Yankees eyeing 2 position players on free agent market

josh harrison, yankees

The Yankees continue to look for options in the free agent market to fill out holes on the roster, and while there aren’t elite players remaining, strong veteran depth remains available.

Brian Cashman and the Front Office seem pretty content with this player group but also would love to add to it, and Jon Heyman of the NY Post reported the Yankees are looking at a second player on the market with interesting value. Jurickson Profar has been discussed heavily over the last couple of days due to his contact and OBP skills alongside a relatively weak outfield market currently, but Josh Harrison was also mentioned by Jon Heyman.

With the Yankees looking to bolster their lineup and roster, how do these two veterans help the Yankees?

Is Jurickson Profar the Answer in Left Field?

Jurickson Profar is someone the Yankees have had interest in for a while, dating back to his time with the Texas Rangers. Brian Cashman attempted to trade for Jurickson Profar prior to the 2016 season, but that never materialized. While no longer an infielder, Profar has settled into being a full-time left fielder with the San Diego Padres, posting a 110 wRC+ with 15 HRs in 2022 and serving as one of their table setters in the lineup for the middle of their lineup. With the acquisition of Boston Red Sox superstar Xander Bogaerts this will most likely force Fernando Tatis to LF, where Profar previously played.

xander Bogaerts, yankees

There’s no longer a spot for him on his incumbent team, and while teams like the Boston Red Sox, Miami Marlins, and Texas Rangers (who he came up with) have thrown their hat in the mix, the Yankees could be the best fit for the 29-year-old switch-hitter. Profar is one of the few switch-hitters in baseball nowadays who can hit pretty evenly from both sides of the plate, but the majority of his ABs are always going to be against RHP due to the rarity of LHPs. This means a better ballpark for hitting HRs as a left-handed hitter would attract Profar more, and the short porch in RF is perfect for pulling flyballs and increasing your HR/FB%.

In 2018 and 2019, Profar hit 20 HRs twice, and those were notably the only years he reached the 20 HR plateau. He hasn’t slugged above .400 since 2020, which coincides with a new baseball that was “de-juiced,” leading to fewer HRs and the ball carrying a lot less. That being said, San Diego is also a notably poor ballpark for left-handed hitters to hit HRs in, with a 96 Park Factor compared to Yankee Stadium’s 118. Statcast’s Expected HR by Ballpark has Profar with 20 HRs in the regular and postseason instead of just 16, and that’s made evident by anyone who looks at his spray charts overlayed with Yankee Stadium.

It’s safe to say that Profar would definitely benefit from playing at Yankee Stadium at the plate, and with his strong plate discipline, it’s easy to see how he’d fit into the lineup. Profar struck out just 15.7% of the time with an 11.1% BB%, showing off a unique ability to stay patient while also being aggressive enough to make contact in the strike zone and avoid whiffs. He had the 17th-best walk-to-strikeout ratio in baseball among qualified hitters in 2022, and that’s due to his 79th Percentile Chase Rate and 86th Percentile Whiff Rate.

Jurickson Profar doesn’t seem to be able to provide much more on the surface due to poor average exit velocities and barrel rates, but when he does lift the ball, he typically pulls it from that left-side, with the 14th-best pulled flyball rate in baseball last season among LHBs. This should allow him to overperform with his HR totals relative to an 87.5 MPH Average Exit Velocity, which ranked in the bottom 25 last season.

The only concern would be handling left field defensively, as on the surface, a -6 OAA is pretty bad, but OAA is a range-based metric, meaning it doesn’t account for your arm. Jurickson Profar’s arm is phenomenal, with a max throwing velocity of 94.2 MPH and +5 rARM in 2022. This is why DRS has him at a +2 for 2022, grading him as a positive defender. This sounds inherently biased to push the “narrative” that Jurickson Profar and the Yankees would be a great fit, but I would say DRS is a better representation of his defense than OAA is, but what I do think we can ultimately agree on is that he can handle the position just fine.

Why are the Yankees in on Josh Harrison?

This is something I wasn’t really expecting the Yankees to explore, but the more you think about it, the more sense it makes. Josh Harrison had a $5.5 million club option declined by the White Sox, meaning he’s most likely not going to cost much and could provide solid value as a bench player. He’s played the outfield and across the infield as well, and just like with Jurickson Profar, Brian Cashman has tried to acquire Harrison to be the 2B before. He profiles as a scrappy bat who serves a utility role coming off the bench and relieving everyday starters when they need off days.

He slashed .256/.317/.370 with a 98 wRC+ last season, hitting just 7 HRs in 119 games for the 81-81 Chicago White Sox. His low strikeout rates and aggressive approach allow him to be the scrappy hitter at the plate that could ambush you for a home run if you fall asleep on the mound. Harrison posted 6 DRS and 4 OAA between 2B/3B and has also played outfield as well as shortstop, but to less success. He has league-average speed, but perhaps with bigger bases, he could factor into the running game more effectively in 2023. While he seems to be a declining veteran, perhaps the Yankees see something greater.

Harrison turned his season around entirely after a brutal start to the season, posting a mere 50 wRC+ and 0 HRs through the first two months of 2022. From June onwards, Josh Harrison hit .286 with 7 HRs and a 114 wRC+, returning to the high-average hitter he was previously despite an elevated strikeout rate, and this came from more line drives and fewer groundballs, something that could be tied to a shoulder issue he had in April that may have been affecting his swing path. This isn’t to say he’s a true talent 114 wRC+ hitter, but his low-whiff rates and good defense should give him a strong role on this ball club if the Yankees were to sign him.

Josh Harrison shouldn’t cost much, but there’s definitely reason to believe that the Yankees could get Harrison to put up a 100-105 wRC+ off the bench and play a variety of positions, especially if Oswaldo Cabrera is needed to play LF in the situation where the Yankees cannot acquire a fulltime left fielder. It’s not the flashy move that fans are hoping for, but it would eliminate the need for Oswaldo Cabrera to be a utilityman or could be a utilityman alongside Cabrera and just make this team that much deeper off the bench.

Looking At the Potential Roster Crunch

The Yankees are going to need to start figuring out their MLB roster crunch sooner than later because Spring Training is not too far away. Isiah Kiner-Falefa would be the most likely trade candidate in comparison to Aaron Hicks or Josh Donaldson, and that’s due to the fact that there are teams that do need infielders, and $6 million for one year of IKF isn’t going to sink anyone financially. That trade seems like it’s a matter of when not if, though this is just speculating based on reports, financial situations, and just some common sense.

Technically they could option him to Triple-A, but again why would you pay someone $6 million to play in the Minor Leagues instead of at least being a solid pinch-runner and giving guys days off in the lineup? An MLB team is going to need an infielder, and they’ll come calling for IKF when they realize they can’t find one on the market. Look at the Arizona Diamondbacks or Colorado Rockies and ask yourself why they wouldn’t at least consider throwing a prospect outside of their top 30 for a rental SS who’s definitely not terrible.

isiah kiner-falefa, yankees

It’ll be interesting to see how they manage it, but Brian Cashman and the Yankees are going to keep exploring the free-agent market for pieces that can solve the World Series puzzle.

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