The Yankees’ left field conundrum has been an ongoing topic of the off-season as the team mulls over whether or not to bring in someone through the trade market or free agency, or stick with their internal options.
As Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports, the team’s preferred outcome would have been to retain Andrew Benintendi, but he wound up signing a five-year, $75MM deal with the White Sox. He reports that the Yankees would have gone to five years to get Benintendi were it not for the fact they’d signed starter Carlos Rodon to a six-year, $162MM pact. Sherman also reports that the team was “very involved” in trade talks with the Diamondbacks about Daulton Varsho before they ultimately shifted him to Toronto for Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Gabriel Moreno.
The biggest available name the team has been connected to is Bryan Reynolds. He has requested a trade out of Pittsburgh, but it seems the Bucs have set a high asking price on their star outfielder and haven’t budged on that front. Nonetheless, Jon Heyman of the New York Post recently reported that the Yankees were one of the teams “consistently” interested in acquiring Reynolds. As a switch-hitter with three-years of team control remaining he’d certainly fit on their roster, but the Yankees may be reluctant to part with top prospects such as Oswald Peraza and Anthony Volpe to get a deal done.
It’s slim pickings on the free agent market at this point, but Sherman does note that the team has had some interest in Jurickson Profar. The switch-hitter was worth 2.5 fWAR for the Padres in 2022 and would be a solid option to upgrade their outfield stocks. Yet Oswaldo Cabrera was worth 1.5 fWAR in 44 games and Aaron Hicks the same in 130 games, so the team may not see Profar as enough of a needle-mover to commit to the multi-year deal he likely seeks. The same could be said of another left-handed bat in David Peralta, but it doesn’t appear there’s been much interest from the Yankees anyway.
Chris Kirschner of The Athletic reported in a recent mailbag that the team could forego external options and let Hicks and Cabrera battle it out in spring training for the starting job. While it isn’t the most exciting option for Yankees fans, there is some sense in it. The Yankees roster is strong enough to be in a good spot for the first three months of the season without an upgrade in left, so the team could see if Hicks can rebound or Cabrera can sustain his small sample of work over a longer period, before deciding whether or not to seek an external upgrade at the trade deadline.
Hicks had plenty of shortcomings in 2022, but he still walked at a strong 13.7% clip and if he can regain even a little bit of the power he’s showed in the past he could still be reasonably productive player. Cabrera was exceptional in the field last year, earning 9 Defensive Runs Saved in 278 2/3 outfield innings, while posting a 111 wRC+ at the plate. He also struggled mightily in the playoffs, going 2-for-28 with 12 strikeouts. In any event, he may have more value to the Yankees as someone who can play all over the field rather than in a fixed position, allowing the Yankees to spell some of their veterans on a more regular basis.
Estevan Florial is the other internal option that the Yankees will need to make a decision on. A toolsy former top-100 prospect, Florial has found opportunities few and far between over the past three seasons (just 63 plate appearances) but is out of options so can’t be sent to the minors without being exposed to waivers. He’s hit well at Triple-A and the Yankees could give him an extended run in the majors, but Sherman opines that the Yankees could trade him prior to the season opener. While his trade value won’t be particularly high anymore, plenty of teams – particularly rebuilding ones – would surely like to give him an extended opportunity in the big leagues to see if they can tap into his potential.
The Yankees have also been aggressive in recent weeks in stocking up on outfield depth in the minors. They’ve signed Willie Calhoun, Billy McKinney and Rafael Ortega to minor league deals, and Sherman notes they checked in on Kole Calhoun as well. Calhoun and McKinney look like depth pieces, but Ortega is an interesting add. He had a 122 wRC+ for the Cubs over 330 plate appearances in 2021, and while it dropped back to 96 in 2022 he does look to be a possible option for the Yankees. As a left-handed pull hitter, he could benefit from playing regularly in Yankee Stadium as well, so a strong spring could see him force his way into the team’s plans at the big league level.