Yankees: Gio Urshela’s return will be biggest stretch-run addition

The New York Yankees’ injured players are on the mend, as Gio Urshela and others will return soon.

After an injury-riddled stretch which saw the New York Yankees’ 16-6 start to the 2020 season turn into a 5-15 slide, things are looking a bit sunnier in the Bronx.

A series sweep of the Orioles, a team that was hot on their tail in the playoff picture, has given the Bombers some breathing room in the standings.

Yet the prospect of just making the postseason won’t be enough to satisfy the hunger of Yankees fans, who expected the Commissioner’s Trophy to come back to its rightful place this season. Three injured Yankees are scheduled to return (hopefully) within the coming week. Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, and Gio Urshela are all on track to re-enter the lineup at some point this week, additions that will surely give some life to what has been an inconsistent offense at best.

But what if I told you the most crucial player returning from injury wasn’t $300 million Stanton, or the Yankees’ best player in Judge? You would probably call me insane. But the fact of the matter is, Urshela’s return has more significance than the sluggers above, and here is why.

Urshela solidifies an infield that, without his presence, is very shaky defensively. This season, four men have handled the hot corner in Pinstripes, and only one has managed not to make an error. That man is Urshela, who is undoubtedly one of the best defensive third basemen in all of baseball (ignore the metrics, they’re bad for you).

Despite playing 21 more games at third base than anyone else, Urshela has a fielding percentage of 1.000, which is vastly better than DJ LeMahieu’s .926, and both Miguel Andujar and Thairo Estrada’s .750.

With Gio back in the mix, LeMahieu moves back to his natural position at second, realigning a tremendous infield. His re-entrance is two-fold, as not only does it stabilize the defensive alignment, but it also limits Tyler Wade and Estrada’s playing time.

Wade is a talented defender and speedster, but his inability to hit at the MLB level is astounding. In seven minor league seasons, Wade owns a solid .274 batting average and .721 OPS. Despite his success in the minor leagues, the utility man has failed to transition to MLB, holding a career batting average of .188 and OPS of .557 in four seasons of service.

Likewise, Estrada has every opportunity to do what both Andujar and Urshela did so well with the Yankees: Come in for an injured player and run with the job. He failed to do that as well, proving to be inconsistent defensively and offensively this year. He has hit just .170 in 51 PA with an OPS of .620, and has looked uncomfortable at third base when he received time there.

Both players would be much more effective if utilized minimally; Wade as a runner and defensive replacement, and Estrada as a pinch hitter or extra man. Despite their talent, Urshela is by far the superior player, and his return makes the Yankees that much better.

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The lone thorn in the side to Urshela’s obvious reclamation of third base is Andujar, who has hit .367 (11/30) since Gio was placed on the IL Sept. 4. Miggy has an incredibly gifted bat, but has always been lackluster on the field, an aspect that makes his spot in the lineup easy to pass along to Urshela.

Gio’s offensive numbers have been stellar as well, as the third baseman is hitting .272 with six homers and 23 RBI this season. His ability to come through in a key situation is a characteristic that few Yankees seem to possess, making his offensive impact as integral as his defensive one.

At the height of the Yankees’ struggles this season, their inability to come through with men in scoring position was their downfall. Urshela is a .308 hitter with RISP, with 17 RBI in 26 at-bats in limited time this season. Not only would Urshela cure the Yankees defensive woes, but he would only increase their offensive output as well.

Since being acquired for cash considerations by Cashman, no player has risen from irrelevance to stardom at a faster rate than Urshela. Utilizing his defensive prowess to his advantage, Gio has become the kind of five-tool player that could seriously propel the Yankees to success this postseason.

Yes, Judge and Stanton coming back only boost the Yankees’ chances of success as well. But Clint Frazier has done a masterful job of taking over for Judge, demonstrating defensive improvement and offensive upside. You can never minimize the impact of Judge being absent from this lineup, yet Frazier has gone above and beyond to attempt to do just that. As for Stanton, his job is to mash baseballs as a D.H., making his return significantly less critical than that of Judge and Urshela.

The Yankees need Gio back, and when he does return, they will be a much better team because of it.

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