suit due to Torres and LeMahieu, and Voit and LeMahieu create a formidable duo at first base. Realistically, the areas of concern are as follow:
- Third Base
As expected, the Yankees need a shortstop the most. Making DJ LeMahieu the full-time starter at third base could be the route the Yankees take, but there’s a case to be made that third base is a bigger need than first. The big thorn in the side of that conversation is that the upgrades at first are vastly more plentiful with both Freddie Freeman and Matt Olson available, who are vastly better at their position than Matt Chapman or Kris Bryant. I think the Yankees could acquire Matt Chapman and fix third base, while signing players like Kyle Schwarber (who I will talk about another time) who could fill in at first base in a pinch. The Yankees seem to want to upgrade first base, however, but I just can’t justify that being the position they address over third.
Where Can Gio Urshela Go?
The Yankees could shop Urshela and get something solid for him, as he shows versatility and is a league-average hitter. I think the Cincinnati Reds are a perfect fit, as they are 26th in Projected third base fWAR and in Projected SS fWAR. In return, the Yankees could grab a solid arm from the Reds for depth, and I know the perfect one.
Formerly traded after the 2018 season, this pitcher figured it out after leaving the Yankees. Let’s give a warm welcome back to former Yankee pitcher…Reiver Sanmartin! (Did you actually think Gio Urshela could net Sonny Gray?)
A part of the Sonny Gray trade, Reiver Sanmartin had a mediocre 2019 before turning in a stellar 2021. He posted a 3.32 ERA in 100.1 IP across AA and AAA making his MLB debut and posting a 1.80 FIP in two starts. His stuff is truly tailor-made for the Matt Blake system, with a 62.2% GB% in AA and 54.0% GB% in AAA. He had a 47.7% GB% in the majors while maintaining a solid K% and really low BB%. According to Cameron Grove’s Pitch Grader (a metric referenced in my Tanaka article), Sanmartin’s got an impressive arsenal, with a 65/80 overall grade. He’s an older prospect at 25, but if the Yankees could scoop him up for a starting infielder, they could have a sleeper breakout candidate in their hands.
First two whiffs of Reiver Sanmartin's career! 🔥 pic.twitter.com/BxOD2mKi2w
— Cincinnati Reds (@Reds) September 27, 2021
Maybe Urshela figures it out again, but that seems unlikely unless he figures out how to stop chasing. The best bet for the Yankees is to upgrade there, whether it’s sliding DJ to third base or grabbing a third baseman externally. He’s a cool guy so I wish the best for him, but if the Yankees want to win a World Series, Urshela isn’t much help.