It’s no secret that the Yankees’ lineup is dominated by right-handed hitters. Great righties, without a doubt. But at the same time, Kevin Cash’s Rays had no problem matching up against the Bombers’ bats in the ALDS. The offense still had some good performances in the series and is far from the only issue facing the Yankees’ roster, but it’s clear that it could use some balance. Aside from switch-hitting Aaron Hicks, the Yankees really lacked a threat from the left side this season. It’s something that should be addressed this winter. Randy and I discussed it on the podcast, too.
Inserting another good left-handed hitter is easier said than done, of course. From top to bottom, the Yankees’ lineup is built with some of the best righties in the sport. Trading Luke Voit for the sake of lineup balance is not a good idea. He’s been an elite hitter ever since the Yankees acquired him from St. Louis. Really, the Yankees are backed into a corner in terms of starters. The only open position this offseason is second base (or shortstop, if you want to move Gleyber Torres over), but at the same time, this team needs to bring free agent DJ LeMahieu back. I suppose catcher too if you really want to dump Gary Sánchez, but get back to me when you find a good left-handed catcher available. So, the Yankees will have to attack this balance issue differently.
The Yankees were counting on Brett Gardner, Mike Tauchman, and Mike Ford to offer some handedness flexibility in 2020. But aside from Gardner, who had a late season resurgence, Tauchman (79 wRC+) and Ford (36 wRC+) were disasters. And with Clint Frazier ready to take over left field in 2021, Gardner looks like no more than a bench piece if the Bombers want to bring him back. Which is fine, but again, is he going to really offer that much as a lefty swinger at 37 years of age? This is where the Yankees have an opportunity to improve its position player construction. The starting lineup doesn’t need to be reconstructed, but rather, the depth should be fortified.
With 26-man rosters here for good, the Yankees will have four bench slots next year. A backup catcher, extra infielder, extra outfielder, and one more player. Ignoring backup catcher, those other three spots are opportunities to bring in balance. And that doesn’t mean a reunion with Gardner can’t happen, by the way. Rather, it means bringing in upgrades over Tyler Wade and Mike Tauchman, who are both out of options and figure to assume those other two backup slots if the team is at full strength and no other moves are made.
The challenge in obtaining good role players is in free agency is often convincing starting-caliber guys to accept a lesser role. The Yankees did this with LeMahieu two years ago, although he also wanted to come to the Bronx in the first place. That said, I think the Yankees can make a strong case for players taking depth roles. For one, this isn’t the most sturdy of clubs and the injured list will probably fill up again in 2021. Plus, if expanded playoffs are here to stay, the Yankees are going to practice a lot of load management which opens up more playing time.
So, who would I pursue? One of my targets would be free agent Jurickson Profar, who the Yankees have gone after previously. In the outfield, there are guys like Michael Brantley and Joc Pederson. The former would be great, but the latter might be easier to sign because he had a down 2020.
Now, you might be wondering: what happens in the postseason with this group? Who of the righty stars will you bench to create lineup balance? That assumes a couple of things: good health, which is always uncertain with this group although things fortunately came together by the end of this season. Better to have Brantley, Pederson, and/or Profar in the wings if needed. Two, the Yankees seem keen on playing the hot hand. Gardner played a lot over Frazier this postseason and it mostly paid off. Who’s to say something similar wouldn’t happen in the future at another position?
In the end, the last thing I want to see is the Yankees trade away someone like Voit or Frazier and then replace them with an inferior left-handed bat. Improving depth while adding balance is a much better approach. The Yankees did have a bunch of lefties on the bench this season, but they proved not to be very good. Fixing that should be a priority this winter, and it doesn’t have to be a painful process.