The Yankees’ recent pair of wins against the division-leading Red Sox helped to keep their postseason hopes alive, and the New York Post’s Joel Sherman writes that they’re looking for adding outfield help as the trade deadline approaches. Specifically, the Yankees would like to acquire someone who can handle center field.
Center field is an obvious, glaring need in the Bronx. Yankees center fielders are hitting just .183/.290/.309 on the season, and the resulting 70 wRC+ ranks 29th among the 30 MLB clubs. Aaron Hicks is out for the season after undergoing surgery to repair a torn tendon sheath in his wrist, and the subsequent cast of replacements hasn’t picked up the slack.
New York was already reported to have shown interest in Marlins center fielder Starling Marte, who is likely to be traded now that Miami’s hopes of getting him to sign an extension have been dashed. (Given the reported three years and roughly $30MM term, that should come as no surprise.) Sherman again connects the Yankees to Joey Gallo, who has some center field experience, and he adds that they’ve “wondered” about Minnesota’s Max Kepler — another strong defensive right fielder who has some experience playing center.
Marte would represent a pure rental for the Yankees — albeit an excellent one. He’s slashed at a .288/.389/.457 clip so far in 2021 while clubbing seven home runs and swiping 19 bases along the way. He’s owed about $5MM of this year’s $12.5MM salary between now and season’s end, although by the deadline, that sum would dip to about $4.37MM.
From a luxury tax standpoint, Marte is in the final year of a contract that wound up paying him $51MM over an eight-year term — an annual rate of $6.375MM. Prorating that luxury hit for the remainder of the season would mean about $2.22MM at the deadline or about $2.57MM as of today. Sherman notes that the Yankees have “about” $3MM in luxury breathing room — Roster Resource’s Jason Martinez has them around $3.5MM shy of the threshold — so Marte could technically fit into the budget without taking the Yankees over the line.
Both Gallo and Kepler are imperfect fits. Gallo is the far likelier of the two to be traded and, at $6.2MM in 2021, is a near-match with Marte in terms of luxury calculations. He’d give the Yankees a much-needed left-handed bat (unlike Marte), but he’s a better defender in right field and will likely have one of the higher asking prices among viable trade chips in the coming weeks. Gallo would add another three-true-outcome type of hitter to a Yankees lineup that leads MLB in walk rate and ranks ninth in homers and strikeout rate. Gallo is controlled via arbitration through the 2022 season.
Kepler, 28, is in the third season of a five-year, $35MM contract. He’s owed about $2.62MM through season’s end and is still owed $6.75MM in 2022 and $8.5MM in 2023. There’s a $10MM option with a $1MM buyout for the 2024 season.
Kepler missed a month with a hamstring injury earlier in the year and is batting just .207/.296/.427 in 243 plate appearances on the year. Kepler looked to be emerging from that slump with a hot few weeks after returning from the injured list in June, but he’s fallen back into an 0-for-15 skid at the plate. At his best, Kepler is an impact defender with a strong walk rate and plenty of power, as evidenced by his .252/.336/.519, 36-homer season back in 2019. The Twins probably don’t love the idea of selling low on him, and the Yankees may not want to roll the dice on a rebound for a currently struggling player anyhow.
If anything, the mention of Kepler is interesting for the fact that it illustrates the wide net being cast by the Yankees in their search. Out-of-the-box candidates figure to emerge — particularly if the team plans to remain below the luxury threshold. Owner Hal Steinbrenner recently voiced a willingness to cross that barrier, but the Yankees’ offseason moves were all made with the idea of avoiding the tax.