The Yankees’ left-field conundrum is a recurring topic this offseason as the team considers whether to bring in someone via the trade market or free agency, or stick to its internal options.
As Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports, the team’s preferred outcome would have been to retain André Benintendi, but he ended up signing a five-year, $75 million deal with the White Sox. He reports the Yankees would have taken five years to get Benintendi if they hadn’t signed the starter Carlos Rodon to a pact of 162 million dollars over six years. Sherman also reports that the team was “very involved” in trade negotiations with the Diamondbacks over Daulton Varsho before they finally transferred him to Toronto for Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Gabriel Moreno.
The largest available name the team has been connected to is Bryan Reynolds. He asked for a trade to Pittsburgh, but it appears the Bucs put a high price tag on their star outfielder and haven’t budged on that front. Nevertheless, Jon Heyman of the New York Post recently reported that the Yankees were one of the teams “consistently” interested in acquiring Reynolds. As a switch hitter with three years of team control remaining, he would certainly fit on their roster, but the Yankees may be reluctant to part ways with top prospects such as Oswald Peraza and Antoine Volpe to close a deal.
It’s not much to choose from in the free agent market at this point, but Sherman notes the team has been interested in Jurickson Profar. The switch-hitter was worth 2.5 fWAR for the Padres in 2022 and would be a solid option to improve their outfield stocks. Still Oswaldo Cabrera was worth 1.5 fWAR in 44 matches and Aaron Hicks the same in 130 games, so the team may not see Profar as a big enough mover to commit to the multi-year deal he’s likely looking for. The same could be said of another left-handed bat in David Peraltabut there doesn’t seem to have been much interest from the Yankees anyway.
Chris Kirschner of The Athletic reported in a recent post that the team may forego outside options and let Hicks and Cabrera face off in spring training for the starting job. While it’s not the most exciting option for Yankees fans, it makes sense. The Yankees’ roster is strong enough to be in a good position through the first three months of the season with no upgrades left, so the team can see if Hicks can bounce back or if Cabrera can maintain his small work sample on a longer period, before deciding whether or not to request an external upgrade at the trade deadline.
Hicks had a lot of shortcomings in 2022, but he was still walking at a strong 13.7% clip and if he can regain even a little of the power he showed in the past, he could still be a reasonably productive player. Cabrera was exceptional on the field last year, earning 9 defensive runs saved in 278 2/3 outside innings, while posting a 111 wRC+ at the plate. He also struggled mightily in the playoffs, going 2 for 28 with 12 strikeouts. Either way, he may be more valuable to the Yankees as someone who can play all the way up the field rather than in a fixed position, allowing the Yankees to spell out some of their veterans on a more consistent basis.
Florial d’Estevan is the other inside option the Yankees will have to make a decision on. A tooled-up former top-100 prospect, Florial has found rare opportunities over the past three seasons (just 63 board appearances) but is out of options and therefore can’t be sent to the minors without being exposed to waivers. He hit Triple-A well and the Yankees could give him a long run in the majors, but Sherman believes the Yankees could trade him before the season opener. Although his commercial value is no longer particularly high, many teams – especially those under reconstruction – would surely like to give him an extended opportunity in the big leagues to see if they can exploit his potential.
The Yankees have also been aggressive in recent weeks by stockpiling outfield depth in the minors. They signed Willie Calhoun, Billy McKinney and Raphael Ortega to minor league deals, and Sherman notes that they checked in on Kole Calhoun also. Calhoun and McKinney look like deep pieces, but Ortega is a nice addition. He had a 122 wRC+ for the Cubs in 330 board appearances in 2021, and while he’s dropped to 96 in 2022, he looks like a possible option for the Yankees. As a left-handed hitter, he could also benefit from playing regularly at Yankee Stadium, so a strong spring could see him work his way into the team’s plans at the big league level.