New York Yankees: An Outfield Conundrum down the road

New York Yankees, Clint Frazier

As we are in the final month of the season, with only a few weeks to go til Postseason baseball — crazy to say that — the Yankees currently sit in third place in the AL East, with a record of 25-21 after a great series sweep versus Baltimore. While the team is overall still performing decently well, I feel as if I speak for everyone when I say this season has been somewhat disappointing. A massive part of that boils down to the injuries that the Yankees have sustained already, the poor pitching performances that have been frequent, and numerous other factors. Injuries to key players throughout the year like Aaron Judge, Gleyber Torres, and Giancarlo Stanton have hindered this lineup, but certainly not knocked it out of being able to compete and win ball games. With that, one of the main notable points that will be interesting to gauge coming this offseason is what the future of the Yankees outfield will look like.

While the season is still ongoing, I am one that is always trying to look ahead and see what’s next for the New York Yankees. The outfield coming into this season was seen by many as one of the most complete and dominant in the entire league. I personally have backed continuously and supported both Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Hicks, so coming into a shortened season, I had high expectations for both of them. As for Aaron Judge, for those that tune into Fireside Yankees, I believe that when he is healthy and locked in, there is no better player in baseball. However, despite all my raving reviews and the statistics backing all three of the previously mentioned players being very good, this year has been anything but flawless for them.

Aaron Judge saw himself quickly atop the MLB WAR leaders in mid-August but then was sidelined with a calf injury that saw him miss a few games, before returning and promptly reinjuring it, thus heading to the IL. Judge’s IL stint sees him join fellow slugger Giancarlo Stanton, who also was having a very solid 2020 campaign prior to hitting the IL. Yet, when one looks at the numbers behind Giancarlo’s handful of games before being sidelined, it makes one wonder if the injury had been lingering for a bit longer than initially expected. Here are Giancarlo’s July and early August splits below (info via Fangraphs):

July 6 19 66.7% 16% 16% 86.9 MPH 1.384 262
Aug 8 22 33.3% 21% 25% 93.6 MPH .743 116

With Stanton, it is always going to be a matter of how many games we get to watch him play. I have long defended his abilities, as there should still be no doubts about how talented and good of a baseball player he is. I do believe his longevity and fragility may haunt the Yankees down the road, which is why I figured why not dive deep into possible outfield combinations next season and for the future.

With Gleyber back and seemingly finding some sort of groove, and Stanton and Judge’s returns imminent, this team could make a deep run in the postseason. However, for the next year’s full 162 game season and beyond, thoughts should already be forming in the fans’ heads about what the Yankees could possibly run out.

The First Option: The Obvious

LF: Mike Tauchman / Clint Frazier

CF: Aaron Hicks

RF: Aaron Judge

DH: Giancarlo Stanton

As much as I have loved and enjoyed seeing Brett Gardner suit up in the Pinstripes for the past decade, I feel as if his time is nearing an end with the Yankees. Gardner’s triple slash this season — following a career year in which he belted 27 HR — sits at .183/ .318 / .356 & up until Friday’s doubleheader, he hadn’t hit a HR since August 5th. I believe Brett will go down a club legend and a true leader in the clubhouse, but for 2021 Mike Tauchman and Clint Frazier should be the LF.

With this group, it appears to be the most likely going forward, as the team still have faith in Stanton’s bat as well as Tauchman’s all-around ability. Despite Tauchman seeing a significant decrease in his overall batted ball profile, there is still no argument that he is a quality corner OFer and despite his bang average numbers this season, proved last year that he can be a very contributive player. Judge should be in RF — while this may go against many Yankees “fans” that believe his injuries should see him off or not extended — and he should be batting second every day. While the injuries are definitely a concern for both Judge and Stanton, I am one that is always believing that the injuries are just inconvenient flare-ups that linger and not anything problematic long-term. However, once more this season, both guys are sidelined for extended periods of time, and I find myself questioning if this formula of combining Judge and Gian — that was thought to be legendary a few years back, is even going to warrant any sort of success for the Yankees.

Those doubts are usually crushed whenever both players are listed as healthy and are seen clobbering baseballs left and right. To have both Giancarlo and Judge healthy for an entire full-length season, with no odd rules and 7-inning doubleheaders, should be a top priority for Cashman and Boone. As for Aaron Hicks, another guy that is far too over-hated, there shouldn’t be any true competition for his spot next season. While it was great watching Florial’s long-anticipated debut, as of now in his career, I would consider him a 4th or 5th outfielder at best. Hicks’ 2020 season has warranted a ton of hate from both fans and non-supporters, but for seemingly undeserved reasons. Despite the fact that his average may not be as shiny as many people would like, Aaron Hicks is putting together a quality season, as he’s OPSing .765 with 4 HR and 8 2B’s across 121 AB’s. With all the hate he got coming into the year for being injury prone and not being able to stay on the field, his 41 games played is second to Voit for most on the team, and his 154 PA’s are also second on the squad.

Simply put, Aaron Hicks needs more respect to be put on his name, and I feel as if this team needs a player with his consistency and overall solid abilities in all aspects of the game. His 20.8% BB Rate this season ranks second-best in baseball, and his ability to see tons of pitches per AB make it so even if he gets out, its usually after 4-5 pitches minimum. Naturally, that want for Hicks to do better and perform at a higher rate than he is currently is there. People love to bring up his contract and how he isn’t worth his money, but realistically speaking, Hicks’ contract is one of the most team-friendly in baseball, and even with his “down” season this year, he’s on pace for around 1.1 fWAR (currently sits at 0.8). Not to mention, all the Yankees gave up for Hicks was John Ryan Murphy.

The Second Option: The “Next Generation”

LF: Clint Frazier

CF: Estevan Florial / Aaron Hicks

RF: Aaron Judge

DH: Miguel Andujar / Giancarlo Stanton

Now, this combination is definitely one that’ll make some readers raise an eyebrow, but on paper, this unit could do surprisingly pretty well together. The main outlier here is Florial getting the nod in CF, but in this “next generation” pool of players, the main goal is to use from within and allow younger guys to finally crack the lineup and progress as players. The hope would be that Jasson Dominguez is somehow MLB ready come ’22 and that he could even potentially slot into center sooner than later.

The argument to having Flo in CF long-term instead of say, Hicks, Tauchman, or even Dominguez, is that Florial’s ceiling and potential are undoubtedly top tier talent levels. With that, his inability to stay healthy across a full season, as well as remain consistent with his approach and batted ball profile, make me question his future with the team. Nonetheless, Estevan Florial seems to be a fan favorite, and Cashman has been giving him accolades for as long as I can remember. The idea that Florial could take over everyday centerfield duties in 2021 is not that far fetched, even if it is quite unlikely.

As for LF and DH, I think in this lineup, ideally, you’d see both Frazier and Miguel Andujar swap out in the corner spot. While many people have been dubbing Andujar the “New Greg Bird,” I think he’s just struggling to get his legs under himself this season, and the inconsistent playtime isn’t helping. Andujar being constantly optioned to the alternate site and recalled, and that whole back-and-forth charade must be tiring to some degree, so I expect Miggy to have a bounce-back campaign next year, as, after all, the Yankees front office is very high on him. This season, Andujar’s numbers are dreadfully low, OPSing .597 with only four extra-base hits across 62 plate appearances. Look for him to be on the roster in ’21, despite everyone wanting him shipped off via trade. I feel the Andujar trade rumors are always going to be circulating around him, as when he’s on, everyone knows what he is capable of. With that, Cashman and the Yankees have already turned down dozens of offers for Andujar — some after his incredible rookie season, and others when he was at his lowest post ’19.

Clint Frazier, this year, on the other hand, has been one of the best hitters on the team. There’s never been a shadow of a doubt about Clint’s hitting tools, as when he was initially acquired from Cleveland in the Andrew Miller trade, everyone raved about his immense power and lightning-quick bat speed. This season, Red Thunder has not disappointed since getting the hopeful final call-up of his career. Here are Frazier’s numbers this season, along with where he stands in the MLB pool of players, below (* = does not qualify due to too low of PA’s, but would be ranked) (info courtesy of Fangraphs & Baseball Savant):

FRAZIER 51.8% 91.4 MPH 23.8% 15.5% .900 145 14.3%
MLB RANKING: Top 6% Top 14% *Ranked 27th *Ranked 12th *Ranked 32nd *Ranked 26th Top 9%

For Frazier to be in the top tier of hitters, this season goes to show how talented he is. His offensive numbers this year, if he were to qualify, would be in line with players like Eloy Jimenez, Bryce Harper, and Teoscar Hernandez. All three of those guys have been tearing the cover off the baseball, and I believe Frazier should be given far more credit than he is receiving.

Another shining spot in Frazier’s play this season has been his huge improvement defensively. In 2019 Clint was heavily criticized for his poor defensive play and frequent blunders in either of the corner outfield spots (played 131.2 innings in LF & 263.2 innings in RF). Naturally, Frazier is better suited in right, but with Judge hopefully returning here soon, Frazier will likely see more time in left. His UZR/150 in RF in 2019 was abysmal, as it sat at -29.0 for the season. This year, however, in 152.0 innings in RF, Clint’s UZR/150 is a much improved 18.2. Simply put, he’s made improvements, and it has shown with him being given consistent playtime and at-bats. Just to add fuel to the fire, Frazier’s DRS in 2019 in all three OF spots cumulative was a -8, whereas this year, it is 4. I believe Clint should be given any and every opportunity for playtime on this team, and while this specific outfield combination I ran through may not be all featured, he is one that deserves every open chance.

The Third Option: The Trade-In

LF: Wil Myers / Clint Frazier

CF: Aaron Hicks

RF: Aaron Judge

DH: Giancarlo Stanton / Clint Frazier

Now this one may stir up some commotion and cause a few people to shake their head in disgust. The idea that the Yankees stay put and keep the entirely same squad for the 2021 season after a rather poor display in 2020 is ignorant. While this is no longer the same group in charge that are going to go all out and make every possible deal or signing that can benefit or potentially sink the team in the long run, there are still intriguing options that could potentially help this squad. I, for one, am perfectly happy staying with our group of outfielders, but with that being said, I believe there are a few solid options the Yankees could look into for the corner spot, specifically Wil Myers.

Wil Myers has been around the league for a while, believe it or not. Myers was initially one of Tampa’s best prospects when he burst onto the scene, but over the past five years, has struggled to find an identity and true position with the Padres. This season, however, Myers has been one of Slam Diego’s hottest hitters and has put together a very formidable defensive resume as well. Myers’ OPS this season sits at .969, and he pairs that with a 155 WRC+, both rank Top 20 in the Majors. A first immediate thought is, “why would the Padres give up Myers, who is under control until 2023, and would be coming off one of the best seasons in his career” but when one looks into it more, there are definitely some reasons for SD shopping him. For starters, San Diego’s budget next year is going to be hefty, and with the new acquisitions of both Rosenthal and Clevinger at the deadline, I imagine both will be staying in the beige and gold for some time to come. Not to mention San Diego’s “all-in” mentality this year could hurt them in the offseason, assuming they don’t go as far as management expects them to, which would set-up a possible situation where a few guys are shown the exit: Myers, Profar, Pham.

If the Yankees were to be interested in Myers this upcoming offseason, I imagine a package could include the likes of Andujar or Estrada/Wade, along with one of our T7 prospects in the farm. Would it be worth it for an inconsistent but talented player in Myers is the real question.

The rest of the outfield would look the same, and the beauty to acquiring a player like Myers is that he is able to play numerous positions across the field, as he’s racked up at least 700 innings in all three OF positions, along with nearly 2900 innings at first, and a few hundred at third. Acquiring Myers may be a bit of a risk seeing as to career-wise, he’s a 109 WRC+ player, which is just above MLB average, but his versatility and live bat would certainly make this team better overall. With Judge and Hicks in RF and CF, adding Frazier and Giancarlo into the mix as well, that would make for one of the deepest and most all-around well-balanced outfields in the league. Unfortunately, the downside is that it would likely lead to the exit of Tauchman and/or one of the OF prospects barking to get playtime in the coming years.

Final Touches

With those three outfield scenarios, the field is spread out, and the options are clearly plentiful. The nice thing for the Yankees is that Gardner’s contract will be up, as will both Paxton and Tanaka’s, so there will be room for financial leeway as there always is. The thing to look for this upcoming offseason is what the Yankees decide to do in terms of extensions. As previously mentioned, both James Paxton and Masahiro Tanaka will be FA’s, so it will be interesting to see if NYY chooses to bring back one of the two. With Tanaka continuing to perform well, there should be little-to-no hesitancy to extend him and keep him in pinstripes. Add to the mix the glooming potential contract extension talks over Gary Sanchez, Gleyber Torres, and Aaron Judge as well. I always have and will always say, Aaron Judge should be a Yankee for life; therefore, there should be no arguments about whether or not to extend him. Not only would he likely take a team-friendly deal, but to argue that he isn’t one of the best players in baseball is comical. Torres should be in Pinstripes for the entirety of his career as well, despite this season’s struggles, whereas with Gary, at this point, I’d say its a toss-up. Unfortunately for Sanchez, his leash is getting shorter and shorter, with his horrendous struggles at the plate continuing. If Gary were to be part of the Yankees’ future plans, something has to start clicking for him — and soon.

The Yankees of 2020 are not the Yankees of the future, even with the bright spots that have been tossed in. While the season isn’t even remotely over yet, its never too early to look ahead and plan for the future. For the Yankees, the future should always be on the mind.