A lot can happen between now and April, but the Yankees are facing a dilemma with a player who was once a key contributor: Mike Tauchman. The 30 year-old outfielder, who broke out in the second half of 2019 but struggled in 2020, is on the 26-man roster bubble and has no minor league options remaining. Tauchman is in a race with non-roster invitees Derek Dietrich and Jay Bruce for the last bench spot.
Tauchman will either make the Yankees out of camp or be out of the organization entirely. In all likelihood, that means a trade. Even after a brutal 2020 campaign, there’s no chance that the Tauchman would clear waivers. Should the Yankees favor Bruce, Dietrich, or someone else entirely, the team won’t have a problem finding a trade match. He’s a very good defender at any outfield spot and depending on who you ask, the bat is still full of potential.
Considering his plus defensive skills (something neither Dietrich nor Bruce possess) and what the team saw offensively in 2019, it’s not hard to imagine holding on to Tauchman. That may draw the ire of some who want to see more surefire offensive options like Dietrich or Bruce from the left side of the plate, but its a distinct possibility. Just ask Aaron Boone how much he values Tauchman:
“This is a really elite defensive outfielder that can play all three positions out there, a guy that runs the bases well, can run, can steal bases,” Boone said. “When we saw him at his best for really an extended period in 2019, it was a guy that was controlling the zone, hitting for some power, real competitive at-bats, whether it was against right- and left-handed pitching.”
The extended period Boone speaks of was when Tauchman hit .315/.395/.582 (156 wRC+) in 167 plate appearances in the second half of 2019. A lot of that came in a ridiculous July run (221 wRC+ in 57 PA), but he was still very good in August (126 wRC+) and September (144 wRC+).
Even so, it’s still hard to ignore Tauchman’s punchless .242/.342/.305 (78 wRC+) in 111 PA last year, including no homers. He exhibited steep drops in a number of underlying metrics too, including Exit Velocity and Hard Hit percentage. He literally could not catch up to fastballs. Tauchman had a .048 batting average and .042 wOBA (.176 xBA and .200 xwOBA) against fastballs over the heart of the plate last year. That’s just not acceptable for a major league player. It’s certainly a big reason that the Yankees brought in the likes of Dietrich and Bruce to camp.
But perhaps Tauchman’s 2019 wasn’t actually a fluke and he isn’t nearly as bad as he was in 2020. If you go purely by the Statcast numbers, Tauchman’s xStats in 2019 were quite good. And if you take Tauchman’s word on his 2020 performance, then you might be more confident in his outlook.
Mike Tauchman’s assessment of his struggles at the plate last year: “My bat path got out of wack. I was consistently under plane which I believe directly correlated to my struggles against velocity.— Lindsey Adler (@lindseyadler) February 27, 2021
Said his offseason work focused on a tighter and flatter bat path.
Mike Tauchman said that he was dealing with shoulder issues last season but he felt he was healthy enough to be in the lineup. Aaron Boone has said several times that Tauchman was “banged up.”— Bryan Hoch (@BryanHoch) February 27, 2021
Everyone was hurt at some point last year, so it’s no surprise that Tauchman’s shoulder was an issue too. That certainly could have thrown his swing off, as he described in Lindsey Adler’s tweet above. But from our viewpoint, it’s hard to say or tell if he’s actually fixed his mechanics (or if he can).
Tauchman is 2-for-10 with a homer and five strikeouts in Grapefruit League play so far, but there’s little reason to make any determinations based on those numbers. The Yankees need to evaluate if his swing has been fixed (or is fixable). Ultimately, the team needs to decide if they believe he can out hit Bruce or Dietrich this year. We already know Tauchman brings defensive value to the table, but the Yankees don’t really need that. Brett Gardner’s return covers that need.
Speaking of Gardner, his return certainly has made Tauchman feel redundant to an extent. It’s pretty difficult to imagine the Yankees playing Tauchman over Gardner in any scenario where one of the regulars needs a breather. Both provide similar defensive benefits, but Gardner, even at his age, is a safer play in the lineup. And if there’s a scenario in which the Yankees want to add more thump to the lineup, Bruce or Dietrich can bring that over Gardy and Tauchman. Not to mention: Dietrich is capable of playing the infield too, and Bruce can handle first base. Tauchman can’t do those things.
So, the Yankees are in a bit of a tough spot. Even if you’re down on Tauchman and don’t want him on the team, knowing that he can’t be kept in the organization as depth is a tough pill to swallow. And from the sound of it, there’s a legitimate chance that Tauchman will be the odd man out. Per Brian Cashman:
“[Bruce and Dietrich] were brought in to get a legitimate shot to try to find a way to make this roster, and it’s a strong roster,” Cashman said on Friday. “So far the early returns are strong. They look like they’re going to make us have decisions, and that’s what we want. We want to be a position to make tough calls.”
The good news is that the Yankees should be able to get something in return for Tauchman. He probably could play everyday for a second division team. I presume that there will be no shortage of trade partners calling the Yankees about him in the coming weeks. Those trade talks could also influence the team’s roster decision, by the way. The needle could move toward Tauchman if the front office don’t like the trade offers that come in.
For now though, the Yankees are in no rush to make up their minds, nor should they be. Opening day is still more than three weeks away, and as I said at the outset, a lot can happen from now until then. For instance, an injury (hopefully not) could pave the way for Tauchman and one of Bruce or Dietrich to make the team. In any case, this is a good dilemma for the organization to have on its hands.