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Centerfield…

Centerfield…

by Cary Greene

November 29, 2021

***

During the end of July this past season, I contemplated the Yankees issues in centerfield and I did an article where I ranked the available centerfield candidates, carefully considering what the other teams might want in return and also looking carefully at years of team control. Some of the teams who had tradable players chose to stand pat and not move the asset. Other teams acted and improved their farm systems. I’m going to ask you, our readers, for some answers to some very difficult questions in this article. We’re also going to sort out the current situation in the Yankees outfield, with a focus on centerfield.

The Ranger were an example of an out of contention team pressing all the right buttons, as they traded Joey Gallo to the Yankees and received quite a prospect haul in return. In retrospect, I believe it was an outstanding trade by the Rangers.

An example of non-forward thinking non-contending teams who chose to do nothing with players they could have traded can be found by examining the Orioles, the Pirates, and the Royals. The Orioles still have their highly coveted centerfielder, Cedric Mullins, who is under team control until through 2025. They also have almost zero chance of contending this coming season, so it is pretty pointless to continue to hang onto him. The Pirates still have their highly coveted centerfielder, Bryan Reynolds, who is also under team control through 2025, but like the Orioles, they are clearly a team that needs to focus on rebuilding.

In my article this past July, I prioritized Joey Gallo as the best fit for the Yankee outfield and Boone chose to play him in left field rather than center field, which was perfectly fine because the Yankees happened to have a massive opening there as well.

At the time, I wrote:

Do I believe, for example, that the Rangers are actually trying to work out a deal to keep Joey Gallo in Texas right now? Well, I suppose it’s possible. They have the money and the brand new ballpark. Gallo is their best player and he’s the face of the franchise, but then I look at the standings and see the nice job they did in the draft this year and I couple that with the Rangers being publicly 100% all in on rebuilding and the notion of retaining Gallo doesn’t add up. Wouldn’t they want to accelerate their rebuild by trading a player who’s trade value assures them a chance at the bright future they are building towards?Bluffing! That’s what the Rangers are doing right now. They’re driving the price even higher on Gallo than it already is. They’re giving themselves leverage. Why do I not believe them? Because I analyzed their farm system and I know that they would love to snare a nearly ready shortstop to pair with stud third base prospect Davis Wendzel, who also is getting close to being ready. The plan is for the Rangers to cement the left side of the infield and they need to trade a player valuable enough to bring a player(s) like that into their system. No doubt, Cashman is also going to find the competition to be very stiff if he wants a needle moving centerfielder like Joey Gallo. Teams with assets this time of year are in “lets find a sucker” mode and they’re playing all sorts of shrewd mind-games. Cashman is good at sifting through all this and the clock striking midnight does tend to call even the shrewdest GM’s bluffs.

I then asked each reader to ponder this question: “Is what the Yankees are getting right now from their centerfielders indeed so bad that Cashman needs to make addressing centerfield his top priority?”

Brain Cashman was successful in trading for Gallo, with many teams in hot pursuit. The deal went down like this:

Yankees got: OF/DH Joey Gallo; LHP Joely Rodríguez; cash considerations

Rangers got: SS Josh Smith (Yankees’ No. 14 prospect per MLB Pipeline); 2B Ezequiel Duran (No. 15); 2B/OF Trevor Hauver (No. 23); RHP Glenn Otto (No. 28)

Gallo of course wasn’t very good in pinstripes and Rangers seem to have easily won this deal that was necessitated by poor planning by Brian Cashman and the rest is water under the bridge at this point. Why do you think, did the Yankees lose this trade badly?

The Yankees have Gallo under control for the upcoming season and he is projected to earn a little over $10 million this year. Should they move on from Gallo or keep him, baking on the hopes that he might have a big bounce back year offensively?

Also, Gallo is a very athletic player who is pretty durable all things considered. Should the Yankees not only keep Gallo, but extend him now, while he may take a lesser deal than what he might get if he bounces back? Say, 4 years for 60 or $70 million?

The answer to these Gallo-related questions kind of sets up what the Yankees might do, now that the offseason is actively happening.

With all of this in mind, let’s now revisit the centerfield market and while we’re at it, let’s consider the Yankee outfield as a whole. Does it make sense for the Yankees to make a trade or does it make sense to sign the best available centerfielder left on the board, to fix what has become a very serious flaw in the team’s construction? Centerfield is certainly a problem that isn’t going away and Brian Cashman has acknowledged this during offseason interviews.

Primarily, the reason the Yankees have a problem in center field is that Aaron Hicks has been a massive disappointment. Hicks is under contract for five more seasons, which is amazingly bad when we consider that he’s virtually untradable because of the contract considering his performance and injury history. Would any team in baseball want to take on a significant contract to obtain a player with such a poor injury track record?

Aaron Hicks has only managed to average 166 at-bats over the past three seasons, yet he is owed a staggering $53 million over the next five years. That would be a bargain contract if could stay on the field, but he can’t and so here we are, trying to figure out how to fix the mess that Cashman’s decision to commit to the injury prone Hicks has created.

Substantial assets were traded this past trade deadline in order to fix the Yankees’ many needs. Recently, a few days before the Rule 5 Draft, the Yankees’ deadline maneuvers also left important depth unprotected and it was subsequently lost. Each season, in advance of the Rule 5 deadline, bargain hunting teams have opportunities to prosper at the expense of baseball’s more glutenous teams.

The Yankees lost a number of depth pieces this year as Cashman struggled to create needed roster spots to protect younger players who became eligible for the Rule 5 draft due to the accumulation of service time. The players the Yankees lost that really impact this particular conversation are Greg Allen and Tim Locastro. Allen was swooped up by the Pirates and Locastro was grabbed by Boston.

Now, the Yankees organizational depth in centerfield is quite a bit thinner, with Estevan Florial being the player most projections are forecasting to get over 200 MLB at bats this coming season. It appears that the Yankees protected him for a reason and that perhaps, Florial is indeed part of the plan this coming season.

Presently, the Yankees have an outfield of Joey Gallo, Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, and Aaron Hicks. If we add Florial to this mix and perhaps make a few depth signings, could the Yankees make that work for 2022 or should they make a deal for another outfielder? That’s the million dollar question we are here to debate today.

The Yankees could play Aaron Judge, backed up by Hicks and perhaps Florial, in center field. They could also try Gallo in center field and again use Hicks and Florial as insurance. A plan like that would shift Stanton into duty a bit more and also probably keep the DH spot open so that Judge and Stanton both get plenty of rest.

My argument is that standing pat is a big mistake, but if the Yankees wind up doing that, I think it would be best to play Gallo in centerfield this season, backed up by Hicks and or Florial. The reason I don’t like the idea of doing this is more lineup related. I’d rather have some speed to mix in because I think the “jumbo package” outfield makes the Yankees too slow on the bases. I also feel that Gallo should be traded because he’s not the kind of hitter that can protect a power hitter. All too often, opposing teams pitch around whomever bats in front of Gallo and then they go after Gallo, looking for the strikeout.

I’d like to see the Yankees add a centerfielder, but there isn’t a free agent centerfielder left on the market who could slot into the Yankee outfield and actually help it significantly. Top remaining names left include 36 year-old Ian Desmond, 33 year-old Adam Duval, and 37 year-old Jarrod Dyson. Oh, and Brett Gardner would be next on this list, followed by Billy Hamilton. Honestly, none of the squeeze is worth the juice here. There is nothing to see, please keep moving, eyes on the sidewalk. Am I wrong here?

Therefore, the only move that makes any sense and that would improve the Yankees is to make a trade. Asking prices are extremely high on both players that fit the Yankees needs. In my article this past deadline, I projected what trades might like for both the Orioles Cedric Mullins and the Pirates Bryan Reynolds.

I’ll update these trade proposals in a moment, but here’s the kind of asking prices Brian Cashman was looking at this past July. Keep in mind, opposing teams often alter packages by subbing in minor leaguers that their scouts are high on. These trade proposals reflect both Mullin’s and Reynold’s deadline value and also reflect the corresponding trade value of each player proposed in the deal.

My 2021 Trade Deadline Proposal for Orioles Cedric Mullins:

Yankees Get: CF Cedric Mullins – MLB 1 Time All-Star

Orioles Get: RHSP Deivi Garcia – AAA, RHSP Luis Gil – AA, CF Estevan Florial – AAA, SS Anthony Volpe – A+ & 2B Josh Smith – A+

*According to MLBTRADEVALUES.COM: Volpe’s trade value has almost doubled due to performance. He is now rated as the best hitting prospect in MLB. Smith’s value has quadrupled due to stellar performance, Gil’s value has gone up a bit again due to performance. Florial’s value has remained very low, though it was at one point in time extremely high but that was a few seasons ago and Mullin’s value has dropped a smidge due to loss of service time not performance. The Orioles would have won this trade, a half a season later.

My 2021 Trade Deadline Proposal for Pirates Bryan Reynolds:

Yankees Get: SH-CF Bryan Reynolds – MLB 2 Time All-Star

Pirates Get: RHSP Deivi Garcia – AAA, RHSP Clarke Schmidt – AAA, CF Estevan Florial – AAA, 2B Ezequiel Duran – A+, LHSP TJ Sikkema – A

*Reynold’s value has gone up a solid chunk due to performance and in spite of loss of service time. Garcia’s trade value has plummeted right off the charts due to performance, Schmidt’s value has dropped by 50% due to lack of innings and injury, Duran’s value has gone up significantly due to performance and Sikkema’s value has dropped significantly due to injury.

My Current Trade Proposals for Mullins and Reynolds:

Fast forward to today and much has changed since the deadline and so here are my updated proposals, so that we might understand exactly how high the cost is on both Mullins and Reynolds. The Orioles have baseball’s best farm system per MLB.com and yet they lack a blue chip shortstop. The Yankees have two of them in the pipeline so the two teams absolutely line up.

Brain Cashman would unfortunately need to part with his absolute top trade chips to have any shot of making this trade happen. This is because All-Star center fielders are among the most valuable players in the game. Baltimore would also be 100% in on nearly ready, high end pitching prospects. This deal would go a long way towards scuttling the Yankees system. I hate to see Cashman make this trade, as much as I would love to see Mullins in pinstripes. It’s a trade the Orioles would probably strongly consider, based on their stated needs.

It’s also not a great idea to make the American League East more competitive and so I doubt either team would want to trade with one another. If the Yankees did trade with the Orioles despite this, New York would be getting a true center fielder who is fresh off a career best .291/.360/.518 season in which he put up an .878 OPS, posted a +5.3 WAR while popping 30 home runs and swiping 30 bases and playing -1 DRS/-5.7 UZR level defense. His true value is on the offensive side of the ball.

Current 2021-22 Offseason Trade for Orioles Cedric Mullins:

Yankees Get: LH-CF Cedric Mullins – MLB 1 Time All Star (former SH prior to 2021)

Orioles Get: RH-SS Anthony Volpe – Double A, RH-SP Luis Gil – Triple-A, RH-SP Luis Medina, Double-A

If the Yankees preferred to trade for the Pirates two-time All-Star Bryan Reynolds, the price would be even higher. Reynolds is fresh off a .302/.390/.522 season while recording a .912 OPS, 24 home runs and 90 RBI. Reynolds is not a strong base runner, though he does get on base at a very high clip.

The Pirates have the fourth best farm system in baseball and they’re quietly amassing quite a prospect stash. The switch-hitting Reynolds is by far the Pirates biggest trade chip and what they extract for him in a trade will go a long ways towards shaping the future of this rebuilding franchise.

Pittsburgh would be looking for high-end completely ready or nearly nearly ready starting pitching and likely, some outfield help and a mix of tantalizing prospects. The Bucs don’t necessarily covet a shortstop prospect as they need too much help with the current team to stockpile shortstops and they already have two nice ones in the pipeline in Oneil Cruz and Liover Peguero. That said, they might do a deal if the Yankees kicked in their two top prospects and one of them does happen to be a shortstop.

I’d hate to see this trade made, mainly because Reynold’s doesn’t really project to be center fielder down the road and his value is at an all-time high. I’m a believer in Anthony Volpe and I hope the Yankees manage to hang on to him as they navigate the trade waters this offseason.

Current 2021-22 Offseason Trade for Pirates Bryan Reynolds:

Yankees Get: SH-CF Bryan Reynolds – MLB 2 Time All-Star

Pirates Get: SH-CF Jasson Dominguez, LH-RF – RH-SS Anthony Volpe, Double-A, RH-SP Deivi Garcia – Triple-A, RH-SP Domingo German

* The Pirates might actually want to tinker with the bit-prospect in this deal as they may not have any interest in Deivi Garcia, who’s value has plummeted to an all time low. In that case, they’d want Estevan Florial and perhaps another pitching prospect such as Stephen Ridings.

***

Given the steep trade values for elite center fielders, I don’t see Brian Cashman making any major deals. I think it’s almost a certainty that the Yankees will hang on to Joey Gallo and look to perhaps add a few outfielders on minor league deals, much like they did last season. It also appears that they are fairly likely to bring Brett Gardner back for insurance purposes. This plan doesn’t thrill me. It’s not what I would have done, but given the alternatives, what is Brian Cashman to do?

Cashman could trade with the Twins for the often injured Byron Buxton, who is looking for a big payday. Given the commitment and injury history involving Aaron Hicks, this doesn’t seem like a wise move. Another direction that Cashman could turn is to the Diamondbacks and Ketel Marte, but is Marte capable of playing center field in Yankee stadium, given his hamstring injuries and his inadequate defense?

Anyone in the Judge should be the center fielder camp should consider that Judge isn’t really a MLB caliber center fielder. Yes he can play the position but his numbers showed that this isn’t the best place to put him on the diamond and certainly doing that regularly exposes a hulking, injury prone player to possible lower body injuries.

Gallo on the other hand, his numbers suggest he can play the position. I’d rather see the Yankees go to Gallo backed up by Florial and or whomever. I’m also not enthused about yet another year of Brett Gardner.

However, this article is about what Cashman will most likely do and I’d look for Cashman to endorse a combination of Aaron Judge, possibly Joey Gallo, Brett Gardner, and Estevan Florial to represent the plan Brian Cashman will go with for centerfield, barring any smaller trades for a Mike Tauchman type player.

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