Yankees miss out on last remaining high-upside left field free agent

michael conforto, yankees, mets
Sep 14, 2021; New York City, New York, USA; New York Mets right fielder Michael Conforto (30) follows through on an RBI single against the St. Louis Cardinals during the first inning at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Yankees are still prowling the market for a starting left-fielder, which is likely to be filled by trade rather than free agency. Unfortunately, general manager Brian Cashman lost out on the final remaining high-upside free agent, Michael Conforto.

Conforto landed a two-year, $36 million deal with the San Francisco Giants, a team that was desperately trying to make improvements but struck out multiple times on big names like Aaron Judge, Carlos Rodon, and Carlos Correa.

The Bombers were intrigued by Conforto, but giving him $18 million for two years was an exceeding price tag at 29 years old and coming off a significant shoulder injury.

Conforto didn’t play in 2022 but did hit .232 with a 34.4% on-base rate, including 14 homers and 55 RBIs in 2021. Those days may be behind him, having not swung a meaningful bat in quite some time. There’s no telling if the injury will diminish his production moving forward, but the Yankees didn’t want to take an expensive risk.

The Yankees now look to the trade market to solve LF:

Now, Cashman must look toward the trade market, with Bryan Reynolds of the Pittsburgh Pirates and Max Kepler from the Minnesota Twins as the two primary targets, according to reports.

Given how expensive Reynolds projects to be, Kepler seems like the most likely acquisition. At 29 years old, Kepler hit .227 with a 32% on-base rate last year, hitting nine homers and 43 RBIs. However, as a lefty bat, he can improve his home run totals in Yankee stadium with the short right porch. He did smash 36 long balls back in 2019, but many players saw significant drop-offs after the league steered clear of juiced baseballs.

Kepler has never played left field before, but he has traditionally been a defensive maestro in the outfield. He has a .992 fielding percentage acrostics 6710.2 innings in his career in the outfield. He has a career 48 defensive runs saved above average and 58 outs above average, showcasing incredible efficiency in right field.

Across 891.1 innings in RF last year, he earned 10 defensive runs saved above average and 12 outs above average. He should be able to translate well in left, and given he’s preparing to earn $7 million for the 2023 season, not only is he a cheaper player, but the Yankees won’t have to break the bank in the prospect category to land him.