Should the Yankees pursue this left-handed slugger in free agency?

Syndication: Arizona Republic
Rob Schumacher/The Republic / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Yankees have been linked to Jorge Soler this winter, which stunned many fans and analysts who viewed the DH spot as not an area to address externally. Despite a poor season from Giancarlo Stanton, the Yankees seem pretty set on improving internally through a bounce-back season from the former MVP, but that report certainly raises some questions. For a team that struggled to get offense against right-handed pitching, finding left-handed offense is a must, and while they’ve acquired three left-handed outfielders, including Juan Soto, they could always add more.

It may not be the best roster fit, but could the Yankees bolster the middle of their lineup with Joc Pederson this winter?

How Secure Are the Yankees At DH?

MLB: San Francisco Giants at Colorado Rockies
Sep 17, 2023; Denver, Colorado, USA; San Francisco Giants designated hitter Joc Pederson (23) celebrates his RBI double in the sixth inning against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

On paper, the Yankees are pretty set up at the DH spot with Giancarlo Stanton as he’s penciled in as the everyday DH, but it’s hard to argue that he’s necessarily earned that role. This past season was his worst, not just in pinstripes but at any point of his career, as he posted an 89 wRC+ and .275 OBP, but the warning signs were already there. Last season, Stanton put up a 116 wRC+ and sub-.300 OBP due to a second-half slump where he had a mere .582 OPS and a 38.1% strikeout rate. Those struggles continuing into this season are concerning, but it’s also about how often we’ll see Stanton next year.

Injuries have been a constant for Giancarlo Stanton, who feels destined to miss a few weeks every season no matter how much the Yankees try to load-manage him. It’s an unfortunate reality that the team has to become aware of, and while they possess enough position player depth, they could always use more. Sure, the team would be adding a player who won’t hold their own in the outfield defensively, but they’re mainly getting a hitter who makes their lineup deeper against right-handed pitching.

This past season, Pederson put up a 111 wRC+ and hit 15 home runs in just 121 games this past season, and while it led to a mere 0.9 fWAR, there’s plenty of reason to like how his bat could play in the Bronx. According to Baseball Savant, Pederson would have hit seven more home runs at Yankee Stadium over the past two seasons than he had originally (38), and the bat just makes sense for the short porch in right field. Doing damage is Pederson’s specialty, with a 12.1% Barrel Rate and 92.1 MPH Exit Velocity in 2023, and the ability to crush RHP should make him a perfect offensive fit.

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What immediately stands out is the fact that Joc Pederson crushes right-handed pitchers, as this past season, he had a .351 OBP and 115 wRC+ against righties, and in his career, he has a 125 wRC+ and .834 OPS. He was also a significantly better hitter on the road with a 121 wRC+ away from San Francisco, indicating that there could be a surge in home run power in a more left-handed friendly ballpark. According to Park Factor, Oracle Park had a 92 Park Factor while Yankee Stadium had a 99 for left-handed hitters, but Pederson is in the business of specifically hitting home runs.

Looking at HR factor, Oracle Park is at 83 while Yankee Stadium is at 131, and you’d imagine that Pederson would be more inclined to pull the ball to right field, given the advantage of the short porch. Stanton had a .933 OPS against left-handed pitching this past season, and this gives you an insurance option in the scenario in which he doesn’t improve against righties.

Sure, projections believe the Yankees are already set at DH, as FanGraphs believes the Yankees will finish both top five in fWAR and wOBA next season from the position, but that’s inflated by the production they view Juan Soto putting up in 140 PAs at the position. With just 0.9 projected WAR across 448 PAs, Stanton is not only coming off of a season where he was a liability but also projects to remain one. One could reasonably argue that an outfield of Alex Verdugo, Trent Grisham, and Aaron Judge with Juan Soto at DH would be more productive for the Yankees, and it exposes a weakness at the position.

mlb: milwaukee brewers at new york yankees, giancarlo stanton
Sep 10, 2023; Bronx, New York, USA; New York Yankees designated hitter Giancarlo Stanton (27) hits a two run home run to tie the game in the twelfth inning against the Milwaukee Brewers at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

The final part of this equation is whether Giancarlo Stanton has earned to remain the unquestioned starter at DH going forward, a question that has an answer we don’t want to hear. Jacoby Ellsbury, who is largely considered the worst contract the Yankees have ever handed out, has more bWAR and the same amount of fWAR as Giancarlo Stanton when you look at both of their tenures in pinstripes. Ellsbury spent four seasons with the Yankees before the team simply left him off of their active roster following his slew of injuries, and Stanton has played six seasons with the Yankees, although one of them was shortened due to COVID.

In the 2015 AL Wild Card, just two years into Ellsbury’s deal, the Yankees started Chris Young over Ellsbury to get a platoon advantage. By 2017, the team had begun playing Aaron Hicks and Aaron Judge over Ellsbury as well, and even with a 102 wRC+ and 22 steals, the Yankees never attempted to bring him back off of the IL after. Has Stanton earned the consistent starting reps that he’s going to get? Most likely not, and while people will argue that his contract warrants giving him a chance to prove himself, you don’t trade Michael King and four other players for one year of Juan Soto, so you can wait around and see.

An all-in push to a championship requires being in a position to win as many games as possible from Opening Day through October, and Giancarlo Stanton is currently not that. Perhaps he’s able to improve and return to that form, but as mentioned earlier, injuries will certainly limit how much time he’ll have to adjust. The Yankees currently do not have a reliable DH, but Joc Pederson certainly adds a left-handed punch that would make it a complete position.

Is the Price Right For Joc Pederson?

Syndication: Arizona Republic
Sep 19, 2023; Phoenix, AZ, USA; San Francisco Giants designated hitter Joc Pederson (23) reacts after hitting a home run off of Arizona Diamondbacks starting pitcher Zac Gallen (23) in the first inning at Chase Field. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-Arizona Republic

FanGraphs projects that Joc Pederson will make $24 million over the next two seasons in free agency, and that price might be too steep for the Yankees given what they’ll pay Soto this year and what they might end up paying Yoshinobu Yamamoto. $12 million a year for a player coming off of a season where they put up below 1.0 fWAR seems a bit steep, and comparing that to what Jason Heyward ($9 million) and Andrew McCutchen ($5 million) will make in 2024, he may also fall below the $10 million AAV line.

Pederson accepted the Qualifying Offer for 2023, which made him $19 million, and that was with the hope of maintaining his stock and perhaps getting a three-year deal at around $15 million a season this winter. His stepback offensively and some injuries limited his production, and given his lack of any defensive value, teams likely won’t need to make a multi-year commitment to acquire his services either. If the bidding for Pederson settles at a one-year $9 million deal, it’s something the Yankees should pounce on.

It would be an opportunity to land a player who can greatly bolster this lineup against right-handed pitching, as last season, they were in the bottom five in baseball in wRC+ and OPS against righties. This also just adds to what has already been an electric offseason, and when looking at what the Yankees could trot out with Pederson in the lineup, it’s easy to imagine how much fun this offense could be:

  1. Juan Soto
  2. Aaron Judge
  3. Joc Pederson
  4. Gleyber Torres
  5. Anthony Rizzo
  6. DJ LeMahieu
  7. Alex Verdugo
  8. Anthony Volpe
  9. Austin Wells

This is the kind of team that leads the league in home runs and finishes somewhere in the top three in wRC+, and when they face left-handed pitchers or inevitably have injuries, Stanton can fill in as well. Perhaps this is an idea that’s too bold for the Yankees, one that could cause too much clubhouse turmoil to pull off, but it’s worth considering. In terms of being better on the bases and defensively, this certainly doesn’t aid the Yankees’ cause, but when you’re signing a player to a one-year $9 million deal, you’re not getting a perfect player.

Adding Trent Grisham would allow them to make defensive substitutions late in games or add more speed, and the offense would certainly improve enough to justify the slower lineup. Besides, it’s not as if Stanton is much faster, so the team wouldn’t necessarily subtract a speedy hitter for a slower one. If Pederson wants a multi-year deal, then it’s likely that the Yankees won’t even entertain handing him a deal, which makes sense, but if he’s looking to rebound his value in 2024, a potential tryout in the Bronx could certainly benefit both sides.