Giancarlo: Part 2
By Cary Greene
January 15, 2013
Giancarlo Stanton’s Value to the Yankees
In the Giancarlo: Part 1 article in this series on Giancarlo Stanton’s Value to the Yankees, I reviewed his injury history and went in depth on Stanton’s defensive acumen, illustrating that he is and always has been a mostly average defensive player. In the fan comments, we batted this notion around, with much discussion focused on his primary position being right field. There was some skepticism regarding his defensive aptitude. I cited what I consider to be definitive proof of my thesis StatCast, Fangrpahs and even basic Fielding Percentage data to show that over his career, Stanton has been a solid fielder - one who’s in fact playable.
The Yankees Plan to Deploy Stanton
Aaron Boone and the Yankees obviously know this, or they wouldn’t be planning on going with the plan that Yankees manager Aaron Boone discussed with MLB.COM's Bryan Hoch recently. Because Stanton remains a viable defensive option, Boone envisions using him in right field at Yankee Stadium, on days when Aaron Judge is at DH (or presumably enjoying an off day here and there), while also deploying him in left field on a part time basis when not at Yankee Stadium. Boone said, “Hopefully, physically, he’s in a space where he’s playing the outfield in spurts all year long” and this comment pretty much sums up the situation.
If Stanton is healthy enough, he will play the field on a part time basis, possibly in similar fashion to how the Yankees were scripting his usage last season, though things have changed a bit in the Bronx.
Stanton’s 2022 Usage
Last season, the Yankees broke camp with a startling plan to use Aaron Judge a lot in center field. Cashman wasn’t able to find a suitable alternative in the last off-season's market and this plan was fine with Judge of course as he played center field in college, while at Fresno State, so he was quite comfortable and capable as he rose to the challenge and put up a season for the ages.
With Judge in center field a lot, playing time opened in right field and seeing as how Boone wanted to get the scorching hot and newly acquired Matt Carpenter’s bat into the lineup, the Yankees were happy to play Stanton in the outfield. For the first three months of the season, the plan was working really well. Stanton was playing 49-percent of the time in the outfield, with Judge in center field. But, by the time the Trade Deadline rolled around in early August, Stanton was injured, Aaron Hicks was grossly underperforming and it was apparent that Joey Gallo was a total bust in pinstripes. Cashman needed to seriously address the Yankees outfield, save for Judge’s incredibly great play, the Yankees outfield was a disaster.
Adjusting the Outfield Plan Mid-Season
Cashman sprung into action as the Deadline approached and pulled off a trade with the Royals for left fielder Andrew Benintendi and then, in surprising Deadline-day deal last season, Cashman traded fan favorite Jordan Montgomery to the Cardinals for center fielder Harrison Bader, who was injured at the time but he eventually went on to pretty much play like Mickey Mantle in the playoffs -while Montgomery, the moment he was dealt, turned into Sandy Koufax for the Cardinals but was ultimately reduced to bullpen duty in the postseason.
This move wound up costing the Yankees a ton of money because, down a left-handed starter with “Monty” traded, Cashman had to sign Carlos Rodon earlier this offseason to balance and of course upgrade the rotation. That said, it remains to be seen whether or not Bader can make it through the 2023 season injury free, but if he does go down and the Yankees stand pat (which seems unlikely), the Yankees will either have to use a depth piece like Estevan Florial, or shift Aaron Judge back to center field.
How Much Gas is Left in Stanton’s Tank?
It’s too early to tell what the Yankees will need in 2023 defensively from Stanton, but presently Boone is hoping Stanton starts the season healthy enough to be at least a part-time option primarily in right field with a little bit of left field sprinkled in as well. Given that the team is set to begin the season with the chronically underperforming Aaron Hicks and the promising but untested rookie Oswaldo Cabreara as the two most likely options play left field, could it be possible for Stanton to take on a moderately more substantial role in the left field mix? For this to happen, the Yankees would need to be motivated to open the DH spot up for a player who made sense, but presently the team has no such player on the roster. They’d also need Stanton to remain healthy enough to be counted on and that’s a really big ask of course.
Last season, Stanton began the season healthy enough to play the field and the Yankees were on board as they rolled out what announcers began to call the “Jumbo Package,” a spread that included Stanton, Aaron Judge and Joey Gallo forming a herculean outfield.
In the Yankees second game of the season at Yankee Stadium, Stanton played right field for the first time, going 1-3 with a home run and two runs batted in against the Red Sox. Over the next 78 game stretch and subtracting out four games he was only used as a pinch hitter, the Yankees played Stanton in the outfield in 38 of them (49 percent of the time). In 34 of those games, he was deployed in right field (90 percent of them), which is his natural position.
On July 26th though, Stanton was placed on the disabled list with tendonitis in his left Achilles and upon his return a month later, on August 25th, the Yankees were forced to play it safe and use him only as a designated hitter from that point forward.
Considering that Stanton, who is very slow afoot, actually is a perfectly acceptable defensive player by any major defensive metrics we’d care to use, and also factoring in that the Yankees know this and are hoping he’s in a good place health wise to start the season because they’re perfectly comfortable playing him on the corners when and where it makes sense and as the need arises, the three questions this series of articles need to answer become:
1. Does history show if there is any benefit to playing Stanton in the outfield opposed to instead using him as the de facto designated-hitter? After all, seeing as how he’s only an average defensive outfielder, what’s in it for the Yankees?
2. Will Stanton be able to be healthy enough to be counted on as a part time defensive option?
3. Why haven’t the Yankees acquired a good left fielder yet to round out the roster?
Today I’ll address the first two questions, starting with an exploration of how the Yankees have deployed Stanton since acquiring him from the Marlins in 2018 and looking at the results he’s delivered. Next I’ll look at what’s stopped the Yankees from acting to shore up left field and then, some fancy footwork using PECOTA Player-Comps will attempt to satisfy what the Yankees are in for in relation to Stanton’s health and production going forward.
How Have the Yankees Deployed Stanton?
Framing how the Yankees have changed their usage/deployment of Stanton is the first piece to understanding his pinstriped value to date.
● 2022 - Stanton was the designated-hitter in 63-percent of the games he played in. Prior to his ankle and Achilles injuries, the Yankees were easing him into the outfield, but that usage understandably diminished due to the nature of the running-related limitations of these two separate injuries which impacted him in the second-half of the season. Still, playing 37-percent of his games in the outfield was a big win for him and the Yankees.
With Stanton flexing from DH to outfield, the Yankee lineup was tons more dynamic and the team streaked out to a garish 56-21 record (.727) over the first three months of the season. Freeing up the DH position allowed the Yankees to fit Matt Carpenter’s red-hot bat into the lineup and with his 60% pull rate, pairing with Anthony Rizzo’s sweet swing, the Yankees were peppering the short porch and protecting both Judge and Stanton in the lineup.
It was noticeable that when Stanton was playing the field, admittedly in a small sample size consisting of only 76 at-bats, Stanton was mashing. He posted a triple-slash line of .259/.316/.524 with an .841 OPS, .265 ISO, a .350 wOBA and a 133 wRC+ as an outfielder in 2022.
Considering his xwOBA was .351 last season, these numbers are in-line with the results that StatCast says he should have performed at based on the type of contact he makes. This means that Stanton performed to his potential when he was playing the field last season. Yet why then was wOBA of .327 on the season so much lower?
The main reason is that Stanton’s performance, when used strictly as a designated-hitter, was far worse and so it dragged the impact he could make down significantly and this greatly reduced his value to the team. Last season, over 249 at-bats as a designated-hitter, Stanton slashed .189/.290/.438 with a .728 OPS, a League-average .316 wOBA and a wRC+ of only 107.
Any replacement-level designated-hitter could have done this for the Yankees. Now imagine if that replacement-level designated-hitter was a two-way player? Imagine the impact that could have on the team? This begs the question, has Stanton always been far worse as a designated-hitter or were his 2022 results just small sample-size noise?
● 2021 - Stanton was the Designated-Hitter in 81-percent of the games he played in. He was still battling lingering effects of his 2020 hamstring injury and then with the quadriceps strain, the Yankees opted to be cautious with regard to using him defensively. Still, when playing the field, his numbers were “through-the-roof” and markedly better than when he was the designated-hitter.
While playing the field, again in a small sample size this time consisting of only 96 at-bats, he slashed .274/.342/.575 with an OPS of .917, a tremendous ISO of .301, an off-the-charts wOBA of .441 and an incredible 180 wRC+.
Unfortunately, as a designated-hitter, the results were much worse, though still productive and worth having his bat in the lineup. In a large sample size of 409 at-bats, he slashed .267/.351/.491 with a still good .843 OPS, a .225 ISO, a .360 wOBA and a wRC+ of 130. Most MLB teams would gladly accept this level of performance from their designated-hitter.
● 2020 - The Pandemic-shortened 2020 season, in which Stanton was dealing with a lingering hamstring issue, caused the Yankees to be conservative with Stanton and he was deployed exclusively at designated hitter. Not only did he have a very impactful regular season, but he was a human wrecking ball in the expanded-format playoffs in the 2020 postseason. The Yankees strategy here was spot-on.
On the season, Stanton slashed .250/387/.500 with an .887 OPS, .250 ISO, a .379 wOBA and a 143 wRC+. Stanton was truly a fearsome designated-hitter in this small-sample size of a season, which for him consisted of only 76 at-bats.
● 2019 - This was a lost season as Stanton only tallied 59 at-bats. Still, he was clearly offensively better when playing the field opposed to when he functioned as the designated-hitter.
● 2018 - Stanton’s first year in pinstripes saw him carry the team in the second-half of the season, when Aaron Judge went out with injuries. Stanton actually played through a nagging hamstring problem, putting up a full season offensively. In order to keep Stanton’s bat in the lineup, the Yankees were forced to move him to designated-hitter. The results were interesting. Stanton played ridiculously better when he was the designated-hitter and not in the outfield.
● Career Numbers - All data considered, Stanton is clearly better offensively when he’s playing the field, in fact, he’s easily an All-Star level performer, posting a gaudy .385 wOBA and an a heart of the order 148 wRC+, as well as elevated ISO, OPS, Slugging, OBP and even hitting with a higher batting average to boot.
Some players just perform better when they’re playing regularly in the field and this is clearly and certainly the case with Giancarlo Stanton.
Why the Yankees Didn’t Acquire a Left Fielder
It appears that the Yankees know the numbers discussed in this series of articles also. Given that the team didn’t sign or trade for a premium left fielder, I think a plan using a combination of players, Stanton included, makes sense for the Yankees at this point in time. The main reason for this is because the Yankees are in full “stop-gap” mode. It might not be the plan many Yankees fans wanted to see, but this is what the Yankees have been doing for over two years now. Hal Steinbrenner ultimately doesn’t want to be a perennial big spender. The Yankees are in the final leg of executing a partial youth-movement. Cashman has miraculously held on to both Oswald Peraza and Anthony Volpe.
Not to mention, Jasson Dominguez and Everson Pereira are both prospects that many scouts feel project as viable big-league outfielders and Cashman has hung on to them as well. The Yankees so far have the second-highest payroll in MLB this season. Granted, the offseason is only really at the halfway mark and most teams have some moves to make yet, but Cashman’s payroll, though bloated, does have about $100-million coming off the books at the end of the coming season.
Granted, several key players are in their final year of team control this season, but in terms of outfielders, Harrison Bader is the only one in his final year of arbitration-eligibility therefore, he becomes a free agent for the first time at the start of next offseason. For the 2024 Season, The Yankees will have Aaron Judge (8-years, $40-mil AAV), Giancarlo Stanton (4-years, $29.5-mil AAV) and Aaron Hicks (2-years, $9.5-mil AAV) all under long-term control.
Putting the Yankees Outfield Payroll Allocation in Perspective
When we look at the payroll each MLB team has on the books for the 2024 season, the Yankees are clearly at critical mass in that department. Clearly Hal Steinbrenner, though open to upgrading the lineup and the bullpen, wants Cashman to slash some payroll before adding any more pieces and the obvious goal is not to exceed the CBT’s fourth tier, which is set at $293 million.
Taking on more payroll allocated to the outfield would only have made sense if Brian Cashman could have traded Aaron Hicks or Josh Donaldson, without having to eat much, if any, of their contracts. Thus far this offseason, Hicks or Donaldson has been a big ask, though there is time left to accomplish something. Presently, for 2024, the Yankees have a total outfield spend of $81.8-million on the books - $28.4-million more than even the Mets, who are next on the list.
It’s not that the Yankees didn’t want to acquire a stopgap left fielder who could provide a substantial upgrade to either Oswaldo Cabrera or Aaron Hicks, they’ve been actively loitering in both the left field free agent and trade markets this season. It seems like finding one that fits the budget or the prospect ask that Cashman’s comfortable with has been a challenge thus far.
Many of the players on the free agent market signed for multiple years and a high-AAV as well. The fact is that with Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Hicks on the roster, there wasn’t a single free agent outfielder who made sense.
Playing left field in Yankee Stadium requires wheels, Yankees fans well know this - thinking back to vintage Brett Gardner (45.8 UZR/150 in 2010) in recent memory, while also recalling names from the past such as Bob Meusel, Roy White, Tom Tresh, Hector Lopez and Gene Woodling shows that the Yankees are at their best with strong defensive outfielders. Other lesser defenders have also platooned or even manned the position well enough, carried by their bats - players like Hideki Matsui and Lou Pinella come to mind.
Decidedly right-handed, the Yankees scoured the top names on this year’s free agent list, consisting of Brandon Nimmo (a great all around fit), Andrew Benintendi (an average defender), Masataka Yoshida (seemingly a good fit) and Michael Brantley (who was highly questionable due to his poor defensive aptitude), but all signed contracts elsewhere. Yoshida agreed to terms with the Red Sox, signing for five-years and $90 million. Nimmo signed with the Mets for eight-years and $162 million and Benintendi ultimately landed with the White Sox, signing for 5-years and $75 million.
There were a few other free agents who made sense, but the Yankees weren’t linked much to Michael Brantley or Micheal Conforto. Brantley was scooped up by the Astros on a one-year, $12 million deal and Conforto was nabbed by the Giants for two-years and $36 million. It appears that both required too much of a financial commitment for Cashman to feel comfortable with, given the health related question marks tied to both players.
On the tradefront, the Blue Jays moved the best catching prospect in baseball, Gabriel Moreno, as part of a terrific package to acquire the Diamondback's Daulton Varsho. Meanwhile, the Pirates want a similar return, but prefer a package centered on high end, nearly ready pitching prospects, for All Star Bryan Reynolds.
This has left the Yankees between a rock and a hard-place if the goal is to acquire a left fielder who represents a significant upgrade. Brian Cashman basically has four choices.
1. Trade at least one of Dominguez or Pereira and numerous other prospects like Volpe, Peraza, Austin Wells, Trey Sweeney or possibly others still to secure a player who would be a significant upgrade in left field and who is also a longer term fit - like Bryan Reynolds for example - all the while staying below the apparent budget of $293-million (as set by team owner Hal Steinbrenner).
This option interferes with the Yankees partial youth movement. The price, in terms of prospects, for a player like Reynolds is incredibly steep and the Yankees don’t even match up well with the Pirates as they’re looking for high-end pitching prospects.
2. Stay with the current plan/roster and try to cobble together a solution as best as possible, dumpster diving to find depth options like Rafael Ortega, Billy McKinney and Michael Hermosillio - “holding the fort” until such time as a top-prospect can play his way into the Yankees outfield.
A plan like this relies too much on Aaron Hicks and it means the unproven Oswaldo Cabrera, who’s projected to be a 105 wRC+ player in 2023, is a starter instead of being a utility player - which is truly a better use of his versatility and talent level. Unless - the Yankees went for it and experimented with Stanton playing three or four days a week in the outfield. Could he hold up and if yes, who would replace him as the DH?
DJ LeMahieu could slot in at third base for the lion’s share of the playing time, while alternating with Aaron Judge, Josh Donaldson and of course Stanton - all mixed in at DH.
3. Trade for a player who would represent a moderate upgrade and also fit the 2023 budget (not an easy task).
Perhaps this option is still something Cashman can look into. Part-3 of this series will address this possibility and outline some top remaining options. It will also compare the likely production gained versus what the production would be if the Yankees stand pat.
4. Do the unthinkable and promote the strikeout prone Estevan Florial - giving him a chance to platoon and possibly stick. He’s toolsy, he’s only 25-years-old, he’s fast, he can play center field in a pinch and he’ll likely be only a phone call away, stashed at Triple-A in Scranton. Part-3 of this series also considers what a full season of Florial in left field might look like.
The Problem Going Forward
Going forward, one way or another, both left field and center field are areas the Yankees will need to address. For a team like the Yankees, with the second highest payroll in MLB this season, which seemingly reflects a Cashman designed, Steinbrenner backed attempt at being “all in” towards winning a 28th World Series championship, balancing a roster capable of doing that is like making a world class pasta sauce - it’s all about the ingredients.
On one hand, making it through the 2023 season should be easy enough. The current recipe to accomplish that with the roster as presently constructed, according to Boone’s statement previously mentioned in the article, is to have Giancarlo Stanton not only fill in for Judge when the reigning home run king is at DH, but also to have Stanton “spell” left field when the Yankees are on the road.
In center field, the Yankees are one Harrison Bader injury away from having to get creative, with the most likely solution being to shift Oswaldo Cabrera to right field and use Giancarlo Stanton there as well while also shifting Judge to center field, but a plan such as that depends on all parties concerned being healthy. If Hicks, Judge or Stanton were to get injured yet again, the Yankees would probably need to start making offerings to the strikeout gods in the hope that Estevan Florial can somehow miraculously put it all together and force his way into the mix.
Personally speaking, I think it’s strategically short sighted to approve such a backup plan, but Cashman often does things like this and then, when the plan falls apart well before the deadline, he winds up having to put together a plan to trade for a piece or two that he should have put in place with more apropos due diligence and planning.
Another thing Cashman’s current Yankees plan doesn’t address is the team’s distinct lack of productive left-handed bats. Given that the Yankees aren’t projected to get much offensive value out of the present roster from the left field, shortstop or catching positions - the bottom of the Yankees lineup is likely going to continue to be a black hole in terms of lack of production.