Spring Training Invites: Outfield
Pitchers and Catchers have reported, and here is our last installment of looking at some last-minute free agent help.
Outfield Needs for 2023:
On the surface, for a casual fan of the New York Yankees, it would appear that they have plenty of depth in the outfield. This is anything but the truth. They have depth, but they also have a serious need for a true starter to play left field.
As it currently stands, the Yankees are going to go into the 2023 season with Aaron Judge (right), Harrison Bader (center), and Aaron Hicks (left) as their starting outfielders. This is a recipe for disaster. Aaron Hicks has been a liability for the Yankees in health and performance and Harrison Bader- as much as he's (quickly) become a fan favorite- shares similar concerns. It is also worth noting that Aaron Judge cannot and should not be expected to repeat his 2022 performance.
Behind them, the Yankees have Oswaldo Cabrera. That's it for depth at the MLB level. Giancarlo Stanton cannot be trusted to be a back-up outfielder. He's been unable to stay healthy (for the most part) as a designated hitter. There should be no hope that he'll be around for any long-term injury replacement. In Triple A, the Yankees will have Estevan Florial, Rafael Ortega, Willie Calhoun, Billy McKinney, Brandon Lockridge, and Jeisson Rosario, among others. Some of these names were former MLB'ers, others are some current and former solid prospects. After them, the Yankees are also hoping on Jasson Dominguez (though not likely for this season), Everson Periera, and Spencer Jones.
I hope the need does not come up. I hope Judge and Bader and Hicks are all healthy for the whole season. I hope they all are positive offensive players. I don't believe it though.
Jackie Bradley Jr.:
2022 MLB Team: Boston Red Sox & Toronto Blue Jays
2022 MLB Stats: 131 Games, .203/.255/.311 (58 OPS+), 70 Hits, 4 HR, 38 RBI's, -0.4 bWAR
Experience: 10 MLB Seasons (2013-2022)
It's been two back-to-back negative bWAR seasons for Jackie Bradley Jr., though I still would hold out a little bit of faith in his for one last shot. He's a former gold glove winning center fielder and his defense is still good, though not great. It was the hallmark of his consistent performance as he was a 2+ WAR player for 6 straight seasons from 2015 through 2020.
The problem for JBJ is that his combined OPS+ over the last two seasons has been 45. That's not a typo either. He's been 55% WORSE than the average hitter in the American League over the past two seasons. On it's surface, that would be grounds to completely avoid him. It's probably the right move. However, I will concede that I consider the Yankees outfield depth to be on the edge of desperate. And desperate times call for some outside of the box thinking.
Should the Yankees target him? Jackie Bradley Jr. is a former first round draft pick. He's a former gold glove winning outfielder. He's a left-handed hitter, and he does have some decent speed left in his legs. I'm not saying he'd be my "golden ticket" player to go after, but I cannot see how giving him another Spring Training isn't worth it. It's a one-in-a-million shot and we've seen Cashman enjoy these types of reclamation projects in the past. I say, why not?
2022 MLB Team: Detroit Tigers & Atlanta Braves
2022 MLB Stats: 129 Games, .209/.310/.311 (80 OPS+), 86 Hits, 7 HR, 45 RBI's, +0.8 bWAR
Experience: 10 MLB Seasons (2013-22)
Robbie Grossman, from 2016 through 2021, was an above-average hitter across the league while playing mostly in left field. He's also listed as a switch hitter. However, during the 2022 season (as seen in his stats above) he took a negative turn. Could we say that he is coming off the end of his "peak years" as a player who will be entering his age-33 season? Likely that is a factor. However, I think these numbers could be greatly improved in one simple way.
Robbie Grossman should be a right-handed hitter only. Last year he hit .320 as a right-handed batter (against left-handed pitching). He also hit .163 as a left-handed batter (against right-handed pitching). Understandably, there are a lot more right-handed pitchers in the league, but he was teeing off on lefties. I'd bring him in right now, no questions asked, on a contingency that he'd work the entire spring on hitting from just one side of the plate. Often times we hear this story from the other way around, of a player learning to switch-hit late in their careers. I'd want the opposite from Grossman. He can still hit. He can still hit well. Just remove the negative stimulus.
Should the Yankees target him? 100% absolutely. He is flying under the radar for every team and how they cannot see a better than .300 batting average just waiting in the wings is beyond me. He's also just a single year removed from a 20+ home run season in 2021. He's a prime candidate to be a bounce-back candidate in 2023 and I think the Yankees should realize that their defensive potential is fine between Judge and Bader. Grossman would provide another good bat. That's what they need.
2022 MLB Team: Cincinnati Reds & New York Mets
2022 MLB Stats: 105 Games, .229/.282/.423 (93 OPS+), 71 Hits, 11 HR, 46 RBI's, -0.3 bWAR
Experience: 7 MLB Seasons (2016-2022)
Maybe Tyler Naquin could solve the outfield worries. A true left-handed hitter with some pop, bringing in Naquin would also be quite funny as one of the big Cleveland outfielders during a time when the Yankees were seriously looking at them. The Yankees have seen Clint "Jackson" Frazier fail to make a name for himself in the league, maybe they should see if Naquin has a final shot of glory. (Speaking of, what is Bradley Zimmer up to?)
Jokes aside, Naquin is still a solid ballplayer on both sides of the ball. He's more in-line with the current Yankees hitting philosophy of selling out for power, and he has some decent pop (and should be able to take advantage of the short porch). He's also not a defensive liability, which is usually the trade-off. Consider him the dollar store version of Brett Gardner. He won't win any awards, or make an All-Star team, but he's a solid all-around player who is just good enough to keep himself around.
Should the Yankees target him? If Jackie Bradley Jr. is too much of an offensive liability and Grossman is too much of a defensive liability, then maybe the best player to go for is someone who slots right in between the both. That's Naquin. As you should know, I am also a big fan of going after the left-handed bat, and Naquin fits that mold too. He's surprisingly going to be 32 this season (I would've thought he was going to be 29 or so), but that seems to be the standard age of these outfielders who are still without a job in 2023. He'd be my 2nd option of these three and could very well be the best going forward.
I fear that for the Yankees in 2023 that there is going to be a catastrophic injury in the outfield and the Yankees are going to find themselves in an incredibly tough situation. They are going to need to find a true outfielder in the middle of the season, and they aren't going to be prepared for when it happens.
I think the Yankees are being a little too cute with their depth in the infield that they've forgotten about the outfield- where they have their most important assets and where they have their most fragile players. It's my biggest worry for the 2023 team.
Could any of these players above single-handedly solve that problem? Of course not. I'd argue that Jurickson Profar would, but it's clear that the Yankees are not interested in bringing him in for one reason (money) or another (money). But, Profar aside, any of these three would at least add another layer of protection for a team that- I believe- is going to be needing it. I'd rather be a little more careful than not with what I've seen from the Yankees outfield core over the past many seasons.