Over the last week or two, the Yankees have shown just how good they can be. They have won nine straight games; the offense even with Giancarlo Stanton still slumping has looked very strong; and Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar have looked as if the next generation of Baby Bombers may have arrived. The promotions of Andujar, followed by Torres a few weeks later, are particularly significant because they demonstrate the Yankees continued commitment to youth and potentially turn second and third base into relative strengths.
The emergence of these two young talents makes it much less clear what Brandon Drury’s role will be when he comes back from the disabled list, as he is expected to do soon. Amazingly, some view this as a dilemma because Drury is also a third baseman and will vie with Andujar for playing time. There should be no dilemma regarding what could become a crowded Yankee infield because it is pretty clear what needs to happen.
As it stands now, when Drury comes back, the Yankees will have Andujar, Torres, Drury, Neil Walker and Ronald Torreyes vying for at most four roster spots and finite playing time. The steps the Yankees need to make now are pretty clear. First, Neil Walker should be released. Walker has been terrible hitting .181/.231/.208. It is true that he has only come to the plate 78 times and may turn things around, but he has hurt the Yankees thus far and giving him a lot playing time ahead of even Tyler Austin, once his suspension is over, let alone Torres and Andujar in the hopes that he begins to hit, does not make a lot of sense. Walker was signed during spring training to solve a problem that no longer exists. He may go on to help another team this year, but he has no real role on the Yankees anymore.
Drury represents a different challenge. The Yankee brass remains relatively enthusiastic about him, but it is difficult to know how seriously that should be taken. Drury has established himself as a decent ballpayer with a solid glove and a career OPS+ of 96. Because he can play second third and the corner outfield positions reasonably well, he can bring value to the Yankees. He is also only 25, it is likely that if he stays healthy, he will improve as a hitter. It is, however, less likely that he will be as good a hitter and Andujar or Torres.
Rather than worry about who should be the starting third baseman (the answer is Miguel Andujar), the Yankees should recognize the value of having a player like Drury on the bench, while also recognizing that Drury can most help the team in that capacity. Championship teams need good players like Drury who can fill in for injured players as well as to provide occasional rest to young players. Drury was a full time player during his last two years with the Diamondbacks, before coming over to the Yankees in spring trade. Upon joining the Yankees he was more or less handed the third base job, but most understood that he was holding that job either until Andujar was ready or until the Yankees made a push for Manny Machado during the off-season. Although it may not be what Drury wants to hear, that timetable has now been accelerated.
Keeping Drury, rather than rushing to trade him or giving him the third base job when he comes back also gives the Yankees a lot of options. With Drury on the roster, and Torres able to fill in for shortstop Didi Gregorius if needed, Ronald Torreyes is no longer an essential piece of the infield puzzle. If Torreyes continues to hit at anywhere near his current .390/.405/.488, the Yankees will find room for him on the roster and in sometimes the lineup, but if he slumps back to the 81+ OPS player he was in 2016 and 2017, the Yankees may send him down to bring up another outfield bat, or to make room for Greg Bird when he gets healthy again.
Replacing Walker with Drury is a reasonably obvious move and a reasonably clear, if modest, upgrade. Drury is seven years younger, a somewhat better and more versatile defender and while not having been a better hitter in the recent past, is likely to become one in the near future. If Torres and Andujar continue to hit-and if they don’t Drury will be given another chance to be a starter this year-the Yankees non-pitching needs are limited largely to improving their bench. Using Drury in that capacity would be a big step forward in doing just that, but giving him a lot of playing time over Andujar or Torres would be a mistake and reflect an overestimation of Drury’s abilities.