New York Yankees: Yankee outfielder options; Gardner, Pederson, or Puig?

yasiel puig, New York Yankees

The New York Yankees have made tremendous strides in the past week to improve the team for the 2021 season. They were finally able to re-sign batting champ DJ LeMahieu, sign two-time Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber and trade for pitcher Jameson Taillon. They may still sign arms to the bullpen. With Yankee veteran outfielder Brett Gardner not signed, there is much talk about adding another outfielder.

Although more is always better than less, this writer feels the Yankees have plenty of backup outfielders while understanding the outfielders’ injury record is not good. Stanton, Hicks, and Judge had missed parts of the last three seasons. However, along with Stanton, Mike Tauchman, and newly acquired Greg Allen, that makes three backups for Judge, Hicks, and Frazier. If they add to that, I feel it will be with Brett Gardner, more out of respect and loyalty than need.

Brett Gardner:

Nevertheless, let’s take a look at these options.  Brett Gardner is the only holdover from the 2009 World Series season. Kyle Higashioka was a Yankee then but was in the minors. Despite a career-low .223 batting average in ’20, Gardner’s excellent 16.5% walk rate (and .354 OB) still gave him a 108 OPS +, making him slightly above average and similar to the 103 OPS+ he put up from ’17-19. Gardner had a $10 million option with a $2.5 buyout feature, the Yankees declined. With Garder’s desire to play another year and the fan’s love of their veteran that plays so hard, the Yankees can come to deal if they truly want him back. He is still an above-average defender in both left and centerfield. Add to that Gardner would like to finish out his career with the Yankees.

Joc Pederson:

Probably the best left-hand hitter out there that the Yankees can afford is free agent Joc Pederson. The former Los Angeles Dodger destroys right-hand pitching and would be the perfect fit for Yankee Stadium’s short porch in right. He is not the defender that Gardner is, but his bat makes up for that. Against right-hand pitchers in 2020, he hit .382/.432/.559 in 37 plate appearances. If there is a problem, it’s that he can’t hit off lefties. Last year he batted .190 off lefties. That would be less of a problem with the Yankees as their right-heavy lineup seldom faces lefty pitchers. With an incentive-laden contract, the Yankees could probably land Pederson for $6 million on a one year contract. By the way, he is a Luke Voit look alike.

Yasiel Puig:

Puig might cost the New York Yankees more than they want to pay for someone that might be just a bench player.  Aaron Judge would have to have a serious injury and be away from the team for a long period to make Puig a strong need. Puig has a career .277 batting average with 132 home runs in seven years of play. The Cuban has just turned 30 years old. However, adding Puig would not provide a lefty bat to the lineup. Puig’s colorful personality would also be an interesting fit on the Yankees, who are generally regarded as a clean-cut organization for literal and metaphorical reasons. Still, that doesn’t preclude Puig from heading to the Bronx. After all, it’s not as if an interesting character or two haven’t donned pinstripes in the past.

Tommy LaStella:

One interesting possibility is Tommy LaStella, the former Angel and Athletics infielder. He would be backup for the New York Yankees to play any position in the infield should any of the Yankee infielders be injured or need a day off. Coming to the Yankees would be like a homecoming for the northern New Jersey native. Last year with the Angels and Athletics, he hit .281 with 5 home runs while striking out only 12 times in 228 plate appearances. In the postseason, he hit .273 in the wild card and .313 in the ALDS. While there are others available, these are my best four fits for the Yankees.

New York Yankees Analysis: The Yankees really need left-hand hitters

New York Yankees, Brett Gardner

The New York Yankees have one of the best lineups in baseball. But they lack one thing, left-hand hitters. Currently, they have none on the roster. Aaron Hicks is a switch hitter, but he is the only one that can take advantage of right-hand pitchers. They are also not taking advantage of the Yankee Stadium design, namely that sweet short porch in right field.

The stacking of right-handers doesn’t suit Yankee Stadium. Some of those right-handed batters, namely DJ LeMahieu and Aaron Judge, hit the ball the opposite way enough to take advantage of the cozy confines of River Avenue. The Stadium, though, is designed for left-handed pull hitters.

Other than taking advantage of that short porch, not having lefties in the lineup makes the job of selecting pitchers by opponents’ teams much easier, especially when calling in a reliever that must face three hitters. Although a team can win with an exclusive right-handed lineup, a manager’s ability to mix up the lineup is a definite advantage.

The Yankees do have lefties on the bench, Mike Ford, Mike Tauchman, and Tyler Wade. But last season, they combined for a .188 batting average, which will not win games. The Yankees need reliable left-hand hitters like Brett Gardner, Didi Gregorius, Greg Bird, and Jacoby Ellsbury that were all lefties for the Yankees in previous years. When healthy, these guys could all pull and hit the short porch.

Some of the greatest Yankee hitters of all time were lefties that used that short porch. Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Roger Maris, Don Mattingly, Robinson Cano, Reggie Jackson, Yogi Berra, Wade Boggs, Graig Nettles, Bill Dickey, Earl Combs, and others were all left-hand hitters. Mickey Mantle, Bernie Williams, Mark Teixeira, Jorge Posada, and Roy White could all hit from the left when needed as they were all successful switch hitters.

There are two clear benefits to hitting left-handed. The first one goes back to the scarcity of lefty pitchers. A lefty hitter will get to bat in many more favorable matchups against righties than he’ll have to bat in unfavorable ones against lefties. A batter wants the pitcher he faces to throw the opposite of how he hits, giving him a clearer view of what the pitcher is throwing and more time to see the pitch, giving the hitter an advantage off the pitcher.

So if the New York Yankees want to mix up their lineup with a few left-hand hitters, who should they target. The obvious move would be to re-hire Brett Gardner. Gardner is not only the most veteran of Yankee hitters but if he can have a season as he did in 2019, he could be an impactful hitter anywhere in the lineup.

The Yankees could also target Jay Bruce. Bruce would be a backup for the often injured Aaron Judge. He has hit 300 homers in his career. He, like many players, had a sub-par season in 2020. But in 2019, for two teams, he hit 19, and for the Mets in 2018, he hit 41 long balls. He has a career .245 batting average. He is also nicely fitted to Yankee Stadium. He would be a cheap addition if the Yankees could sign him to a minor league contract and invite him to show his spring training stuff.

Probably the best left-hand hitter out there that the Yankees can afford is free agent Joc Pederson. The former Los Angeles Dodger destroys right-hand pitching and would be the perfect fit for Yankee Stadium’s short porch in right. He is not the defender that Gardner is, but his bat makes up for that. Against right-hand pitchers in 2020, he hit .382/.432/.559 in 37 plate appearances. If there is a problem, it’s that he can’t hit off lefties. Last year he batted .190 off lefties. That would be less of a problem with the Yankees as their right-heavy lineup seldom faces lefty pitchers. With an incentive-laden contract, the Yankees could probably land Pederson for $6 million on a one year contract. By the way, he is a Luke Voit look alike.

One interesting possibility is Tommy LaStella, the former Angel and Athletics infielder. He would be backup for the New York Yankees to play any position in the infield should any of the Yankee infielders be injured or need a day off. Coming to the Yankees would be like a homecoming for the northern New Jersey native. Last year with the Angels and Athletics, he hit .281 with 5 home runs while striking out only 12 times in 228 plate appearances. In the postseason, he hit .273 in the wild card and .313 in the ALDS. While there are others available, these are my best three fits for the Yankees.

The New York Yankees could also reengage Didi Gregorius’s services, which probably won’t happen, as the Yankees have little wiggle room in the 2021 budget if they are to stay under the luxury tax threshold.

 

New York Yankees: Are the Yankees going to be “left” out without Brett Gardner

New York Yankees, Brett Gardner

The New York Yankees, after having a near-silent offseason, have now accomplished their biggest needs. The Yankees offered the second baseman and baseball batting title winner DJ LeMahieu a $6.9 million raise as a qualifying offer, the only one given by the Yankees. He would have earned $18.9 million for the 2021 season, but he refused and became a free agent. With money being a second consideration, DJ wanted a long contract that the Yankees did not want to give the 32-year-old. In the end, both sides got what they wanted. The Yankees got a low $15 million annual investment, and DJ got a six-year deal.

The other big need was to sign a number two-like starting pitcher to back up ace Gerrit Cole. After the Yankees lost Masahiro Tanaka, James Paxton, and J.A. Happ, they were left veteranless. With plenty of arms to choose from, all they had were inexperienced arms that probably wouldn’t carry them into the postseason. As soon as the New York Yankees knew more about their finances after the signing of DJ LeMahieu, they immediately signed two-time Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber to an $11 million one year low risk, high reward contract. This signing will give the Yankees another season to evaluate returning Domingo German, Luis Severino, and the developing young arms.

That leaves the Yankees needing additional bullpen help caused by the suspect relief of Adam Ottavino and the loss of Tommy Kahnle, who signed a two-year deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers. But today, we are going to discuss what some might consider a minor need. Plain and simple, the New York Yankees need at least one if not two left-hand producers in the lineup.

With the loss of Brett Gardner to free agency when the Yankees refused his 2021 option, the Yankees are left with no true left-hand batters that can impact the lineup. Yankee fans might be surprised that last year with Brett Gardner and switch hitter Aaron Hicks in the lineup, the team had fewer lefty plate appearances than any team in baseball.  In fact, only five teams in the history of baseball have had fewer left-hand plate appearances. So why is the lack of left-hand hitters important? For two reasons, It allows the opposing team to set up their pitching with less guesswork and doesn’t allow the Yankees to take advantage of the short porch at Yankee Stadium as much as they should.

It’s not that the Yankees don’t have left-hand hitters on the bench; the problem is, for the most part mixing and matching lefties from the bench doesn’t work when they don’t hit. Mike Tauchman, Mike Ford, Tyler Wade, and Estevan Florial are all left-hand hitters, but last season they combined for a slash line of just .188/.291/.296 and a mere .588 OPS. Stats like that are not going to win games. Please make no mistake about it. It should be obvious that the Yankees have done well without left-hand hitters. But wouldn’t it be smart to have some to throw the opponents off a bit?

The obvious answer to solving the problem is to bring back Brett Gardner, then at least they would have one lefty in the lineup. Two would be better, but one is better than nothing. Gardner has been with the Yankees since 2005, the last remaining player from the 2009 World Series-winning team. Gardner would like to end his career with the Yankees and has shown little interest in playing for another team. Like many players, he didn’t have a great year last season, but in 2019 he had a career-high number of home runs. Even if Gardner does get a hit, he does manage to get on base.

Despite a career-low .223 batting average in ’20, Gardner’s excellent 16.5% walk rate (and .354 OB) still gave him a 108 OPS +, making him slightly above average and similar to the 103 OPS+ he put up from ’17-19. Gardner had a $10 million option with a $2.5 buyout feature, the Yankees declined. With Garder’s desire to play another year and the fan’s love of their veteran that plays so hard, the Yankees can come to deal if they truly want him back. He is still an above-average defender in both left and centerfield.

If the New York Yankees don’t want Gardner back in the lineup, they have other options. Probably the best left-hand hitter out there that the Yankees can afford is free agent Joc Pederson. The former Los Angeles Dodger destroys right-hand pitching and would be the perfect fit for Yankee Stadium’s short porch in right. He is not the defender that Gardner is, but his bat makes up for that. Against right-hand pitchers in 2020, he hit .382/.432/.559 in 37 plate appearances. If there is a problem, it’s that he can’t hit off lefties. Last year he batted .190 off lefties. That would be less of a problem with the Yankees as their right-heavy lineup seldom faces lefty pitchers. With an incentive-laden contract, the Yankees could probably land Pederson for $6 million on a one year contract. By the way, he is a Luke Voit look alike.

There are other options out there, a reunion with Didi Gregorius is financially unlikely and also has too many moving parts now that the Yankees have resigned DJ LeMahieu. There are other left-hand hitters available that are also ruled out for the same reason.

One interesting possibility is Tommy LaStella, the former Angel and Athletics infielder. He would be backup for the New York Yankees to play any position in the infield should any of the Yankee infielders be injured or need a day off. Coming to the Yankees would be like a homecoming for the northern New Jersey native. Last year with the Angels and Athletics, he hit .281 with 5 home runs while striking out only 12 times in 228 plate appearances. In the postseason, he hit .273 in the wild card and .313 in the ALDS. While there are others available, these are my best two fits for the Yankees.

The photo below is of the Luke Voit look-alike Joc Pederson.

EmpireSportsMedia.com’s Columnist William Parlee is a member of the Society for American Baseball Research. Follow me on Twitter @parleewilliam.

 

 

 

New York Yankees News/Rumors: The Gleyber Torres debacle and how the Yankees may fix it

The New York Yankees, after losing in the postseason again, have a bevy of issues to solve going into a long cold winter offseason. The main one is its pitching rotation. With the return of Luis Severino before the All-Star break and the potential return of Domingo German, the problem of losing Masahiro Tanaka, James Paxton, and J.A. Happ, the problem may not be as bad as it seems, but don’t get fooled; it is a problem.

The Yankees offered no qualifying offers to any of the free-agent pitchers. But the money is on the return of Masahiro Tanaka if Tanaka is willing to take a shorter contract and one that is deeply discounted from what he earned this year. That leaves their big-money pitcher, Gerrit Cole, Tanaka, and Jordan Montgomery.  Obviously, they have two holes to fill. Right or wrong, it seems the Yankees will plug in Deivi Garcia as the only prospect they feel that is comfortably ready to take the big stage at Yankee Stadium.

So, the reality is that the New York Yankees need an additional premium arm for the rotation. If the Yankees are willing to spend big in this cash short offseason, they will go after a Corey Kluber or Charlie Morton type pitcher. Trevor Bauer would be the perfect match for Yankees Stadium, but it is doubtful they will spend for Bauer.

A somewhat less important issue to solve is what to do with Gleyber Torres at shortstop. Torres had a far from a stellar season at short. At one point in the season, he had the most errors in baseball. After a season and a half at the position, the Yankees realize that he may not get better and have to find a way to keep the potential Yankee star in the lineup. In 2019 he had the most home runs (38) of any Yankee. He didn’t play all that well at the plate either this past season, but that is likely more of a blip in the young man’s career that he will surely recover from.

The Yankees believe to solve that problem, they need to move him back to his normal position at second base. To do that, they need to find a place for superstar DJ LeMahieu. That’s really not that hard to do because he is the same caliber player at first and third base. The only problem with that is Giancarlo Stanton is the permanent DH. What do you do with either 2020 home run leader Luke Voit or the second-best contact hitter in Gio Urshela?

This is why I have called this a debacle. There is no way easy way to solve the problem. I suggested even before the postseason that the Yankees convert DJ into a utility player that can give a day off to every infielder and act as a DH, keeping him in the lineup at least five days a week. The easy solution is if DJ wants more money than the Yankees want to pay him, and he walks; that’s a solution the Yankees surely don’t want.

Leaving that debacle behind for a moment, if the New York Yankees move Torres to second base, they now have no shortstop. The easy solution to that problem brings Francisco Lindor to the Stadium, he is the best shortstop in baseball today and would add a switch hitter to the lineup, but there is a cost, a huge cost, that the Yankees may not be willing to pay. Another option is to bring back Didi Gregorius, who had a bounceback season with the Phillies. With the remarks he has made during this past season, that is probably not a good idea, although he was a fan favorite.

There are more cost-effective options; Andrelton Simmons or Tommy La Stella. Simmons, a 31-year-old Curacao native, is an excellent shortstop free agent from the Los Angeles Angels. He is a solid player who hit .297 in 2020. He is not a home run hitter, but a contact hitter that might be attractive to the Yankees. Simmons is a four-time Gold Glover and a Platinum Glove Award winner.

Tommy LaStella is not the defender that Simmons is, but is an interesting replacement for Torres. His batting average was slightly less than Simmons, but unlike Simmons, he mixes his hits with home runs. He would also provide the Yankees with a left-hand bat at the plate they sorely need. He had a very good .819 OPS with the Athletics in 2020. He is also more versatile than Simmons as he is a second baseman as well.

This is going to be a long offseason that will most likely see changes for many teams, including the New York Yankees, happen later than soon, in what is expected to be a very slow but active hot stove.