Yankees' Reasoning Behind 'Very Tough' Decision to Option Miguel Andújar
Had the 2020 regular season started on time, back in late-March, Miguel Andújar would've in all likelihood been in an everyday player for the Yankees.
Combine the strides Andújar made on defense, broadening his defensive versatility, with a multitude of injuries to the Yankees' star-studded outfielder, and hundreds of at-bats appeared available for the sweet-swinging utilityman to begin the year.
Fast forward to Thursday and Andújar was among the three ballplayers optioned to New York's Alternate Site as rosters shrink down to 28.
Seeing the 25-year-old's name — alongside utilityman Thairo Estrada and rookie reliever Nick Nelson — came as a surprise to fans on social media. To Yankees' manager Aaron Boone, however, it was a move that had to be made to shore up New York's pitching staff.
"Just the fact that we felt like we needed another pitcher," Boone explained on Thursday afternoon. "We needed some coverage for this stretch of games, possibly even tonight, with guys having some pretty good workloads and number of games in a row or three-out-of-fours and things like that. Just felt like we needed the coverage from a pitching standpoint."
Andújar had started the season making five appearances across the Bombers' first 11 games, hitting .071 with one base hit in 14 plate appearances. Stats in 2020 aside, Boone called the decision to demote Andújar "very tough."
"Unfortunately I've had to have a few of those conversations with really good players that are big-league players, that are good big-league players," he said. "It's obviously the result of having a deep, talented roster, but that doesn't make it any easier when you're telling a Major Leaguer that you have to option him."
Boone had a similar conversation a few weeks ago when the Yankees optioned outfielder Clint Frazier to make room on the active roster for a few extra arms. Even an expanded 30-man roster is evidently too small to hold onto all the assets New York believes is ready to contribute at the big-league level.
Andújar hasn't been used in an everyday role since his rookie season in 2018, a campaign in which the third baseman finished second in the race for the American League Rookie of the Year Award. He played in 149 games, hitting .297 with 47 doubles and 27 home runs.
Then, a year ago, Andújar was sidelined for virtually the entire season with a shoulder injury. He appeared in just 12 games, opening the door for Gio Urshela to grab hold of the starting gig at the hot corner in the Bronx.
Since then, it's been a struggle to find Andújar playing time. Once Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Hicks had returned from injury, even Andújar's offseason initiative to get acclimated with playing the corner outfield positions wasn't going to be enough to solidify a spot in the starting lineup.
Boone said that Andújar has done a great job handling this new role, doing his best to take advantage of opportunities while maintaining the same work ethic and attitude throughout. That said, coming off a season after he only had 47 at-bats, it's a challenge to produce off the bench.
"There's no question that's a challenging role, especially for a younger player that's played regularly his entire life," Boone said. "Guys for whatever reason at different times click in that kind of a role or you have some success and all of a sudden you learn how to parlay that, you learn from that success and some of the failures you have in how to survive and thrive in that role."
All the praise and hard work aside, Andújar — like Frazier — is now on the outside looking in, patiently biding his time for the big-league club to call his number. An injury or case of COVID-19 would almost certainly be his ticket to return to the Majors, but who knows how long that could take.
In the meantime, the same logic given when Frazier was demoted applies to Andújar. He's the odd man out and although there's no spot for him on the big-league roster at the moment, if he takes advantage of time at the Alternate Site to improve, he'll be back up before you know it.
"It's kind of the situation we're in right now," Boone said late last month. "Hopefully he'll get down there and just be able to keep his focus as best he can because I know there's a great chance that he'll be impacting us sooner rather than later."
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