After Todd Frazier signed a contract with the New York Mets in the offseason, the Yankees were suddenly at a loss at the hot corner. But Brian Cashman turned that negative into a plus.
Unfortunately, despite the potential of those stud prospects, both positions, including the backend of the rotation, loomed as question marks for a club that was one game from the World Series, albeit a club now without Todd Frazier, signed by the crosstown Metropolitans, and Starlin Castro, who was part of the deal for Giancarlo Stanton.
By February 21, general manager Brian Cashman completely altered that course by trading for former Diamondbacks infielder Brandon Drury, a 25-year-old with pop (16 homers in 134 games in ‘15 and 13 homers in 135 games in ‘16) more than capable of playing third base every day. Then, on March 12, Cashman inked Neil Walker, formerly of the Brewers, Mets, and Pirates, to a brilliant contract—1 year, $4 million—to man second base (and, given Greg Bird’s ankle, first base, should the occasion arise, as it already has).
These savvy moves, demonstrative of Cashman’s cunning and patience, prove the Yankees need not vest too much, too early in prospects still in need of grooming.
Now, New York is operating from a position of advantage: a Bird DL trip here, a Billy Mckinney injury there, and the Yankees can start Drury at third and get Andujar some crucial at-bats at the major league level for a lengthy spell.
Early on, Drury is illustrating his worth to the Yankee lineup: despite losses on Saturday, when he tied the game twice on RBI singles, and Sunday, when he hit a blast to give New York a 4-1 lead, Drury, in the vein of former third baseman Scott Brosius, provides productive bat in the 7, 8, or 9-hole. In 13 at-bats as of Tuesday, Drury mustered a .385 average and a 1.192 OPS with 4 RBI, holding court while the likes of Stanton, Gary Sanchez, and Aaron Judge relatively scuffled in a four-game set in Toronto. With Drury at third and the outfield forced to start Stanton in left in light of injuries to Mckinney, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Aaron Hicks, Andujar, despite a 0-for-4 showing on Sunday, can get regular time at DH and spell Drury as needed.
In essence, Drury, along with Tyler Austin and Tyler Wade, has proven that the lower third of the Yankee order is in capable hands, even when the “Big 3” at the heart of the order is in the midst of a trying stretch, with Sanchez finally breaking a 0-for-17 slump with a homerun on Wednesday and Stanton, despite his first Yankee Stadium homer, also in the first inning on Wednesday, mired in a stretch of eight strikeouts in his last nine at-bats at the start of Thursday’s action, the most for any Yankee in history over a two game span.
While the Yankees miss the vivacity and clubhouse presence of a Todd Frazier, a regular Nick Swisher-type who clearly savored every moment of his time in pinstripes, including his part in the “Thumbs Down” movement, they are clearly in a better position with Drury producing and warming the position for Andujar if and when he is ready, perhaps even rendering a future pursuit of Manny Machado, who might prefer shortstop, moot.
Given Drury’s youth and upside, along with Frazier entering the back nine of his career, Cashman’s ability to land the former without giving up much (ultimately, a prospect in Nick Solak, whom MLB Pipeline, in January, named as the number five second base prospect in the majors, although he was being blocked by a top three prospect at any position in Gleyber Torres) is a testament to the GM’s due diligence and ability to lengthen an already deep roster when fans and analysts least expected the move for Drury and, later on, Neil Walker. Moreover, picking Drury over Frazier, a fan favorite, was unequivocally the correct move, especially as Drury gets more comfortable under the belief he will never need to truly stand out in an unbelievably star-studded lineup.