Yankees’ $98 million outfielder holds the keys to an elite offense

MLB: New York Yankees at Toronto Blue Jays
Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

The Yankees made significant improvements to their batting order this off-season, adding a Hall of Fame level bat in Juan Soto and a player capable of being above average in Alex Verdugo. Two lefties add more diversity and allow the Yankees to leverage the short right porch in the Bronx.

Soto and Aaron Judge alone could carry an entire offense, but Giancarlo Stanton holds the keys to a truly elite unit.

Stanton is owed $98 million in luxury tax salary over the duration of his contract. The team will have a buyout option at $10 million in 2028, a number they will certainly take just to offload the remainder of his deal and move on.

However, Stanton is 34 years old and coming off his worst season as a professional. He hit a measly .191/.275/.420, including 24 home runs and 60 RBIs. His walk rate dipped below 10% for the first time since 2018, and his strikeout rate hovered around 30%. He was considered a below-average hitter with an 89 wRC+.

There’s hope that Stanton can still be an effective hitter, and he stated at the end of the season that he was disgraced with his performance and he is ready to work hard to turn back the clock. A downward trend in bat speed and an increase in whiff rate indicate slower reaction timing. That could be a product of age or confidence.

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The Yankees Put Stanton on a New Weight Plan

Stanton lost a significant amount of weight to help improve his flexibility, which should, in turn, help his stamina. Injury has derailed the veteran slugger consistently over the past few seasons, but the Yankees still see his upside and know he can be a positive contributor.

At this point, it is likely that Stanton will remain the cleanup hitter for the Yankees, but he should have a short leash, giving up the spot to Anthony Rizzo if he continues to struggle in 2024. His bat is what makes him so valuable, considering his inability to play defense due to injury concerns.

In 2023, Stanton only played 252.1 innings in the outfield, most of which came in right field, hosting -3 defensive runs saved and -2 outs above average.

With both Judge and Soto hosting on-base percentages above 40%, Stanton mashing home runs and hitting for power is an essential variable in the team’s success.

The concept would be to load the bases early in games with three high OBP hitters and then let Stanton do the rest, which would open up opportunities to take early leads and give his pitchers an advantage.

If all goes to plan, Stanton won’t only have a rebound season, he could be in a position to post some of his best numbers in years. The Yankees haven’t had such a dominant top half of the batting order since he was acquired from the Marlins, so the opportunity is there for him to fall back into the grace of Yankee fans.

For now, many are cautioned to bet on his rebound, but given what the Yankees are spending on him, they have no choice but to believe he can carry his weight in the future.