SSTN Weekly Mailbag: Outfield Alignment, Centerfield, and In-House Reinforcements!
By Andy Singer
We all wanted a sweep against the red-hot Rays, but frankly I’ll take 2 out of 4 if it means the Yankees have a bit of momentum heading into their first series with the Red Sox. It feels really strange that it took until June to see the Sox, but I’m looking forward to it. This is the part of the season where we’ll find out what this team is made of, and this is another series the Yanks need to take if they want to climb back in the AL East.
As always, thanks for the great questions, and keep them coming to SSTNReadermail@gmail.com. In this week’s SSTN Mailbag, we’ll talk about the ideal outfield alignment with the current roster, revisit centerfield, and discuss some in-house pitching reinforcements! Let’s get at it:
Todd asks: Let’s pretend for a minute that the Yankees don’t get anyone in the outfield for a while. How would you break up the playing time through the trade deadline?
For the record, I do think that reinforcements are needed in the outfield, though I do think that it’s going to take some time for Cashman to find a real outfielder that can even fake it in centerfield (more on that in a minute). However, I do think there are ways the Yanks can manage in the meantime.
Lost in the justifiable handwringing over the few weeks about the offense, a couple of outfielders appear to be breaking out of their season-long slumps. Miguel Andujar may not be an ideal solution in left field from a defensive perspective, but his ability to put the bat on the ball has never been in doubt. The trick was finding him consistent playing time so that he could find a groove. Over the last 14 days, that may be happening, as Andujar is batting .293/.293/.537 with 3 HR. No, he hasn’t drawn a walk in that time, and his strikeout rate is hovering around 27%, but he’s doing what he does best: making contact at a high rate, and allowing his natural strength to do damage.
Clint Frazier has been similarly hot over the last 14 days, batting .286/.375/.400 while displaying improved defense in the outfield. Unlike Andujar, Frazier’s strikeout and walk rates are balanced nicely over that time, so there’s nothing really fluky about this stretch. Frazier has just 2 extra base hits during this stretch, but with a swing that brings natural loft, power will come eventually with consistent contact.
In short, the Yankees went from having an outfield that was Judge and a group of zeros (or worse), to having 3 capable outfielders that need to play. The tricky part is finding alignments that work, as none of these guys are a natural fit in centerfield. Truthfully, from a pure value perspective, Judge is likely the best fit in centerfield of the group, but if the Yankees want to keep him healthy, I can’t see him playing centerfield more than once or twice per week. Same thing goes for Clint Frazier, who can fake it in centerfield, but would be exposed out there with too much playing time. So how should it break out?
Let’s assume there are 6 games per week on average. Until reinforcements arrive, I think the collective of Judge and Frazier should play centerfield 3 times per week, which would allow Boone the opportunity to pencil in 3 productive hitters for at least half of the week. I would guess that defensive replacements would be used in the later innings in this scenario, but at least it gets Andujar and Frazier consistent at-bats. For the other 3 games, I think the Yankees should use the collective of Gardner and Wade in centerfield, mixing and matching playing time for Frazier, Andujar, and Judge. I think this is the best they can do right now.
Richard D. says: Time to bring back that kid who plays CF. Gary needs to sit [and] let this [kid], who has speed, great defense, bats left and can hit. Yankees need to do something to get a spark in their hitting. Nothing to lose giving [him a shot.]
I feel your pain, Richard. The Yankees do need something to give the offense a shot, but as good as Florial could be some day, I don’t think anyone would be happy with the result if he played every day in the majors right now. As athletic and promising as he looked in his cameo appearances in the Bronx, the reality is that he needs to see a lot more upper level professional pitches in the minors before he has a fighting chance to recognize the hellish breaking balls that guys throw in the Major Leagues right now. Once Hicks went on the IL, the Yankees reshuffled the minor league outfield deck, and gave Florial a call-up to AAA after he mashed down at AA in the first week or two of the season. The result? He’s striking out in 30% of his at-bats without showing much feel for contact. To be fair, we’re talking about a very small sample size, but the results remain.
Sadly, I think that Florial would be yet another hole in a struggling lineup, albeit a guy that can play really good defense. Unfortunately, the Yankees need to look outside the organization for real outfield help. The real question is going to be how the Yankees manage to get real centerfield help without tipping over the luxury tax threshold, something the Steinbrenners have shown an unwillingness to do this season.
Scouring the market, there are really only two options I see that might be available to play centerfield, and neither are a perfect fit: Starling Marte of the Marlins and Adam Frazier of the Pirates.
Marte is a true centerfielder with a consistently solid bat who has made real strides in his plate discipline, improving his walk rate significantly over previous highs. The Marlins are surprising contenders, but a lot can happen between now and the end of July. If Marte is available, the Yankees should make a push to acquire him. The problem? My back of the napkin math shows that the Yankees’ luxury tax hit would be roughly $5 million to acquire him, while the Yankees only have somewhere in the ballpark of $2-$4 million of space before hitting the first luxury tax threshold (depending on which source you read). The Yankees would either need to get the Marlins to eat salary (not likely) or include a player with some salary left to offset the cost. The only good option that I see on the roster for something like that is Justin Wilson, but that would require Wilson to be healthy for more than 5 minutes, and it would likely increase Marte’s acquisition cost.
Adam Frazier has played all over the diamond, though he has primarily been an infielder. Frazier has played a decent outfield in the past according to metrics, and he can likely fake it in centerfield better than Clint Frazier. Adam Frazier is back to making gobs of contact this year, and the Yankees could use a guy like that in the lineup, so I’d be in favor of making it happen. Unfortunately, he’s in the same boat as Marte: he’d push the Yankees over the first luxury tax threshold.
Unfortunately, I don’t see any easy answers in centerfield given the edict ownership has passed down to Cashman regarding salary additions.
Lionel asks: are Severino and Kluber both due back in a month or two, barring any new injury?
The answer is definitely yes on Severino, and I’m as excited as I could possibly be. Reports following Sevy’s 3 inning simulated game had him sitting at 97 MPH with his fastball and some feel for his breaking and off-speed pitches, so he seems further ahead than I expected him to be. Now that he’s ready for his first rehab start, I think we can start projecting his first start in pinstripes either at or just prior to the All-Star break.
On Kluber, I’m still not sure. While the news is better than I expected after Kluber looked for 2nd and 3rd opinions, shoulder injuries are nothing to mess with, and the subscapular strain that Kluber sustained speaks to some weakness in his rotator cuff. I’m happy he’ll be able to begin soft tossing on flat ground shortly, but I’m sure the Yanks will bring him along slowly given his injury history. I still think early August is a very optimistic timeline for Kluber. At the end of the day, the Yankees acquired Kluber hoping he’d be available for October, so they need to tread lightly, and hope that the Yankee offense can start playing up to its capabilities so that the strain is off of the pitching staff for a bit.