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COLLINS: Longshots Keeping Yanks Afloat Will Soon Fight For Jobs

May 5, 2019

Miguel Andujar arrived in New York on Friday afternoon, 33 days since he last played a major league game and with a right shoulder no more healed than it was back then, ready to go to work.

The Yankees waited an extra day to activate him from the injured list Saturday, and that’s welcomed news for the Bombers and their fans, considering the jolt his bat will give to a lineup decimated by injuries. But it’s a return that also should raise a few philosophical questions everyone around the team should consider. Namely, what should be done with some of the guys who’ve kept this team afloat once the stars begin to return?

This team well enough over the past month despite having a team worth of players good enough to win the American League East on its injured list. At some point, the Yankees will start getting more guys like Andujar back. When they do, some of the 10 players on the active roster who went into spring training either trying to win a roster spot or with no hope of ever getting one will have to get something they don’t deserve: a demotion.

Or, in some cases, potentially a pink slip.

That’s the nature of the beast, for sure. At its core, that’s these players’ job: go up and play well, and go back down and not complain.

You’re not going to tell Andujar, who hit 47 doubles and 27 homers last season: “Thanks for working hard and getting back, Miggy, but Thairo Estrada is 6 for 18 and we’re doing just fine with him here. So why don’t you go get fitted for a RailRiders uniform until we hit a bit of a lull?”

Doesn’t work that way.

That said, the Yankees are only going to get players back in a trickle. Andujar on Saturday. Maybe Clint Frazier soon, and then Aaron Hicks not long after that. Then, who knows?

So it’s probably a good time to start speculating which players on the roster are likely to stick around even after players start getting healthy, and which ones are going to get sent back to PNC Field no matter what they do.

Those who are going to need some injuries to linger to stay in the bigs:

• Thairo Estrada, utility: It has been a pretty good first big-league run for the versatile Estrada. But he was supposed to spend all year in Triple-A getting those regular at-bats he lost last season. Keeping him on the major league bench does little for his development.

• Mike Tauchman, OF: With Frazier and Hicks getting closer, the Yankees are going to have to clear some space in the outfield. Tauchman has had some bright moments for sure, but he was hitting just .185 heading into the weekend and is in a 4 for 32 slide. He has an option left, too. Writing might be on the wall.

Those who have made a case to stay for a longer term:

• Gio Urshela, 3B: Nobody is going to debate this, because it’s obvious. But Urshela is a much better defender than Andujar. It’s not even close, and combine that with the fact that Urshela also has a .900 OPS in 22 games, it means Urshela’s hot streak is one worth riding out for a while. The Yankees would have to risk putting him on waivers to get him to Triple-A, and they can’t afford to lose him with Andujar’s tenuous health situation.

• Tyler Wade, utility: Wade’s numbers, meanwhile, are brutal. When you play 20 games and have a .208 slugging percentage, that’s enough to be demoted. But, Wade was solid wherever they put him in the infield, and his speed was a difference in a few games. He could struggle at the plate and still last in New York until either Aaron Judge or Didi Gregorius get back.

Think about it this way: This group that is helping the Yankees stay afloat is really no guarantee to be in New York much past the All-Star break. If they get every position player on the injured list back when they’re hoping to — excluding Jacoby Ellsbury, of course — you’re looking at one available roster spot for either Urshela, Frazier, Greg Bird and Troy Tulowitzki.

Those aren’t going to be easy decisions for the Yankees.

DONNIE COLLINS is a sports columnist for The Times-Tribune. Contact him at dcollins@timesshamrock.com and follow him on Twitter @DonnieCollinsTT