The Yankees would like to avoid the reality of Aaron Hicks starting in left field next season, especially coming off a disappointing 2022 campaign. In fact, I would hedge my bets on Hicks being moved this off-season, as he’s preparing to earn $10.5 million next year.
With that in mind, the Yankees have a void in left field but have been connected with several players on the free agent market who could fit the bill nicely moving forward.
According to Jon Heyman of the New York Post, the Yankees have connected with Michael Conforto, Andrew Benintendi, and Cody Bellinger.
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The Yankees could pursue any of these three outfielders:
Starting with Benintendi, who spent 33 games with the Yankees before suffering a wrist injury, is an elite contact hitter and traditionally gets on-base at above 35% in his career. This past season, he hit .304 with a 37.3% on-base rate, including five homers and 51 RBIs. His numbers plummeted with the Yankees, but over a full season, the expectation is that he will return to normal.
At 28 years old, Benintendi may land a deal worth $15 million per season, but he’s well worth it given his postseason experience. He’s played 21 games in the playoffs, hitting .272 with a 32.2% on-base rate. Having a player of his quality and ability to get on base will only play into the Yankees’ slugging mentality. If general manager Brian Cashman does manage to retain Aaron Judge, having Benny at the top of the order would do him wonders in providing multi-run homers instead of solo shots.
On the other hand, the Yankees could ride with a player like Michael Conforto, who is 29 years old having spent the last seven seasons with the Mets. Conforto didn’t appear in 2022 but hit .232 with a 34.4% on-base rate in 2021 across 125 games. He might be a solid buy-low option having not played for a full season, but he traditionally gets on base at a fantastic clip and hit a career-high 33 homers back in 2019.
Conforto has almost 5,800 innings of outfield experience, including 2,045 in left field and 2,615 in right field. He can fit either position easily, and the Yankees might be able to get him on a solid contract that doesn’t break the bank.
The last remaining option is Cody Bellinger, a 27-year-old player coming from the Los Angeles Dodgers but has been extraordinarily bad the past two seasons.
Bellinger hit .210 with a 26.5% on-base rate in 2022, well below his statistics from 2019 when he hit .305 with a 40.6% on-base rate, including 47 homers at 115 RBIs. There’s no question that he will likely be a cheaper option on the market, but he provides decent defense and his offensive upside is undeniable. He gives strong Joey Gallo vibes, but at 27 and featuring a lefty bat, who’s to say he can’t revitalize his career with the Yankees and their short right porch?
Bellinger certainly wouldn’t be my top option to play LF next season, but if landing him a low salary means they can go out and acquire a top-end starting pitcher, it might a worthwhile discussion.