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Outfield help should be the top priority for the Yankees

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It’s no secret that the Yankees’ offense has severely underperformed expectations this season. The lineup has scored 191 runs, fewer than four per game, which ranks in the bottom third of Major League Baseball. Injuries, underperformance, and perhaps the dejuiced baseball are all culprits. There’s no hitting star lying in wait down in the minors, so the Yankees will either need to see some improvement from the current roster, or look outside the organization before the trade deadline.

Left field and center field are the two positions in biggest need of improvement. Those two spots have combined to hit .204/.291/.302 (71 wRC+) this season. Only the Brewers have received worse offensive production from those two positions (68 wRC+). Even if the Yankees current options (Brett Gardner, Clint Frazier, and Miguel Andújar) turn things around at the plate soon, the team really needs some added depth in those outfield spots. Aaron Hicks is out indefinitely and Giancarlo Stanton probably won’t see any time in the field this season. So, this needs to be the front office’s top priority over the next couple of months.

And before you say anything: no, Estevan Florial isn’t a viable option at this time. We may see him at some point out of necessity soon, but the 23 year-old has barely played above High-A and has missed multiple years of development because of injuries and COVID-19. As it is, the Yankees are already challenging him quite a bit by bumping him up from Double-A to Triple-A early this season. He’s batting .176/.282/.441 (89 wRC+) with a 27.5 percent K-rate for Scranton thus far. He’d struggle with big league pitching if asked to play in the majors right now.

With Florial out of consideration, there’s really nowhere else to go internally. When a team dips into the minors for the Ryan LaMarres and (presumably when healthy) Greg Allens of the world, things are pretty dire. That means a trade is the only way to help.

In all likelihood, the Yankees are going to prioritize bolstering center field over left. It’s far more likely that Frazier rebounds (and hey, he’s 5-for-8 in his last two games) than Gardner. Plus, it’s not ideal to run out someone in their late 30s everyday at such a demanding position. Gardy is more likely to max out his value playing four or five times a week. Moreover, it’s also not ideal to play Frazier in center, which is apparently something that’s going to happen this week. That could be an adventure.

Good center fielders don’t grow on trees and don’t come cheap, so the front office has its work cut out for them. Here are some options, in no particular order, that come to mind with some brief notes on each. We likely will do more robust trade target pieces over the coming weeks on some or all of these players.

  • Byron Buxton: When healthy, there aren’t many better options in center. Emphasis on healthy, though. Buxton is currently on the shelf with a hip strain and has dealt with injuries throughout his career. Before the injury this season, he was hitting .370/.408/.772 (223 wRC+) in 98 plate appearances. The Twins are 10 games under .500, though they have won 3 straight and 6 of 10, so maybe they’re finally turning things around. In any case, Buxton would be the highest impact option, though he’d also be a fairly big risk in terms of reliability. Do the Yankees have the appetite for more risk given everything that’s already gone wrong?
  • Max Kepler: Another option from Minnesota. He’s more of a corner outfielder, but he has played center field a good deal in his career and is actually pretty good out there. Kepler also offers some lefty power, which the Yankees certainly could benefit from. I don’t think he’s a great hitter though — likely closer to league average. 2019 (36 homers, 121 wRC+) looks a bit like an outlier. He hasn’t posted a wRC+ higher than 107 otherwise.
  • Ketel Marte: Not only can Marte play center, but he has experience in the middle infield too. He’s posted a .296/.357/.506 (125 wRC+) batting line in his last 1,450 plate appearances, is just 27 years-old, and is on a super team friendly contract with control through 2024. He’d cost quite a bit, but certainly would help. He’s a switch-hitter to boot.
  • Ian Happ: The Cubs are 25-22, so selling probably isn’t on the table yet. Happ, 26, is a switch-hitter who has power and a lifetime 115 wRC+ in 1,405 major league plate appearances, but strikes out a lot (31.6 percent career). He’s played all over the field in his career, but has settled in to center field for Chicago and appears to be roughly average out there per Statcast. Wonder if the small outfield at Wrigley Field helps him there, though.
  • Kris Bryant: Now we’re really going out of the box. Obviously, Bryant is not a center fielder by trade. That said, he’s logged 47.2 innings out there this season. It’s probably not the best idea to throw him into the fire in a much more expansive center at Yankee Stadium, but he certainly would help offensively.
  • Starling Marte: The Yankees tried to pick up Marte last summer before the Marlins. He’s currently on the injured list (rib fracture), but is going to start a rehab assignment in the coming days. He is a true center fielder who can also really hit (.287/.342/.451, 116 wRC+ career).
  • Joey Gallo: He hasn’t played center field significantly since 2019. Nonetheless, he’s known to be a good defender and can probably handle it tolerably. The lefty swinging Gallo is better known for his light tower power (.274 career ISO) and massive strikeout totals (37.3 percent career).
  • Michael A. Taylor: Another high strikeout guy, but could make for a decent platoon with Gardner in center. Kansas City has been a nice surprise at 23-23, but likely will sell before all is said and done. The right-handed hitter has been better against lefties (88 wRC+) than righties (77 wRC+) in his career. Not the most exciting offensive option, but he can run into some homers and play a solid center.
  • Andrew Benintendi: Another option from the Royals. He hasn’t played center since 2019 with Boston, and defensive metrics are mixed on his performance out there, but the 26 year-old may be athletic enough to handle it. He hasn’t panned out the way the Red Sox anticipated after drafting him 7th overall in 2015, but the Royals took a chance on him this year and so far he’s been OK: .283/.347/.371 (103 wRC+). The left-handed hitter is unplayable against left-handed pitching (44 wRC+), but has raked against righties (129 wRC+) this season.
  • Ender Inciarte: With Cristian Pache the future in center field for Atlanta, Inciarte has seen his playing time dwindle. He was awful in the 60-game shortened season in 2020, but had posted decent-enough numbers in his career prior (.286/.338/.390, 94 wRC+ from 2014-2019). He is a true center fielder.

Don’t expect the Yankees to make a move for any of these guys in the coming days. We could see a stopgap move or two, but nothing major just yet. But as the deadline approaches over the next couple of months, the rumor mill will heat up and any of these players could come up in trade talks. There will certainly be outfielders connected to the Yankees who I didn’t mention here, too. In any case, as time goes on, we’ll dive deeper into some of these options. In the meantime, hopefully the team’s non-Aaron Judge outfielders turn things around in short order.

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4 Comments

  1. Gerreddardit Cole

    It should be but won’t, Bobby. I’d call up Florial tomorrow and see what he can do. He can’t be any worse than Gardner. Sure he strikes out too much but so does 2/3rds of this roster and the league. Barring a trade or Florial call up, Boone has to roll the dice with Clint in CF and Miggy in LF. Gardy is putting up Jay Bruce numbers. What do you do with a lame horse?

  2. Brian M

    What, no Rob Refsnyder?!

  3. Wire Fan

    Nice run down, but most of these options are either bad or too expensive for the cash strapped Yankees.

    Not a fan of Ian Happ, but sadly could see the Yankees going in that direction and then we can watch Happ generating strikeouts hitting between some of the Yankees better right handed hitters. This would fit Cashman’s m.o of lefty power at all costs and the analytics ridiculousness of “splitting up the righties” with no real regard to the quality of the hitter.

  4. Zach

    The only “top priority” for Hal’s Yankees is not paying any luxury tax. Most of these options don’t fit into that plan, so expect to see lots more of Gardner and Tyler Wade in CF.

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