Even before the acquisition of Giancarlo Stanton, the Yankees already had an abundance of outfielders — they could have six on the Major League roster on Opening Day.
The New York Yankees have a good problem to have: a lot of outfielders. Two of those outfielders are the reigning National League MVP and the runner-up of the American League MVP.
The Yankees have 63 days to make a 25-man roster for Opening Day, and there is a legitimate shot, barring trades, that all six of them could be in Toronto on Mar. 29.
If they all start the season with the Yankees, Aaron Boone and company will ultimately have some big-time decisions to make.
The Yankees have not signed a legitimate designated hitter in the offseason after Matt Holliday’s one-year contract expired, but with the outfield depth, it is easy to predict that for the majority of the 162 games, the DH spot will be filled in by one of the outfielders. With that being said, on most days, the Yankees will likely have four of their six outfielders in the lineup.
Most teams have a “fourth outfielder,” but since four of them will be everyday players, the Yankees will have a “fifth outfielder” waiting in the wings. More on that later.
Judge and Stanton are practically guaranteed to play every day. However, as previously noted, they both play the same position – Stanton does have center field experience in the big leagues, but that was for only one inning in 2011. He did catch two fly balls, but at the time, he still went by Mike, so it pretty much doesn’t even count.
Judge has only played right field in his Major League tenure, but he was a Gold Glove finalist with quite the arm to go along with it.
Gardner won a Gold Glove in 2016 and was a finalist again in 2017, where he got robbed of his second straight award. With his blazing speed, he is essentially eliminated from spending a lot of time as the designated hitter.
Gardner has been an everyday player for the Yankees since 2010. He has become the Yankees’ full-time left fielder, playing center field just 25 times in the last two seasons, 22 of those instances in 2017. He served as the DH just seven times last season after not holding that title since 2014, where he did it only once.
Hicks had a resurgence in the first half of last season – he was slashing .290/.398/.515 and was already one home run from his career high of 11 before going down with an oblique injury in late June. On June 6, he was hitting .329 with an OBP of .439.
He returned on Aug. 10, but he hit just .207 with a .290 OBP with three home runs and 11 RBI in his next 22 games before succumbing to injury a second time. He once again returned, recording four hits in his final 14 at-bats with two dingers, and he even robbed a grand slam in his first game back from his second injury of the season and continued to play splendid defense throughout October.
However, his offense was nowhere to be found in the postseason, going 9-for-50 (.196) with one home run.
What helps Hicks and his potential playing time, however, is his athletic ability, his potential to win a Gold Glove, and the fact that he is a switch hitter. However, with Judge and Stanton certain to play every day, and Gardner outperforming Hicks last year as a reliable everyday player, Hicks’ playing time could diminish greatly.
Now, onto the million dollar man. Jacoby Ellsbury has become the richest pinch-runner and catcher’s interference-getter in the history of the sport. He suffered a concussion in late May of 2017, and his role was promptly handed off to the next in line.
He is making north of $20 million dollars a year for the three more years and has not come close to what the Yankees expected.
Last season, he hit .264, which was his second-highest average as a Yankee, and hit seven home runs, four of them in a ballpark that heavily benefits left-handed hitters of all shapes and sizes. Out of those seven home runs, three came in April, and three came in August.
Ellsbury seemed to win his job back, after slashing .434/.552/.642 in 18 games from Sept. 2 to Sept. 20, but he came back to Earth in his final eight games, going 5-for-30 (.167) with one walk, no RBIs, and one double.
He only earned himself 12 plate appearances in the postseason, and went hitless with two walks, both of them in the ALDS. Ellsbury’s role has been significantly diminished, and with the amount of outfielders the Yankees have, it looks like it will continue to be.
The biggest question mark of them all is Red Thunder. Clint Frazier is widely regarded as one of the Yankees’ most talented youngsters – he posted this video on Twitter yesterday proving why scouts think he is something special.
Frazier saw some playing time in the bigs last year, but his numbers were low. Despite a walk-off home run against the Brewers and hitting a dinger in his Major League debut, along with his blazing speed and solid defense, he only hit .231 and had an OBP of .268 in 142 plate appearances. However, more than half of his hits were extra-base hits; he totaled 31 hits, with nine doubles, four triples, and four home runs.
Frazier obviously has been in the big leagues for the shortest amount of time, and because of the depth, he could see some time, or even start the season, in Scranton.
So with all of that being considered, what is the outfield looking like?
With Judge and Stanton having a combined one inning in a defensive position other than right field, it will be surprising to see one of them move elsewhere to start the season. But, one of them will have to, unless the other serves as the DH so they both can play.
As previously mentioned, Gardner does not DH – his glove is too good, and his speed is still there. The same goes for Hicks – he has DH’ed just six times in his career, four of those times in 2016. The previous two came in 2014.
As for that “fifth outfielder” spot, that title should belong to Ellsbury.
Frazier is the better player, but he is too valuable to take away at-bats from. The Yankees, and Frazier both know that his playing time to start the season will be limited – they should give him has many at-bats as possible, but there is just no room in the big leagues to give him that opportunity.
At this point, the Yankees pretty much know what Ellsbury is, and the odds of him winning his job back are slim to none.
If Hicks goes back to his second-half (and career) struggles, Frazier will be the much better plug-in than Ellsbury – he will have had his ample number of at-bats in Triple-A and be more ready for the professional level, rather than seeing scattered pitches in the majors.
Figuratively speaking, if Gardner and Hicks simply cannot hit anymore, we could see an outfield of Frazier, Stanton, and Judge from left to right. In that case, the Yankees will have to change their defense.
But for now, there is no need to force any change and make anyone uncomfortable.
The Opening Day outfield is going to be Gardner in left, Hicks in center, and Judge in right, while Stanton is the designated hitter. Will it stay that way? Probably not but we’ve got time to see it all unfold.