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Around the Horn: Infield fresh, yet productive

Yankees' defense to meld veteran pair with talented sophomores
MLB.com @BryanHoch

With the start of Spring Training approaching, anticipation is building for the 2019 season. MLB.com is going around the horn to break down each area of the Yankees' roster, continuing this week with the infield.

There was widespread belief that the infield would take on a new look over the offseason, and though the big-ticket free agent that was most heavily rumored appears to be heading elsewhere, the potential exists for the Bombers to have a dependable and productive alignment around the bases.

With the start of Spring Training approaching, anticipation is building for the 2019 season. MLB.com is going around the horn to break down each area of the Yankees' roster, continuing this week with the infield.

There was widespread belief that the infield would take on a new look over the offseason, and though the big-ticket free agent that was most heavily rumored appears to be heading elsewhere, the potential exists for the Bombers to have a dependable and productive alignment around the bases.

Shortly after Manny Machado was entertained with a December tour of Yankee Stadium, the Yankees moved to sign shortstop Troy Tulowitzki to a league-minimum contract, envisioning the five-time All-Star as a capable fill-in while they wait for Didi Gregorius to return from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow sometime in the summer.

Video: Tulowitzki discusses health, joining the Yankees

"With what I've been through, I think a lot of people have written me off," said Tulowitzki, who was released by the Blue Jays in December. "I think all this has really made me stronger, made me appreciate the game more than ever. I've put in a lot of work to put myself into a position to have this opportunity."

Shortly thereafter, general manager Brian Cashman finalized a two-year, $24 million deal with DJ LeMahieu. The Yankees intend to utilize the 2016 National League batting champion, a three-time Gold Glover, as a super-utility player at second base, shortstop and third base.

Video: DJ LeMahieu on signing deal with the Yankees

"You look at this team on paper and you can see there's a lot of optimism, a lot of talent," LeMahieu said. "Hopefully we'll win a championship. That's pretty exciting for me."

The new additions project to supplement the mix of returning cast members, which includes the runners-up in last year's American League Rookie of the Year voting: Miguel Andujar at third base and Gleyber Torres at second base.

First base is expected to be decided between the right-handed-hitting Luke Voit, who produced terrific offense following his July acquisition from the Cardinals, and left-handed-hitting Greg Bird, who aims to reclaim the form that established his place as one of the organization's top-rated hitters.

Who's on first?
Cashman has said that Voit is the first-base favorite going into camp, with Bird slotted as the challenger. Voit will be tasked with proving that his 2018 was the real deal, while Bird will be trying to prove that his was not.

Video: Luke Voit primed for big 2019 season

"We have someone that opened our eyes and excited us," Cashman said. "We had projections on Luke Voit that he honored, clearly, at this level. He brought them to reality on the Major League side. That makes us feel good about that position. With Greg Bird, we still think that the ceiling is what it has always been. He has a chance to resuscitate."

What are the expectations for Tulo?
Tulowitzki was once one of the game's most impactful shortstops, earning two Silver Slugger Awards and two Gold Glove Awards. But the 34-year-old has not played in a big league game since July 28, 2017, due to heel and ankle injuries, and though he impressed the Yankees in a showcase at Long Beach State University, there are no guarantees Tulowitzki will be able to make it through the spring without issue.

"We did our due diligence," Cashman said. "Scouts that I highly respect were very pleased with what they saw, and very excited by the workouts he put himself through in front of them. It doesn't mean we're going to get vintage Troy Tulowitzki from the Colorado Rockies years, but it's exciting to dream on what he might be capable of on a consistent basis."

In the event Tulowitzki is unavailable to play shortstop regularly, the Yankees could move Torres from second base to shortstop, with LeMahieu taking over at second base. The utility role could then be filled by Tyler Wade.

Video: Tyler Wade on the Yankees acquiring Tulowitzki

When will Didi be ready?
The Yankees have offered a vague timetable, saying Gregorius should return anywhere from June to August. If and when Gregorius is set to return, the Yankees are prepared to install him as their everyday shortstop, which would dislodge Tulowitzki or whoever is at the position then.

"A lot can happen in that time," Tulowitzki said. "Obviously, I want Didi to be back out on the field. He's a heck of a player; I respect him. I've played against him on many occasions. At the same time I have a job to do, and that's to play shortstop and help us win games. When that time comes, we'll deal with that."

Current projected infielders (2018 stats)
1B Luke Voit (.322/.398/.671, 15 HR, 36 RBIs, 182 OPS+ in 47 G)
2B Gleyber Torres (.271/.340/.480, 24 HR, 77 RBIs, 118 OPS+ in 123 G)
SS Troy Tulowitzki (Did not play, injured)
3B Miguel Andujar (.297/.328/.527, 27 HR, 92 RBIs, 126 OPS+ in 149 G)
UT DJ LeMahieu (.276/.321/.428, 15 HR, 62 RBIs, 88 OPS+ in 128 G)

Who else is in the pipeline? (MLB Pipeline rankings in Yankees system)
No. 15 SS/2B Thairo Estrada (age: 22, highest level: Triple-A)
No. 28 1B/3B Dermis Garcia (age: 21, highest level: Class A)

Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and on Facebook.

New York Yankees, Miguel Andujar, DJ LeMahieu, Gleyber Torres, Troy Tulowitzki, Luke Voit