- Tim Kabel
By Tim Kabel
December 19, 2022
About the Off-Season: What’s Next?
So, Andrew Benintendi signed with the Chicago White Sox. He is no longer an option for leftfield for the New York Yankees. The Yankees now have to decide what to do at that position. There has been some talk about them signing Michael Conforto but that might be too risky and expensive a move for them to make. Perhaps, they will not acquire anyone.
In 2023, Major League Baseball will implement a few rule changes. Shifts will be banned. There will be a clock limiting the time between pitches. The bases will be larger. Pitchers will be allowed only two pickoff attempts per runner at first base. The purpose behind these rule changes is to speed up the game. In addition, eliminating the shift, increasing the size of the bases, and reducing the number of pickoff attempts will bring more offensive production to the game. If a pitcher attempts a third pickoff throw, the runner will automatically be awarded second base. It would apply to the other bases as well but, we see the vast majority of pickoff attempts made to first base.
Larger bases and the decreased number of pickoff attempts should produce many more stolen bases. Therefore, having players who can steal bases would be a good idea. Oswaldo Cabrera was limited to 96 games between AAA and the major leagues last year. He stole 16 bases. The year before in 118 games, he stole 21 bases. In 2022, Oswald Peraza stole 35 bases between the Yankees and the RailRiders. In 2022, Anthony Volpe stole 50 bases in the minor leagues. If these three are regular players for the Yankees in 2023, the team's offense could improve greatly, especially with the new rules in place.
If the Yankees don't trade for or sign a left fielder, Oswaldo Cabrera would be the most likely candidate to play the position. It's somewhat mind boggling to read people write that Aaron Hicks would be the de facto starter in left field. He lost his job down the stretch to first, Benintendi, and then Cabrera. Most likely, Hicks will not be on the roster next year. Cabrera showed some power in a limited role last year and the year before, hit 29 home runs in the minors. As I noted in an earlier article, he reminds me of a switch-hitting version of Alfonso Soriano, with his Whippet-like body uncoiling on the ball. He just might be the answer in left field.
We all know the Yankees are trying to trade Josh Donaldson. It is highly unlikely that he will reverse his negative offensive trajectory. He has already started down the slippery slope that will finish his career. He simply went more quickly than expected. Even if the Yankees cannot trade him, they should not count on him being the regular third baseman next season. If he's there, he should be given an opportunity in spring training to see if he has rediscovered his swing. If he has not, he will simply have to ride the bench until the season is over and he can be bought out of his option year. DJ LeMahieu's foot injury may impact his readiness at the beginning of the season. It is still unclear whether he will need surgery. If he does, he would be out for a much longer period of time. If and when he is healthy, he could play third base regularly.
If LeMahieu is not healthy and Donaldson is either off the team or on the bench, there might be another option for third base. Isaiah Kiner-Falefa won a Gold Glove third playing third base in 2020. He makes much more contact than Donaldson does at this point in his career. It is true that he has virtually no power and would be playing a position normally associated with power but, at the bottom of the lineup, he could be instrumental in manufacturing runs. He also stole 22 bases last year and seems to be a favorite of Aaron Boone. Playing him at third base would free up shortstop for Oswald Peraza, who does have some pop. I was going to suggest that the Yankees sign Justin Turner to one year deal to play third base but, he signed with the Red Sox yesterday.
It is true the Yankees could trade with another team for a left fielder. However, unless the trade package consisted of Gleyber Torres, Donaldson, and Hicks, it might not be a great idea. The Yankees cannot and should not trade away many more of their prospects at this point. They seem to be counting on them to play significant roles and trading one of Peraza, Volpe, or Cabrera, would simply be robbing Peter to pay Paul.
If the Yankees do not acquire an outside player to be the left fielder, this would be my projected offensive team:
Jose Trevino and Ben Rortvedt as catcher
Anthony Rizzo at first base
Anthony Volpe at second base
Oswald Peraza at shortstop
DJ LeMahieu at third base, (if healthy)
Oswaldo Cabrera in leftfield
Harrison Bader in centerfield
Aaron Judge in rightfield
Giancarlo Stanton as the designated hitter.
If Cabrera, Volpe, and Peraza all play the way they are projected to over the course of the season, this will be a fun team to watch. There will be power and speed and a great deal of offense.
Many fans may be reluctant to go with this lineup but, what did the Yankees get from Donaldson, Hicks and Torres last year? The only productive one of them was Torres, and he was very streaky last year and has been so throughout his career. Unless the Yankees can acquire a leftfielder in exchange for Torres and either Hicks or Donaldson, they should go with the team I proposed above. It would not be advisable to trade any of their top prospects. They have already raided the pantry of most of their pitching prospects anyway.
Brian Cashman has been talking about making the Yankees younger, faster, and more athletic; the team I presented above would certainly fit the bill there. Combined with the new rules, this could be a very exciting team. Cabrera, Peraza, and Volpe have all shown the ability to hit for some power and as they mature physically, that should only increase. Harrison Bader showed tremendous pop in the postseason last year and could hit more home runs than expected.
I think the team will hit enough home runs. That will really not be an issue. They will also have hitters who get on base more, are faster, and steal bases. The Yankees improved in that regard last year but if they play Peraza, Volpe, and Cabrera, they will take a monumental leap in that regard. It is possible the Yankees will acquire someone else to play leftfield but, it should not just be a case of acquiring someone just to acquire someone. The Yankees would be perfectly fine with Cabrera in left field. Unless they can acquire someone who will be a significant upgrade without sacrificing a boatload of prospects, they should leave him in that position.
I am looking forward to seeing a team in 2023 that will have multiple exciting players who can get on base and steal bases and put Aaron Judge, Anthony Rizzo, and Giancarlo Stanton in a position to drive in a lot of runs.