Tomorrow marks the two-year anniversary of a seemingly innocuous decision that ultimately backfired. On May 4, 2018, the Indians designated third baseman Gio Urshela for assignment. Five days later, they traded him to the Blue Jays for cash considerations, ending his decade-long tenure in the organization.
The decision to move on from Urshela made perfect sense at the time. He had never been a top prospect, instead profiling as a glove-first depth infielder. His offensive numbers in the high minors were fine but unspectacular. That wasn’t the case in MLB, though, as he’d hit just .225/.273/.314 (56 wRC+) in parts of three seasons. Most pressing, he’d exhausted all his minor-league options by 2018. Rather than carrying Urshela on an active roster already featuring Francisco Lindor, José Ramírez, Jason Kipnis and Erik González (himself out of options and capable of playing shortstop), the front office elected to move on.
Urshela played in just 19 games in Toronto before they too cut him loose. He cleared waivers, was traded to the Yankees, and didn’t return to the majors in 2018. He became a minor-league free agent after the season. Presumably finding no MLB interest, he returned to the Yankees on a minor-league deal last November.
That under-the-radar series of events proved massively important in 2019. With Miguel Andújar injured, the Yankees turned third base over to Urshela. He responded with an out-of-nowhere breakout, hitting .314/.355/.534 (132 wRC+) in 476 plate appearances. It’s an open question whether he can sustain anything approaching that production moving forward, but his underlying batted ball metrics were fantastic. In February, 68% of MLBTR readers opined the hot corner in the Bronx was Urshela’s to lose, even with Andújar returning. The 28-year-old is under team control through 2024, making him a potential long-term asset for the New York organization.
For the Indians (and to a lesser extent, the Jays), seeing Urshela’s success with an AL rival has to be a bitter pill to swallow. Obviously, they couldn’t have seen his 2019 season coming. No one around the league did, seeing as Urshela was available for little more than an MLB roster spot an offseason ago. Every team has players they wish they hadn’t let get away in retrospect (some significantly more painful than losing Urshela). Perhaps the 28-year-old simply needed a change of scenery and/or a new voice on the player development side to unlock another gear. Regardless of how and why it happened, there’s no doubt Urshela washing out in Cleveland proved to be a huge gain for the Yankees.