The Yankees are in agreement with outfielder Rafael Ortega on a minor league contract, as first reported by Complete Baseball News (Twitter link). The veteran will presumably be in big league camp as a non-roster invitee to Spring Training.
Ortega, 31, heads to the Bronx after two years as a Cub. Signed to a minor league contract over the 2020-21 offseason, he cracked the big league roster in late May of 2021. Ortega would go to appear in 103 games for Chicago that year, hitting .291/.360/.463. An elevated .349 batting average on balls in play propped up those impressive results, though it was still a strong enough showing for Ortega to hold his roster spot through the offseason.
While the lefty-hitting Ortega predictably couldn’t quite maintain his 2021 production, he had another solid year. He got into a career-high 118 games last season, picking up 371 trips to the dish. Ortega hit .241/.331/.358, production just a hair worse than league average. He didn’t make much of an impact from a power perspective, hitting only seven home runs with a slightly below-average 33.5% hard contact rate. Yet he earned some extended run at the top of the Chicago lineup thanks to quality strikeout and walk marks. He drew free passes at a very strong 11.9% clip against a modest 19.9% strikeout rate, resulting in an on-base percentage nearly 20 points higher than league average even as his BABIP took the expected step back.
Despite his decent two-year run, Ortega didn’t hold his spot on the Chicago roster this time around. The Cubs non-tendered him rather than retain him on an arbitration salary projected at $1.7MM. Without finding a big league deal in free agency, he’ll now have to work his way back onto an MLB roster in order to appear at the highest level for a seventh season.
Ortega has ample experience at all three outfield positions. Public metrics have pegged him as a slightly below-average center fielder but given him solid marks in the corners. The Yankees have a question in left field, where Aaron Hicks and Oswaldo Cabrera seem like the current favorites for playing time. Aaron Judge and Harrison Bader are locked into the other two outfield spots if healthy, though Ortega profiles as a quality depth option in the event Bader or one of the other outfielders misses time to injury.