Assessing The Yankees’ Options In Left-Field

The Yankees have been one of baseball’s busier teams this winter, bringing back Aaron Judge on a franchise-record nine-year, $360MM deal, while also adding Carlos Rodon and Tommy Kahnle and bringing back first-baseman Anthony Rizzo on a two-year pact. There’s no guarantee more moves are on the way for New York, but it seems if there is one move to make it’ll come in left-field.

Ten players saw time in left for the Yankees in 2022. Of the players who made more than ten appearances there, Joey Gallo, Andrew Benintendi and Miguel Andujar have new teams, Tim Locastro and Marwin Gonzalez are free agents, while Aaron Hicks remains on the roster. While there’s been reports of the Yankees trying to move Hicks this winter, he remains on the team and at this point figures to have some role to play in 2023. Given his presence, it makes sense to take a look at the internal candidates to man left in 2023, before taking a look at what options the Yankees have externally if they do go down that route.

Internal Options

  • Aaron Hicks: The 33-year-old had a disappointing campaign in 2022, slashing .216/.330/.313 with eight home runs in 130 games. That was good for a 90 wRC+ (ten percentage points below league average), and was the second straight year Hicks has been below-average offensively. He was a solid contributor from 2017-20, but has seen his power numbers drop off significantly in recent years. Hicks did benefit from a move from center to left, and was worth 8 Defensive Runs Saved in 413 innings there in 2022. He has three years and $30.5MM (including a buyout on a $12.5MM team option in 2026). Should the Yankees opt against bringing a left-fielder in, Hicks seems to be the most likely player to be manning the position on opening day.
  • Oswaldo CabreraCabrera acted as something of a spark plug for the Yankees after receiving his first big league call up in August this year. Down the stretch, Cabrera played in 44 games, slashing .247/.312/.429 with six home runs while appearing in every position bar center-field and catcher. Despite having played just 34 outfield innings in the minors, Cabrera spent the bulk of his big league time in the corner spots, impressing to the tune of 9 Defensive Runs Saved in 278 2/3 innings. While Cabrera certainly put a strong case forward to be an everyday outfielder going forward, he may have more value to the Yankees as utility-type given his ability to play just about any position.
  • Giancarlo StantonThe veteran spent the most time on the grass in a season since 2018, logging 312 2/3 innings after being restricted to the DH spot almost exclusively in recent years. The bulk of that came in right-field, where Stanton was worth -4 Defensive Runs Saved. It’s unlikely to be a better picture in left, and while Stanton remains a strong offensive threat, it seems more likely that the Yankees will keep him in the DH spot more often than not and use him in the outfield only occasionally.
  • Estevan FlorialThe 25-year-old has been stuck in the upper minors for a while now, tallying just 63 big league plate appearances in the last three seasons. During that time he’s hit .185/.302/.278 with a single home run. The former top-100 prospect hit .283/.368/.481 with 15 home runs and 39 stolen bases at Triple-A last year. He’s out of options now, so the Yankees would have to expose him to waivers if they want to take him off the big league roster. There’s a chance the Yankees keep him around as an outfield option on the bench, but they haven’t seen enough in recent years to give him an extended look in the majors and it’s unlikely they’d do that now.

Free Agents

  • David Peralta/Trey Mancini/Andrew McCutchen: The free agent market for left-fielders has been largely cleared out, but if the Yankees were to go down that path this trio of hitters would likely be the best remaining options. With perhaps the exception of Mancini, they could likely have these players on one-year deals. Peralta’s left-handedness could make him more appealing in Yankee Stadium, but ultimately all three have limitations that make it unlikely the Yankees would go down this route. At the end of the day, if the Yankees are to upgrade left-field it’d surely be for someone that vastly improves their current options. The trade market certainly has those options, but it doesn’t appear that free agency does anymore.

Trade Market

  • Bryan ReynoldsThe switch-hitting Pirates star has been linked to the Yankees in recent weeks since requesting a trade out of Pittsburgh. There’s no guarantee the Pirates trade Reynolds, and it appears they’re asking for a significant haul (headlined by a top pitching prospect) in return. The top of the Yankees’ farm system is heavy in position players, which may make a match tricky but Reynolds would fit their needs. He’s under control for three more seasons and will earn $6.75MM in 2023. That’s a highly affordable rate for a player who’s amassed 12.5 fWAR in four seasons. It’d be a big swing for the Yankees to go out and trade for Reynolds, and they’d have to give up a lot of prospect value, but it’d certainly put them in a strong position over the next few seasons.
  • Max KeplerKepler is under control for another season at $9.5MM (including a buyout on a $10MM 2024 team option). He experienced a down year at the plate last season, hitting just nine home runs and slashing .227/.318/.348. He’s a left-handed pull hitter, so there’s a chance that a combination of Yankee Stadium’s short porch and the restrictions on defensive positioning can boost his offensive numbers, but a lot of his value is in his glove. While he has been playing right-field in Minnesota, he’s been worth 19 Defensive Runs Saved there over the past two seasons. The cost to acquire him would be less than Reynolds, but the production would likely be less too. While Kepler makes some sense, the Yankees may wonder whether it’s worth carrying both Hicks and Kepler on the same roster.
  • Arizona’s Outfielders: Even after dealing Daulton Varsho to Toronto, the Diamondbacks are still stocked with outfielders, especially given they acquired one – Lourdes Gurriel Jr. – in that trade. Corbin Carroll, Alek Thomas and Jake McCarthy are all young outfielders that project as the future of Arizona’s outfield. They’ve been mentioned in trades and certainly could appeal to New York, but perhaps they could be motivated to flip Gurriel to New York. He slashed .291/.343/.400 with five home runs for Toronto last season, and is under control for one more season at $5.8MM. The Snakes are building a strong young roster, and while Gurriel is a solid player, his one year of remaining team control probably doesn’t align with Arizona returning to contention.

Ultimately, there’s a few different options for the Yankees to go down. As poor as Hicks was in 2022, he was still worth 1.5 fWAR and if the Yankees can’t trade him and don’t want to go after a clear upgrade like Reynolds, it does make some sense to at least start the season with him in left. That way they can see if he can rebound at the plate, and look to make a move depending on how that goes at the trade deadline mid-season.

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