The New York Yankees are taking their sweet time finding a solution for the vacant left field spot, and while Andrew Benintendi remains the top option on the market, he may want to avoid the bright lights of The Big Apple.
After seeing the massive deals Brandon Nimmo and Aaron Judge landed, Benintendi is likely grinning from cheek to cheek at the deal he’s about to sign. It doesn’t seem as if the Yankees are keen on paying him $20 million per season, so they could settle for alternatives, notably Michael Conforto, or look to trade for a new left fielder.
According to Joel Sherman of The New York Post, the Yankees have connected with the Twins and Diamondbacks about their outfielders. Specifically, defensive maestro, Max Kepler stands out as the best option of the bunch, given his lefty bat and ability to hit double-digit homers.
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Kepler is an exciting talent at 29 years old, consisting of a lefty bat and a 6’4″ frame with impeccable defensive attributes. In 2021 with Minnesota, Kepler hit .227 with a 31.8% on-base rate, nine homers, and 43 RBIs. His home-run totals have diminished over time, but at such a ripe age, there’s a reason to believe he can return to his old numbers, hitting 36 homers back in 2019.
If the Yankees can resurrect his power, there’s no question he can be an incredibly valuable asset in the outfield, hitting .252 with a 33.6% on-base rate back during the 2019 season, his best as a professional. During that campaign, he recorded a 41.7% hard-hit rate, 8.4% barrel rate, and 89.7 exit velocity. However, his power hasn’t diminished by any means, according to the metrics, his home run totals have simply taken a big step back.
Interestingly, given his lefty approach in the batter’s box, his home run totals in Yankee Stadium would be far above his metrics with the Twins. In fact, he would’ve hit 41 homers during the 2019 season, five more than the 36 he ended up finishing with. He would’ve hit 14 this past year compared to nine, so clearly there is a significant advantage to playing with a short-right porch, which is why the Yankees might be intrigued.
Kepler is currently heading into the final year of a five-year, $35 million deal with the Twins, set to earn $8.5 million in base salary. The team has a club option for the 2024 season that would transition to the Yankees, including a $1 million buy-out if he doesn’t pan out.
Nonetheless, Kepler has never played an inning of left field in his life, but I don’t think the Yankees would stop him from making the transition. He recorded a .991 fielding percentage in the outfield over 900.1 innings this past season, posting nine defensive runs saved above average and 11 outs above average. There is no doubt he would be a monster defensive asset for the Bombers in left field, but offensively he can be a liability at times. If they can increase his home run numbers and get him back into productive form, this could be a phenomenal grab for GM Brian Cashman.
The Twins won’t want a significant haul in return for Kepler, but they will require two inning-eaters from the Yankees. Domingo Germán doesn’t project to serve a big role as a starting pitcher in 2023, but he’s expected to help mitigate fatigue down the stretch for some of their more prominent arms.
At 30 years old, Germán posted a 3.61 ERA over 72.1 innings in 2022. He’s good enough to serve as a starter in most rotations, albeit at the back end.
The Yankees have Clarke Schmidt waiting in the wings to take on a bigger workload, so Germán is expendable by most accounts. They can easily replace him with a cheap free agent or utilize some of their own youth prospects to help supplement his loss.
Cashman would likely have no problem moving on from Lucas Luetge, a 35-year-old bullpen arm who can eat innings during a blowout. Luetge pitched 57.1 innings in 2022, earning a 2.67 ERA and an 83% left-on-base rate. He’s now put together consecutive seasons of quality bullpen support, but he’s a low-leverage pitcher the Yankees don’t rely on unless they’re winning or losing by a significant amount.
Given he is a lefty arm in the bullpen, the Yankees would have to supplement that loss and add a bit more diversity, but replacing him shouldn’t be too much of a struggle.