The New York Yankees already had a crowded outfield before they added Giancarlo Stanton. Now what?
One day, the New York Yankees, despite their best efforts to amass a large pool of international money, the second-most in baseball behind the Texas Rangers, miss out on what was thought to be their biggest catch of the offseason, Japanese phenom Shohei Ohtaki, who decided to take his ambidextrous talents to Los Angeles (or is it Anaheim?) to play alongside Mike Trout and company.
The Yankees have been informed that they are OUT in the Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes.
— Bryan Hoch (@BryanHoch) December 3, 2017
Twenty-four hours later, after the Marlins were victimized by their superstar outfielder’s no-trade clause that nixed deals to the St. Louis Cardinals and the San Francisco Giants, Brian Cashman landed the current, reigning National League MVP in Giancarlo Stanton, who lead the majors in homers, RBI, and slugging percentage in 2017, a player who stole Aaron Judge’s shine in the second half of the MLB season with tape-measure shots that nearly obliterated Statcast.
For Starlin Castro, who was named an All-Star before suffering an injury that marred his second half performance, Jorge Guzman, the organization’s ninth-best prospect (per MLB.com) who can regularly hit 100 MPH on the radar gun, Jose Devers, Rafael’s cousin who is not even rated within the top-30 in the organization’s farm system, and cash considerations (New York will receive in excess of $30 million if Stanton does not opt out of his contract in 2020), the Yankees acquired a superstar they did not particularly need. On the contrary, starting pitching and a third baseman were on Cashman’s “to do list” at the Winter Meetings, which started Monday. Made official on Monday, the Yankees attained a heavyweight slugger in Stanton, one who will pair alongside Aaron Judge to likely perform a feat that has not been realized since the days of Maris and Mantle: two teammates hitting 50 homers or more in the same season, while the Yankees toil onward in pursuit of their 28th World Series title.
Other than provoking a spell of Derek Jeter conspiracy theory think pieces and crowning the Yankees as “the Evil Empire” once again, Brian Cashman and Hal Steinbrenner produced another wrinkle, if not a superfluous, heavy-handed conundrum: what are the Yankees to do with their surplus of outfielders? Given Stanton’s contract, do they have enough wiggle room to afford the funds for a better option than Headley, whom they are looking to offload, at third, Austin Romine behind the plate, and CC Sabathia or another fifth starter (reports have CC linked to the Angels)? Better yet, where exactly will Stanton play with Judge already manning rightfield, the former’s natural position?
The Yankees now have six outfielders who are either under contract or are major league ready: Judge, Stanton, Brett Gardner, Aaron Hicks, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Clint Frazier. As we already know, Ellsbury provides the biggest concern: he is due in excess of $68 million over the next three years when he can be bought out for $5 million before the 2021 season. Furthermore, he is arguably the sixth option on a proverbial depth chart comprised of the aforementioned outfielders, although his contract forces the Yankees to either demote Frazier indefinitely or package him with another chip or two (Dellin Betances and a prospect?) to acquire a young arm who is under team control for some time in the way Sonny Gray is (Gerrit Cole?) or a top, can’t-miss pitcher from another organization (one of Atlanta’s young options?).
Quite frankly, Betances is a tweak or two away from regaining his form and confidence from two years ago to reinforce an already “stupendous bullpen,” as John Sterling regularly quips, and Frazier, a former number 5 pick with “legendary bat speed”—to borrow from Cashman himself—who was touted as a number 1, is an intriguing option in left or center with Gardner’s contract expiring after 2018. Holding on to these two, especially given their ability to succeed at the major league level (lest we forget, Betances, despite falling out of favor with Joe Girardi as a viable option this postseason, is four-time All-Star), is likely the better option for the Yankees.
At worst, the Yankees preserve both and groom Frazier in Scranton while Gardner plays out his final season in pinstripes—likely in a platoon with Hicks—in center while the Yankees decide if Judge or Stanton is better served playing in left, a position Gardner has ably manned for over a half a decade.
Yankees are believed willing to pay half or so of the 68M to go on ellsbury in a potential trade. Bigger hurdle: getting him to waive full no-trade clause (he wants to stay)
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) December 11, 2017
All told, FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman reports the Yankees would be willing to pay half of Ellsbury’s remaining salary to accommodate a trade partner (perhaps San Francisco, if they can find a home for Denard Span) that would benefit from Ellsbury’s ability to hit and capably man the outfield. When healthy, and over the course of a full season, the former AL MVP with Boston is an above average OBP guy (he could easily muster .350 or better) who could hit in the proximity of .260 with 10-plus homers, 60-plus RBI, and eight or more steals in the top or bottom of the order, especially for a club in the National League. Alas, getting a full slate of playing time in a Yankee outfield as it is currently constructed is a pipe dream for a player like Ellsbury, who is adamant about staying in New York and preserving his no-trade clause. In short, Cashman will endure a confounding path ahead in his attempts to part with Ellsbury.
When healthy, too, Hicks was an OPS dynamo and All-Star who brought fire to the diamond and clubhouse, serving as both a leader and hitter in the clutch in late innings and in October. Trading him would be foolhardy, as well. And why part with Gardner, a Gold Glove talent who proved himself a gamer and leader by example despite regularly surfacing on the trade block?
But on to a player we know the Yankees will retain: Stanton, who was officially welcomed via a press conference at 2 p.m. ET on Monday in Orlando at the annual Winter Meetings. Ironically, he will wear his old number 27, formerly donned by catcher Austin Romine, commemorating the amount of championships in Yankee franchise history, a tally he is looking to add to in what should be a historic time in pinstripes, where he will pair with Judge to recreate the hysteria spawned by the Bash Brothers craze in Oakland in the late ’80s and early ’90s (hopefully, this time, without any PED suspicions).
Dynamically, Stanton stretches a lineup that is already long on power, providing a level of protection that should drastically limit the strikeouts Judge compiled this past season, as pitchers will now be forced to throw to the 2017 AL Rookie of the Year with the likes of Gary Sanchez, Stanton, and Greg Bird lurking down the order, especially if the newly minted Yankee skipper Aaron Boone keeps Judge in the number two slot in the order the way Girardi did. Judge is hungry to pick up right where he last left off, not only to prove his shoulder, operated on in the offseason, will not hinder him but to achieve that MVP Award that was just out of his reach in 2017, when he finished second to eventual winner Jose Altuve.
In addition, Didi Gregorius is bound to improve incrementally, as he has in every season with New York, and Greg Bird is aiming to build off his October success and return to his 30-homer potential. Never mind that Gleyber Torres will get a stab at second base now that it is vacated (in the meantime, Ronald Torreyes or Tyler Wade could platoon the position, seeing as the Yankees need no power at that spot) and Sanchez can be who he is at the plate: a Kraken incarnate. Moreover, Chase Headley, unless he is offloaded in a salary dump, can keep the hot corner warm while Miguel Andujar waits in the second half (or earlier) in 2018 and Manny Machado lurks in 2019 as a third base option in free agency.
To recap: the Bombers of old have the potential to mercilessly assault the record books raking in a hitters’ park not only in Yankee Stadium but in Baltimore, Boston, and Toronto, as well (other side note: this Yankee lineup gets to feast on Oriole pitching 19 times this year). No matter who is on the mound (even you, Sonny Gray), Yankee starters will be the beneficiaries of unprecedented run support, barring injury.
Regardless of the ancillary issues that adding Stanton brings, including the short-term (his injury history) and the long-term (who he will be at the tail end of his contract), Aaron Boone will have an easier time of filling out his lineup card with the former Marlin aboard. With the Yankees finishing one game short of the World Series despite a 3-2 lead in the ALCS, losing to the eventual World Series champions in the Houston Astros in seven games, the Yankees could return to the Fall Classic in 2018 should Cashman reclaim Sabathia and figure out his issues with a crowded outfield.
No matter what, the Yankees will be even more fun and invigorating than last year’s lovable ball club, no small feat for a general manager who is building a substantial resume as the best to ever man the front office with New York.