The Two Yankees Outfield Plans Going Forward (Pt. 1)
by Cary Greene
November 17, 2022
The Two Yankees Outfield Plans Going Forward, Plan-A and Plan-B (Part 1)
Cluttering the 2022-23 offseason will be Aaron Judge rumors and speculation. Every step of his free agency will be micro analyzed and dissected. This shouldn’t stop the Yankees from attempting to sign Judge but, if he gets a huge 10-year deal from another suitor that makes him the game’s highest paid player, the Yankees may have to move on.
Recently, Judge’s agent, Page Odle informed Brian Cashman that the Yankees will not get a chance to beat the best offer Judge receives. Cashman will have to make a very strong offer and it’s not good enough and if one of the other teams interested in Judge offers a better deal, then the Yankees will not get a special chance to come back and beat whichever offer is the strongest.
Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi dropped hints that the Giants will be very serious players in the Judge sweepstakes, going as far as to say, “I think from a financial standpoint there’s nobody that would be out of our capability,” Zaidi told reporters at the GM Meetings in Las Vegas. “And then it’ll just be a question of whether there’s mutual interest and how we put together the best possible team.” Baseball insiders familiar with the Giants offseason shopping list told NJ Advance Media back in October that, “If the Giants miss out on signing Judge, it won’t be because of money.”
Meanwhile, Hal Steinbrenner surfaced recently in form of a pre-recorded interview with Meredith Marakovits courtesy of the Yes App in which he revealed that he did in fact have a few private conversations during the season with Judge - conversations in which he let Judge know that the Yankees will try very hard to bring him back because that’s “their wish.”
I’ve maintained all along that Judge will dictate the contract he receives, in terms of length, amount and even structure. He’s firmly in the driver’s seat this offseason and he’ll probably even shape the entire free agent market as he becomes the trend-setter for the 2023 free agent class. I’ve predicted that Judge will receive a 10-year deal for $43 to $45-million, which comes in higher in AAV and longer in years than what many in the media are forecasting.
I’ve written that Judge might command a record contract, in the neighborhood of $430 to $450-million total, professing my belief that his suitors will basically all have to lay very large and very similar amounts on the table and wait for him to basically decide where he prefers to finish his career.
Whichever team signs Judge will do so for performance but also because of his marketability. The act of securing Judge via free agency is basically a business decision - it’s not about whether or not his performance might decline towards the back end of his contract. If Judge doesn’t live up to a record contract on the field, fans will criticize the decision to sign him to such a huge contract - probably not realizing that on field performance is only a small part of why Judge was signed in the first place.
Is Judge, the player, a right fielder for the Yankees going forward? It would seem that the Yankees seem committed to playing him there, though he’s also a passable center fielder and he proved that this season. In my “Plan-A,” the Yankees play Judge mostly in left field, not right field, and there is sound logic for doing this, I’ll explore this concept today, among many others.
Of course, Judge likely had a career year this past season. He probably won’t ever again come near the numbers he managed to put up, but he’s going to capitalize, he’s going to get paid and teams are already lining up to do just that.
The result of Judge doubling-down and betting on himself, after which he went out and set the American League record with 62 home runs while leading the Majors in numerous offensive categories like runs (133), RBI’s (131), on-base percentage (.425), slugging percentage (.686), OPS (1.111), OPS+ (211) and total bases (391). Statcast confirms that the way Judge hammered the baseball was absurdly good. He finished in the top 1-percent of the league in numerous categories like Hard-Hit percentage, xwOBA, Barrel-Percentage and Max Exit Velocity.
Perhaps the biggest obstacle going forward that would prevent Judge from continuing to play at such a high level is his health. Can he stay on the field or will injuries derail him?
In the here and now, Aaron Judge is the real deal and in the open marketplace, that’s going to precipitate the forming of a record contract. My advice for Yankees fans is dramatically increase whatever numbers you have in mind - bump the years up and jack the AAV up as well. Teams in on Judge are already doing just that and any team that really wants to sign Judge, instead of merely faking interest to drive his contract up and make it more painful for the Yankees, plans on cooperating fully as they woo him and then wait for Judgement Day, the day Aaron Judge puts the hammer down and commits to where court will be in session going forward.
There’s no telling how the Judge sweepstakes will work out, but the Yankees would be very wise to hope for the best but prepare for the worst and those preparations should hopefully already be underway. Plan-A is clearly to sign Aaron Judge.
I did a piece recently here on SSTN entitled, The Moves the Yankees Will Make that determined the Yankees would have between $38 and $43-million left in the pot after signing Judge. The 2023 Luxury Tax Threshold is set at $233-million and the simple math is, the Yankees currently have an Active Payroll of about $151-million so if you add Judge’s $37+ million to that number, the budget comes into focus.
Then I did another piece questioning What is the 2023 Yankees Budget, in which I looked at whether or not Hal Steinbrenner would be willing to exceed the luxury tax hreshold - and if so, by how much? I believe Steinbrenner likely will approve a budget that exceeds the threshold but lands somewhere in the First-Tier and carries a 32-percent tax for the Yankees, which includes a 12-percent “previous offender” penalty. This means the Yankees will likely spend up to $253-million in 2023.
Going beyond $253-million would bloat the Yankees payroll into the Second-Tier and cause the tax to increase to 44% and I don’t see Steinbrenner as being willing to go there with his payroll. If he did, the budget would however increase “up to” $273-million.
Therefore, Plan-A, including Judge’s contract, hopefully leaves the Yankees with around $60-million to spend, but what if Judge signs elsewhere? Well, we can add about $40-million to this number, which means that with Plan-B, the Yankees would have about $100-million to allocate.
With that in mind, let’s look at what the Yankees current outfield looks like, while taking a peek at who’s available both externally and internally. We know the Yankees are extremely weak at evaluating their own internal talent. We also know that Cashman is usually very “iffy” when it comes to signing the right free agents and his trade history has been a series of lofty, fluffy snow covered peaks and deep, dark, icy crags that are better off forgotten.
I’m not a Cashman apologist and I'm not an unfair critic. I give him credit where credit is due but I think he should be asked to take a step back, or forward, to perhaps either move on entirely or guide the team as Randy Levine’s replacement. It doesn’t appear either of these eventualities will happen this offseason. Hal Steinbrenner appears quite content to remain a glutton for punishment, as he’ll likely maintain the status quo. That decision is on Hal, he’s writing his history as we speak and he may go down as the worst leader in Yankees history. Time shall etch the story.
Today, let's explore the here and now and what the Yankees Plan-B outfield plans should look like. We don’t know if Judge will return or not. We also can’t make a plan unless we first assess which players are presently in the fold and if we’re going to make a good plan, one that is built within the parameters of what the budget likely will be, the plan should shape the outfield portion of the roster to enable the Yankees to improve and contend more favorably for a World Series title.
Once I’m done evaluating each player currently under team control in the coming weeks I’ll then be able to suggest whether or not the Yankees should look externally for fortifications, be it through trades or via free agency, as necessary.
First, a brief discussion about the various WAR calculations. Baseball Reference’s WAR was overhauled into what became known as version 2.0 and is today known simply as b-WAR while Fangraphs version of WAR is known as f-WAR. I prefer Fangraphs version of WAR mainly because it converts WAR into Free-Agent Salary Values (Dollars) and being able to do this is extremely helpful if you’re going to write about baseball. When evaluating players, it’s crucial to know what each is worth on the open market. Therefore, I’ll use f-WAR rather than b-WAR for today’s piece. (I wanted you to know why I’m sticking with f-WAR, as we’ve had some noteworthy comments pop up recently about WAR.)
Also, there were some comments that were critical of using WAR as a stand alone stat and I think that’s a spot-on contention that all writers should consider when they do pieces that assess a players performance or try to calculate what a player’s value really is. Therefore, I’ll reveal that in order for me to evaluate a MLB player, I have to factor in publicly available information from sites StatCast, Fangraphs, Sportac, BaseballTradeValues, Baseball Reference, PECOTA (for Player Comps), MLB.COM and various Scouting Reports. With each player evaluation, I create a spreadsheet that I compile that features a lot of information, too much and too complex to publish here.
Doing this helps me first understand what percentile of the league a player’s stats fall in, relative to his peers. Anyone can assess how a player performed overall but to evaluate that player, one needs to determine what the player's value was, relative to how much money the player was paid for the season. Armed with that information, I can then calculate a player's net performance value and put that in terms of dollars gained or lost. Was the money spent on the player worth it? Was the juice worth the squeeze, from an on-the-field performance vantage point. If not, could the money have been better spent and if so, which player should be targeted? Also of concern is - was the player used properly? Could the Yankees have done something differently to increase a player’s performance?
The Biggest Problem - DH
Plan-B has to start with the DH position. Not only is DH a logical spot to begin a plan that prepares for life without Aaron Judge, but the DH spot was surprisingly a real canker sore for the Yankees last season. Therefore, the Plan-B discussion really starts with the player no one wants to discuss.
Regarding 33-year-old Giancarlo Stanton, he put up a measly 1.2 f-WAR last season, a body of work that Fangraphs graded Stanton a 4.8 for Offense and a -8.2 for Defense. Stanton’s offensive numbers make it almost pointless to DH him and is he really terrible in the field? These questions need answering.
Stanton was paid $32-million yet he only managed to provide 11-Runs-Above-Replacement (RAR) and Fangraphs therefore evaluated that if Stanton were a free-agent, he’d only be worth a mere $9.3-million as a free agent. That last stat is quantified with f-Dollars.
That Stanton was only worth $9.3-million indicates there is a huge red-flag. The Yankees overspent by $22.7-million on Stanton in 2022. That’s pretty concerning. We’re talking about a player who has a massively negative -119.5 MTV, which means he’s utterly untradable.
The problem with Stanton was that his offensive production was very low and to top it off, the Yankees don’t play him in the field. This needs to be addressed and no, the answer isn’t that the Yankees should try to trade or dump Stanton. He’s not going anywhere - he has a full no-trade clause in his contract, not to mention, no team in their right mind would want him unless the Yankees paid a huge part of his contract.
It’s not easy for a major league ball club to get much value from the DH position. Some teams have a mostly full-time DH while other teams rotate various players as they use more of a “DH-by-committee” approach. The Yankees are a very analytics-centric team but yet the results the Yankees continually get from their DH usage process are very poor.
This season, the Yankees used Giancarlo Stanton 70-percent of the time as their DH, seemingly protecting him at all costs by not allowing him to play the field. This mismanagement is clearly steeped in the idea that Stanton is too valuable offensively to lose to an injury, but guess what? He’s not that valuable offensively when he’s playing DH. In fact, a league average offensive player would do just as well as he does.
Clearly, the Yankees have a huge problem here and they’ve got to solve it. I’d rate this single problem as the Yankees biggest offensive issue. In fact, until the problem gets fixed, the Yankees aren’t going anywhere. They’ll be good, in spite of their woes at DH, but they won’t be able to move the needle in the playoffs and we all know what happens to a one-dimensional offense against good postseason pitching - it goes inauspiciously silent during the most crucial time of the year.
Unfortunately, this analytics based strategy of not letting Stanton play the field backfired in the Yankees face because they only received a combined .711 OPS from the position - which rates as very league-average offensive production. The Yankees ranked 13th in league-wide DH production last season, so if the current plan is to continue with Stanton as the primary DH, the strategy will continue to kill the Yankees offense. Why is this?
Once upon a time, in 2017, Giancarlo Stanton was the National League MVP, but those days are long gone. He’s not aging well at all and the Yankees are also handling him very poorly. Stanton has proven he’s a bad DH. He hits a lot better when he plays the field and stays loose. As a DH this past season, Stanton slashed .189/.290/.438 with a .728 OPS, but over the 38-games he played in the field, he slashed .259/.329/.401 with an .876 OPS. It would seem that the Yankees need to find a way to get Stanton back into the outfield more regularly because he’s just a lot better when he plays the field.
Past narratives were that Stanton was an above average right fielder with a pretty strong throwing arm. During his 2017 NL-MVP campaign, he had 11 DRS with an 8.2 UZR/150 but StatCast only rated him 1 OAA for that season. Fast-forward to 2022 and there actually hasn’t been that much of a decline, -4DRS, 5.8 UZR/150 and 0 OAA. We’re talking about a player who knows how to shag fly balls.
Stanton still mans his zone well enough to be classified as an average outfielder and I would bet that, if he were playing right field instead of out of position, he’d easily be above average. The reason I say that is because advanced data shows he doesn’t move towards his left well, whereas he’s fine moving in and to his right. This means that he’d quite naturally struggle to move into the centerfield gap if he’s being misplayed in left field.
Because Stanton isn’t playing the field regularly and because the Yankees are playing him in left field a lot, which isn’t his natural position, he’s getting very bad overall jumps on balls and that causes him to not be able to save runs like he once did. Physically there has been some measurable decline, his arm is barely above average these days and his sprint-speed now places him in the bottom 5-percent of MLB.
It wasn’t long ago that Brett Gardner showed Yankees fans the value of a left fielder who can move into the gap well. Vintage “Gardy” had a +48.8 UZR/150 in left field. Left field in Yankee stadium is fairly expansive, why would Boone/Cashman/Fishman..etc., play one of the slowest runners in the game in left field? Doing that makes zero sense and it’s not fair to Stanton either.
My analysis of Stanton concludes by confirming that, since he’s a very poor DH, there is no real value in thinking that it’s better to protect Stanton and not play him in the outfield. This just isn’t true. In fact, the opposite is true. The Yankees should be playing him in the outfield regularly because otherwise, he just doesn’t perform.
The Yankees have been shooting themselves in the foot with the way they are handling Stanton. If there was any benefit of all, I’d write about it, but there just isn’t. DH’ing Stanton is about the stupidest thing the Yankees could be doing on a daily basis.
Remember, if Stanton were to get injured shagging a fly ball, you could replace him with a league average DH and maintain the status quo. Furthermore, with Stanton as a DH, it's impossible to use the position flexibly and it's also very hard to work a left-handed power hitter into the lineup and this has been a big area of need for a Yankees team that, Anthony Rizzo aside, has needed for years now.
Believe it or not, this moves seamlessly into what my “Plan-B” is and yes, the obvious “Plan-A” is to re-sign Aaron Judge but in my Plan-A, I propose that the Yankees should play him primarily in left field, instead of right field.
Judge is athletically superior to Stanton and Judge is vastly better suited to cover ground and play left field in Yankee Stadium, as he ages. Judge would play the position a lot like Brett Gardner did and that moves the needle. Defensive shifts are going away and most batters hit right handed. There are a lot more balls hit into the expansive real estate in left field and left center field than anywhere else in the Yankee stadium outfield.
Playing Judge in left field would allow the Yankees to accommodate Stanton where he’s best (right field) and the team would receive much better overall results. With a regular center fielder in place (Harrison Bader), this plan works nicely and there’s always the flexibility to play Judge at any outfield position on a given day, or even DH him on occasion to give him partial rest.
What I’ve established today is that there’s no value in using Giancarlo Stanton as a DH. Considering that Stanton isn’t tradable and factoring in that he’s actually terrific at the plate when he does play the field and also acknowledging that he is actually still a major league caliber defensive outfielder, both of my plans, Plan-A and Plan-B, move him to the outfield more regularly.
In my next article, I’m looking forward to discussing what the Yankees plan should be at DH and then moving into what the plan should be in right field. Part of doing this is to continue to evaluate players the Yankees have under team control for 2023. I’ll also look at possible trades and free agent acquisitions as the dreaded Plan B takes shape.
Lastly, no Plan-B would be well-crafted if it didn’t account for the possibility that Judge might be re-signed. From a budget perspective, enough room needs to be left in case Judge does re-sign. Cashman has expressed a desire to get a deal with Judge done quickly, for good reason of course.
The longer Judge lingers in free agent euphoria, the longer he enjoys the process of being courted by any number of teams, the higher the chance that players of interest come off the board. Some of those players might be viable free agent “gets” if Judge doesn’t sign, while some of these players might be signed even if Judge does come back. My Plan-B will factor all of this in and more!