Yankees left field puzzle grows bigger

Yankees need to fix their left field position.
Inna Zeyger
Wednesday January 11, 2023

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The Yankees‘ left field problem has been talked about a lot this off-season, as the team tries to decide whether to trade for a new player or sign a free agent, or whether or not to stick with the players they already have. Andrew Benintendi left the Yankees and signed a five-year, $75 million contract with the Chicago White Sox. This left the Yankees with a huge hole on their left.

Yankees GM Brian Cashman seems to be done making deals, at least for the time being. Bob Klapisch of NJ Advance Media claims, “MLB sources don’t expect the Yankees to make any big moves before spring training. For now, it looks like Aaron Hicks will be in left field.”

According to Joel Sherman of the New York Post, the Yankees would have kept Benintendi by giving him a five-year deal if they hadn’t signed starting pitcher Carlos Rodon to a six-year, $162 million deal. Sherman also says that the team was “very involved” in talks to bring Daulton Varsho from Arizona before he headed to Toronto.

Bryan Reynolds is the biggest name that the team has been linked to. He wanted to move out of Pittsburgh, but it looks like the Pirates are asking too much to part away with the outfielder. Jon Heyman of the New York Post recently said that the Yankees were “consistently” one of the teams that wanted to get Reynolds. As a switch-hitter with three years left on his contract, he would fit right in with their team, but the Yankees might not want to give up top prospects like Oswald Peraza and Anthony Volpe to make a deal.

USA Today’s Bob Nightengale reports the Pirates “are not close to reaching a contract extension with center fielder Bryan Reynolds after he rejected their six-year, $75 million offer, and requested a trade. They still have an awfully high price tag on him, teams say, believing Reynolds will still open the season with the Pirates.”

At this point, there aren’t many free agents to choose from. But Sherman claims that the Yankees had shown interest in Jurickson Profar. But his 2.5 fWAR last season in San Diego doesn’t look stronger than Oswaldo Cabrera‘s 1.5 fWAR in 44 appearances. This may be dissuading the Yankees from signing him to the multi-year deal he likely wants. The same could be said about David Peralta, who also hits left-handed, but it doesn’t look like the Yankees are very interested.

Chris Kirschner of The Athletic said in a recent mailbag that the team might not look for help from outside and instead let Hicks and Cabrera compete for the starting job in spring training. Even though it’s not the most exciting choice for Yankees fans, it makes sense. The Yankees’ lineup is good enough that they won’t need an upgrade in left field for the first three months of the season. This gives the team time to see if Aaron Hicks can get back on track or if Cabrera can keep up his good play.

Hicks had a lot of problems in 2022, but if he can get back even a little bit of the power he’s shown in the past, he could still be a pretty good player. Last year, Cabrera was great in the field. In 278 2/3 outfield innings, he saved 9 runs with his defense, and he had a 111 wRC+ at the plate. He also had a hard time in the playoffs, going 2-for-28 and striking out 12 times. In any case, he might be more useful to the Yankees as a player who can play anywhere on the field rather than in a specific spot. This would let the Yankees switch out some of their veterans more often.

Estevan Florial is the other internal option that the Yankees will have to decide on. The toolsy Florial used to be a top-100 prospect, but he hasn’t played much in the last three years (just 63 plate appearances), and he has no more options, so he can’t be sent to the minors without being put on waivers. He hit well at Triple-A, and the Yankees could give him more time in the majors. However, Sherman thinks that the Yankees could trade him before the season starts.

Can depth help the Yankees?

In the last few weeks, the Yankees have also been active in the minors to add depth to their outfield. They signed minor league deals with Willie Calhoun, Billy McKinney, and Rafael Ortega. Calhoun and McKinney seem to be depth players, but Ortega is a good addition. In 2021, he made 330 plate appearances for the Cubs and had a wRC+ of 122. In 2022, his wRC+ dropped to 96, but the Yankees might still be interested in him. As a left-handed pull hitter, he could have an advantage in Yankee Stadium. If he has a good spring, he could force his way into the team’s plans for the big leagues.

Clearly, the Yankees know they need an outfielder who can hit left-handed and is a good defender with a tendency to make contact and get on base. Next month, non-roster players Willie Calhoun, Billy McKinney, and Rafael Ortega will go to Tampa, Florida, to compete for a spot on manager Aaron Boone’s 26-man roster.

Calhoun might be the most interesting of these three left-handed hitters who have been invited to spring training.

Mark Feinsand of MLB.com was the first to report that Calhoun had agreed with the Yankees. He then wrote on Twitter, “Ready to give them my all and some.”

Calhoun grew up in the same town as CC Sabathia in Northern California.

He said, “Every kid’s dream is to grow up and play in that Yankees uniform.”

Ortega, who is 31, has played for the most major league teams out of the three. He started with the Colorado Rockies in 2012 and has since played for five other teams. McKinney, who was 28 years old in 2022, played in 23 Major League Baseball games for the Oakland Athletics. This was his fifth team since he first got into the league with the 2018 Yankees, who got him from the Cubs in the Gleyber Torres trade in July 2016. But in 2018, he was sent to Toronto in a trade.

But the Yankees have Oswaldo Cabrera, who played in multiple positions last season and could be a good choice for left field. He might have been able to if manager Aaron Boone had asked him.

Even more impressive is that Cabrera did this with a small number of people. He didn’t start playing in the MLB until August, and he only played in 44 games. Still, Cabrera did a good job for someone who only played outfield four times in 580 minor league games. In left field, where the Yankees would probably need him the most.

What do you think? Leave your comment below.

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