Yankees’ 2024 outfield could be something of folklore

MLB: San Diego Padres at New York Yankees
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Yankees already sport one of the best offensive players in baseball — Aaron Judge won the MVP in 2022, setting an MLB record 62 home runs and dominating every step of the way.

General manager Brian Cashman has an opportunity to build one of the best offensive outfields in the game a year after featuring one of the worst units in baseball. A consistent rotation of underperforming players and a devastating injury to Judge derailed the team’s season.

The expected return of Jasson Dominguez at some point in 2024 and blockbuster talks regarding Juan Soto present an idea that the team could solve their offensive problems in one off-season with a little luck.

The Yankees’ 2024 Outfield Could be Insane

As noted, the Yankees already have a healthy Aaron Judge in 2024, coming off a serious toe injury, entering year two of a nine-year, $360 million extension. At 31 years old, Judge still managed to hit .267 with a .406 OBP and .613 slugging rate despite being injured for a significant part of the 2023 campaign. He hit 37 homers with 75 RBIs, including a 19.2% walk rate and 174 wRC+.

Judge alone carries the Yankees’ offense at times, but adding another superstar talent to the mix could take them to levels unseen in at least a decade.

Talks between the Yankees and San Diego Padres are ongoing for Soto. General manager AJ Peller has been demanding a massive return for Soto, with some reports indicating he’s wanted as many as seven players, including multiple starting pitchers, ready to make an impact now.

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The Yankees Don’t Need to Sell the Farm

The Yankees aren’t willing to part ways with Michael King, Clarke Schmidt, and others. The Padres will have to lessen their asking price, which is part of negotiations. Preller gave away most of his top prospects several years ago in exchange for Soto, and while he won’t be able to return even close to that haul, he’s trying his best to maximize value.

Cashman knows that Soto is on a one-year rental deal at $30 million, and the Padres need to offload salary, so he has leverage. The problem is that they will have to give up substantial value, and the Yankees will need to be confident they can re-sign him in free agency next year, a contract that could be around $400 million.

However, Soto has played a minimum of 150 games for three consecutive seasons, including all 162 in 2023. He hit .275 with a .410 OBP, .519 slugging rate, 35 homers, 109 RBIs, and a 155 wRC+. He’s one of the few players who have a higher walk rate than strikeout rate on a yearly basis.

He is a defensive liability, though, but Soto makes up for it tenfold with his offensive contributions, collecting 5.5 WAR last season. Having him at the top of the order alongside Judge would give the Yankees a nasty gauntlet of batters for opposing pitchers to get through. Some may even argue that Soto would be a perfect lead-off hitter given his elevated walk rates and Judge hitting home runs at an astronomical pace every year.

Just Judge and Soto alone could fuel a push to the playoffs, but that doesn’t even include the fact that the Yankees will get Jasson Dominguez back at some point next season.

mlb: new york yankees at toronto blue jays, aaron judge
Sep 27, 2023; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; New York Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge (99) adjusts his batting helmet in the fifth inning against the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Dominguez is returning from Tommy Jon surgery and has an estimated return timeline starting in June. It’s possible that the Yankees want Dominguez to work his way back in the minor-league system since he only played eight games in the MLB toward the end of this past campaign.

However, he hit .258 with a .303 OBP, including four homers, seven RBIs, and a 162 wRC+. Dominguez is primed to be a star in centerfield, but they don’t want to rush him returning from a serious injury.

In the meantime, the Yankees could land Kevin Kiermaier to play centerfield on a one-year deal or make a more aggressive play for Jung-hoo Lee, a Korean star who’s 25 years old and possesses elite plate discipline. Lee is also a tremendous defensive asset, so if he can adjust to higher velocity pitches, he could be a monster in centerfield to pair with two elite hitters.

It seems as if the Yankees are keen on being aggressive this off-season, with their obvious intentions to land both Yoshinobu Yamamoto and Soto. They could continue spending after that, but we’ll see how much slack Cashman has at his disposal since owner Hal Steinbrenner has indicated that going over $300 million in active total payroll is unnecessary.