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5 under-the-radar moves that have saved Yanks

Amid injury crisis, these unheralded players have stepped up
@RichardJustice
May 8, 2019

Do you remember where you were and what you were doing when the Yankees traded for first baseman Luke Voit last summer? Here’s guessing you don’t. At the time, pretty much no one could have known how important it was going to be. And maybe that tells you all you

Do you remember where you were and what you were doing when the Yankees traded for first baseman Luke Voit last summer? Here’s guessing you don’t. At the time, pretty much no one could have known how important it was going to be.

And maybe that tells you all you need to know about these remarkable 2019 Yankees. Their success is not a byproduct of one or two deals. Through an almost incomprehensible spate of injuries, the Yankees have stayed afloat because of a series of small moves that have provided them extraordinary organizational depth and flexibility.

For years, we’ve measured the Yankees by the headline-grabbing acquisitions: Reggie Jackson, Catfish Hunter, Roger Clemens, Giancarlo Stanton, CC Sabathia, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira. Less attention has been paid to general manager Brian Cashman’s obsession with building organizational depth through an array of smart, small deals.

For instance, Aaron Hicks. When Cashman acquired the center fielder from the Twins in November 2015 for catcher John Ryan Murphy, he said he wasn’t precisely sure what he’d gotten.

Hicks was 25 years old and had never played 100 games in a season. His career batting average was .225. But Cashman said there were things the Yankees liked about his game, that there were gifts that could be developed and, all things considered, he was worth taking a chance on.

In 2017 and '18, Hicks was among baseball’s best center fielders, and his back injury -- he hasn’t played a game this season -- was one of the first and most notable in a season with a numbingly long injury list. As the injuries piled up, Cashman spoke about the "depth" he’d worked so hard to assemble and said, rather than go for a short-term fix, he was going to exhaust that depth before looking outside.

Now as the Yankees begin getting their core guys back in uniform, they have done more than simply survive. They’re two games behind the Rays in the American League East and on a pace to win 95 games. No team has been more impressive.

Let’s look at five deals that have helped keep the Yankees afloat:

1. Luke Voit, 1B

The deal: The Cardinals sent Voit and international bonus slot money to the Yankees for relievers Giovanny Gallegos and Chasen Shreve on July 29, 2018

The skinny: Voit was a 27-year-old 22nd-round Draft pick who never was regarded as a top prospect. But Cashman was intrigued by his scorching exit velocity and believed that skill was worth taking a chance. Voit homered 14 times in 39 games down the stretch last season and had the 11th-highest exit velocity among players with at least 50 batted balls. That production has carried over into this season, with 10 home runs and an .878 OPS. When Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and others went down, Voit gave the Yankees a middle-of-the-order bat.

2. Gio Urshela, 3B

The deal: Urshela was purchased from the Blue Jays on Aug. 4, 2018

The skinny: None of Cashman’s other deals has been as impressive as this one. At the time, the Yankees' GM called Urshela an infield insurance policy. He had tremendous defensive metrics and a .225 batting average in 167 games for the Indians and Blue Jays. Cashman and his staff saw enough in his skill set that they believed he was capable of being a productive offensive player. He entered play on Wednesday with a .360 batting average, hitting a game-tying home run in the ninth inning against the Mariners on Tuesday, and has played a Gold Glove-caliber third base. He has been so good that even though Miguel Andujar is back from the injured list, Urshela may remain the Yankees' starting third baseman.

3. Clint Frazier, OF

The deal: Frazier was one of four prospects acquired from the Indians for reliever Andrew Miller on July 31, 2016

The skinny: Cashman acknowledged with this trade that the Yankees probably were not a postseason team in 2016. In Frazier, he acquired one of baseball’s best prospects and a key component in the reconstruction of New York's farm system. Three years later, Frazier finally has gotten a chance to play, and he has been everything the Yankees could have envisioned. When Hicks and Stanton are healthy again, Cashman will have the best kind of problem: finding playing time for too many good outfielders.

4. Domingo Germán, RHP

The deal: German and Nathan Eovaldi were acquired from the Marlins in a five-player trade on Dec. 19, 2014

The skinny: Eovaldi would have an immediate impact on the Yankees by making 51 appearances (48 starts) in 2015 and '16. But in this deal, Cashman also convinced the Marlins to give up a quality arm in German, then 22 years old. Four-plus years later, German has emerged as the Yankees' best starting pitcher and is one of the key figures helping them stay afloat amid a sea of injuries.

5. Mike Tauchman, OF

The deal: Tauchman was acquired from the Rockies for reliever Phillip Diehl on March 23, 2019

The skinny: This trade puzzled plenty of people because it meant Tyler Wade would begin the season in the Minors. All those injuries made Tauchman an important part of this Yankees feel-good story, especially when he had a .978 OPS in his first 14 games. He's since slumped to a .184 average entering play on Tuesday, and his playing time will decrease when Hicks and Stanton return. But he’s a part of why this Yankees season has been special.

Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.