What Veteran Infielder Matt Duffy Brings to the Yankees

Max Goodman

When the Yankees unveiled its player pool on Sunday for a resumption of Spring Training this week – or should we say, "summer camp" – one name stood out above the rest. 

While it was no surprise that the likes of Gerrit Cole and Aaron Judge made the Bombers' roster, veteran infielder Matt Duffy certainly wasn't someone fans anticipated to don pinstripes this season.

New York announced it had signed the 29-year-old to a minor league contract, joining backstop Max McDowell as the only two new faces to be included in a player pool that presently stands at 58 out of 60 available ballplayers.

At the surface, adding Duffy may be a tad confusing, perhaps even a waste of a roster spot. Why not include newly drafted and signed catching prospect Austin Wells? Better yet, give 17-year-old sensation and top prospect Jasson Dominguez a shot!

For the following three reasons, however, it's evident that adding a player like Duffy to the Bombers' roster has its perks and could end up benefiting New York down the stretch.

First order of business... Who is Matt Duffy?

Before anything else, here's a quick look at Duffy's career and his numbers. 

Across five big-league seasons, the infielder is a .282 hitter (456 hits in 452 games). He'll hit for average – stroking .294 and .295 in the only two campaigns of his career featuring more than 131 games played – but has yet to showcase much power at the plate. In 1,616 Major League at-bats, Duffy has hit just 22 home runs. 

Duffy was drafted by the Giants in the 18th round back in 2012, debuting just two years later. He spent three seasons in San Francisco (finishing second in the race for National League Rookie of the Year Award in '15) before he was dealt to Tampa Bay in the trade that sent southpaw Matt Moore from the Rays to the Bay in 2016. 

The utilityman has battled his fair share of injuries in his career. Duffy missed all of the 2017 season recovering from surgery on his left achilles. He spent much of last year on the shelf as well with a right hamstring injury. 

Duffy was released by the Rays this offseason after three seasons in Tampa Bay. He spent the spring with the Rangers – playing in 13 Cactus League contests for Texas – before ending up with New York.

Bottom line, when he's healthy and can get his reps in, Duffy is a formidable contributor at the big-league level. We're just two years removed from his solid 2018 performance: 132 games, 148 hits, four home runs, .294 batting average, 104 OPS+ and 12 stolen bases. 

Can never have too many veterans

Check out any of the player pools released across the league. On each list, there's veterans on minor league deals to spare. That's what happens with an expanded roster.

For New York, that's the case with Zack Granite in the outfield, several backstops (Chris Iannetta, Erik Kratz and Josh Thole) as well as Luis Avilán, Dan Otero and Nick Tropeano on the mound, to name a few. 

Making the cut on the 60-man player pool on Sunday is no guarantee that any of these ballplayers will see the field during this summer's shortened campaign. Then again, considering this season's unprecedented circumstances, legitimate chances of players testing positive for COVID-19 and a roster that's been injury prone in the past, it makes sense to add a proven big leaguer as an asset at each position just in case.  

After all, behind Gio Urshela – considering Miguel Andújar, DJ LeMahieu and Tyler Wade are poised to play other positions – Duffy may very well end up as New York's backup third baseman. 

No postseason jitters here

It's a small sample size, but Duffy has had postseason success in his career. 

Dating back to his time with the Giants, Duffy has played in all possible playoff series – from a decisive Wild Card Game all the way to the World Series. In 11 games, Duffy is hitting .364, proving his ability to play under pressure on the national stage.

Again, who knows if he'll actually play, but on the off chance that New York's crew of third basemen happen to be slumping or unavailable, it won't be Duffy's first rodeo in October. 

A spy behind enemy lines

Finally, and while this may be a reach, it's almost crazy enough to be true. 

Duffy has been in the Rays organization since 2016. Sure, he missed quite a bit of time due to injury, but it's fair to say he's been in and around the clubhouse as Tampa Bay has ascended to contention over the last few seasons.

New York will play Tampa 10 times this summer – one sixth of the club's entire 60-game slate – and will be competing with the Rays for AL East division titles for years to come. Why not bring someone in that has inside information about your biggest division rival?

That's not to say he's bringing back the Rays' deepest and darkest secrets, but in a race to win a division, anything helps. Surely Duffy has compiled a surplus of live at-bats against members of Tampa's phenomenal pitching staff in practice. Perhaps he has some tips for the Bombers' hitters. Or he has some insight on skipper Kevin Cash's plans to continue to modernize baseball with the usage of the opener, shifts and more. 

Whatever Duffy can report from his time in Tampa Bay aside, this veteran brings more to the table than meets the eye. 

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For more from Max Goodman, follow him on Twitter @MaxTGoodman. Follow ITP on Twitter @SI_Yankees and Facebook @SIYankees