Many believe if the Yankees sign free-agent infielder Manny Machado, current third baseman Miguel Andujar is good as gone. Whether that occurs before spring training or after Didi Gregorius returns from his injury seems to be a formality to those adhering to the sentiment.
However, there are circumstances that might persuade the Yankees to stick with Andujar beyond the 2019 season.
Gregorius' health/performance requires change of thought for Yankees
First, the Yankees might not want to be quick to ship Andujar if there are concerns about the timing of Gregorius' return and the choices outside the organization are ultimately not deemed sufficient.
That said, if Gregorius comes back just after the All-Star break as hoped, Andujar would seemingly be the player to lose a spot in the infield with Machado aboard. But, what if Gregorius suffers in some way from the effects of the surgery and the Yankees decide that signing him long term would not be beneficial? Likewise, what happens if Gregorius is simply off his game after three to four months of not playing?
If Gregorius suffers from health and/or performance issues in 2019, the Yankees might not feel the same as they did about his future with the team knowing he'll be one year older (30) in 2020, where keeping him around for a few more years could become detrimental. As such, Machado could stick at shortstop long term -- something he strongly desires -- allowing Andujar to continue to hone his skill set at third base.
Andujar DOES get better at third base
More experts and theorists in the industry suggest Andujar, the 2018 Rookie of the Year runner-up, is never going to be a solid third baseman as opposed to those who believe he can rectify his work at the hot corner. Nevertheless, while Machado is covering shortstop for Gregorius, what if Andujar demonstrates that his work with future Hall of Famer Adrian Beltre -- who had to overcome his own fielding issues as a young player -- is paying off? Additionally, Machado, who is an excellent third baseman himself, could provide some tutelage to Andujar throughout the season.
Imagine if Andujar minimally turns in average defense at third base and his offensive numbers simply stay the same as 2018: .297 batting average, .328 on-base percentage, .527 slugging percentage, 76 extra-base hits, 27 home runs and 92 RBIs in 606 plate appearances. Moreover, think about how valuable Andujar becomes to the Yankees -- as a Yankee -- if he also displays an upward trajectory in his offensive prowess, which is already stellar for a player entering his age-24 season.
Maybe Andujar is truly born to DH ... and that's OK
There is, of course, the chance that despite Andujar's exemplary tutor(s) and any extra effort he puts in on the field, that the work simply doesn't translate to game action. There is also the possibility that Andujar keeps pace or advances offensively and doesn't lose a beat as the designated hitter assuming that's where he is plugged in the lineup most often once Gregorius returns.
Let's say the Yankees sign Gregorius to an extension after the 2019 season; maybe Andujar's bat is so lethal this season that the Yanks have no problem giving him 500 or so at-bats at DH in 2020 and still have the ability to rest guys like Giancarlo Stanton or Gary Sanchez. Further, Andujar might be more or less a "full-time" DH, but he could spell Machado at third base assuming that's where he would land if Gregorius stays with the club beyond 2019. Finally, Andujar would be able to take some reps at first base and potentially in the outfield simply for emergency purposes. There is certain value in that role.
There is little doubt that Andujar becomes a valuable trade chip for the Yankees should the club secure Machado's services. However, there is no guarantee that Gregorius is going to be a long-term answer in the infield and despite the narrative, Andujar could improve enough defensively to keep him at third base should he remain an offensive threat. In that regard, maybe, just maybe, Andujar blossoms as a Yankee and does not become a footnote in club's history.