Not going to lie: Prior to yesterday, I knew Brandon Drury by name, not much else. Maybe a passing thought of “Is he related to Chris Drury?”, the former little league world series star and former NY Ranger. Since about 75% of my baseball watching involves the Yankees, if you play in the western time zone in the National League I’m not going to catch you too often.
But Drury has a good reputation. At least among those who run to social media to voice their opinions after the Yankees acquired him as part of a three team deal for minor leaguers Nick Solak and Taylor Widener. So I did a little recon on Mr. Drury, and what I learned was somewhat underwhelming if we’re being completely honest. And put a pin in Solak and Widener, we’ll come back to them in a minute.
Drury regressed offensively from 2016 to 2017, which at age 24 is a little bit of a red flag to me (101 OPS+ in ’16, 89 OPS+ in ’17 – that’s not an insignificant drop). What’s confusing about the decline is that there doesn’t seem to be an explanation: His chase rate, which isn’t good, was about the same over the two years as were his batting average on balls in play and his percentages of balls hit hard/soft. There certainly is an explanation, but it’s one that hopefully exists behind the scenes and Brian Cashman is aware of it.
What’s more disconcerting (or “concerning” as Jack Curry would say, as he passes himself off as an intellectual) are the home and away splits for Drury. In Arizona last season he was the offensive equivalent of Anthony Rizzo and Nolan Arenado (132 OPS+). Away from Arizona he was the equivalent of Martin Maldonado (74 OPS+, which would be 172nd out of 181 players with 450 plate appearances.) Again, that’s not an insignificant split.
So now that Drury has joined Tyler Wade, Jace Peterson and Danny Espinosa as players who may play 3B or 2B in the event Cashman isn’t willing to go with Miguel Andujar and/or Gleyber Torres on opening day, there is an important question that needs to be answered.
It’s not “Who are the 2 best players?”, which is a factor, but “Who can play shortstop and back up Didi Gregorius?”
Drury has played 1 career game at short. Pederson has played 4 career games at SS. Espinosa has played 220 games at SS – but also had a negative WAR last season (unless you’re Austin Romine, that’s hard to do). Wade has played 7 at short in the big leagues, but did play short in the minors. And it must be noted AGAIN, that Wade had a .382 OBP and plus SLG in AAA – this is why David Cone joined me on the “don’t sleep on Tyler Wade” bandwagon on Twitter recently.
Because here’s the thing: Guys who can play SS on an average level in the big leagues are very, very rare. Do the math: Less than 10% of active major league players can field the position of SS in the major leagues.
Every team needs two on the roster. So really what this may come down to is who can back up Didi as the number one priority, then who is the best player after that. To me, that sounds like if Wade is trusted to play part time at short as a backup (if Didi is healthy, that’s only about 12 games all season) then he’ll have the inside edge with Drury as a 2nd and/or 3rd baseman. If Cashman decides Wade can’t be trusted, look for Espinosa to have the inside track with Drury to leave Tampa and head to NY with the other big leaguers.
All of this of course, goes without asking the question of what did the Yankees give up to have this uncertain situation?
In exchange for Drury, a below average offensive player, who can’t fill in at SS, whose presence provides more questions than answers, the Yankees gave up:
Nick Solak, who was the best player on the Tampa (high A ball) Yankees last season. After being promoted to AA Trenton he put up a .344/.429 OBP/SLG line. Not bad for a 2B who is more than 2 years younger than the average AA player.
And Taylor Widener, who at high A Tampa struck out over a batter an inning and was over a year younger than the average A ball player.
I.e., what the Yankees gave up are two pretty good prospects. What they got in return is a guy who can’t fill a key void (backup SS), and isn’t any better than what (we really hope) Andujar and Torres will be. And even in the event he’s better than Espinosa, Wade and Peterson it will only be in the short term until Andujar and Torres are ready. Or they aren’t which means a bigger move would need to be made.
Frankly, the Yankees gave up too much. But that’s irrelevant now, as the next 6 weeks of spring training play will determine the short term direction of the team.
But let the record show that you heard it here first: The Tampa Bay Rays farm system is no joke. Let’s hope that Solak isn’t part of a young team in a couple of years that will be giving the Yankees fits in their own division.