The Yankees have had trade discussions with the Twins and Diamondbacks about their available outfielders, reports Joel Sherman of The New York Post.
The Yankees already have two of their outfield positions accounted for, with Harrison Bader in center and Aaron Judge in right. There’s less certainty in left field, however, with Andrew Benintendi having departed via free agency. That leaves Aaron Hicks and Oswaldo Cabrera as the remaining in-house options. Hicks is now 33 years old and has hit a combined .211/.322/.317 over the past two seasons. For a team in win-now mode like the Yankees, it’s understandable that they don’t want to rely on him as an everyday option. Cabrera just made his major league debut and only has 44 games under his belt. He fared well in that time but is a natural infielder who was learning outfield on the fly, meaning he’s probably best utilized as a utility option as opposed to an everyday player.
The desire for the Yanks to upgrade there is logical, as is their choice of trade partners. It was recently reported that the Twins had received some trade interest on Max Kepler, given that they have a large number of other outfield options on the roster. Trevor Larnach, Alex Kirilloff, Kyle Garlick, Gilberto Celestino, Royce Lewis, Nick Gordon, Matt Wallner and Mark Contreras are all options to join Byron Buxton in the Minnesota outfield. Since all of those guys apart from Buxton and Kepler have less than three years of MLB service time, it’s likely that the Twins would have some reluctance to parting with them.
Kepler, on the other hand, has one year remaining on his extension, though with a club option for 2024. He’ll be making a salary of $8.5MM in 2023 with a $1MM buyout on the $10MM option. Kepler has hit right around league average for his career, as his .232/.317/.427 batting line amounts to a wRC+ of 101. However, his defense has allowed him to be a consistently productive player. He’s produced at least 2.0 wins above replacement in each of the last six full seasons, according to FanGraphs, in addition to adding 1.1 fWAR in 2020.
As for the Diamondbacks, they are also flush with young outfielders that have reportedly been popular in trade talks. Corbin Carroll is considered one of the best young players in the game and is the least available of the group. But aside from him, the club has Daulton Varsho, Jake McCarthy, Alek Thomas, Pavin Smith, Dominic Fletcher and Kyle Lewis in their outfield picture. Aside from Lewis, those guys all hit left-handed, as does Kepler.
A left-handed hitter would be a good fit in the Yankee lineup for a couple of reasons. First of all, the lineup skews right-handed, with Anthony Rizzo the only lefty who is currently likely to get regular playing time. Secondly, the club’s “short porch” in right field traditionally boosts the value of lefty hitters. With the upcoming ban on infield shifts for 2023, a lefty in pinstripes could sell out for hard contact and not have to worry as much about watching liners and grounders get swallowed up by the defense.
As for their preferences for a target, Sherman suggests the Yankees would prefer Varsho to Thomas. That’s not a surprising choice to make, given Varsho’s strong breakout campaign in 2022. He hit 27 home runs and stole 16 bases, producing an overall batting line of .235/.302/.443 for a wRC+ of 106. Varsho was also excellent in the field, with his all-around game leading to a 4.6 fWAR tally on the year. Thomas, meanwhile, hit just .231/.275/.344 in his MLB debut, leading to a wRC+ of 71. He was also strong on defense and was only 22 years old, turning 23 in April. He could still blossom into a great major leaguer but it might still take some time.
Of course, the Yanks won’t be alone in calling these clubs about their attractive outfielders. The previous reporting on the D-Backs had already listed the Brewers, Blue Jays, A’s, Marlins, White Sox and Reds as interested, while Sherman notes that the Mets were on the phone as well. They reportedly were trying to acquire Thomas, but when Arizona asked for prospect Brett Baty, the Mets decided to hang onto him and just sign Nimmo instead. If the Mets found the asking price on Thomas to be too high, it’s fair to wonder if the Yanks would want to pay it or go even higher for Varsho.
If the Yankees don’t find a deal to their liking on the trade market, Benintendi is still a free agent. Though he’s not quite the superstar who seemed to on the way to becoming earlier in his career, he’s still a solid regular. He only hit five home runs in 2022 but was solid in the field and hit .304/.373/.399 for a 122 wRC+ and 2.8 fWAR. MLBTR predicted he could land a contract of $54MM over four years, or $13.5MM per season. Sherman reports that Benintendi is looking for a five-year deal and it wouldn’t be a shock to see that come to fruition. Many players have landed much longer deals than expected this offseason, with each of Trea Turner, Xander Bogaerts and Brandon Nimmo getting deals at least three years longer than projected. With Judge and Nimmo off the board, Benintendi is arguably the top remaining outfielder on the open market, which might lead to his market picking up soon.
It’s possible that the competitive balance tax might play a factor in a free agent pursuit, as Sherman opines that the Yankees might prefer to stay under the third CBT tier of $273MM. By crossing that line, the financial penalties would go up and the club would see its top 2023 draft pick pushed back by ten slots. Roster Resource currently pegs their CBT number at $266MM, meaning that adding Benintendi or any other notable player could lead to the club attempting to find ways to shed salary, such as trying to trade Hicks or Josh Donaldson.