The 2013 Yankees are giving new meaning to the word "out"field. In the team's first 64 games, hitters occupying the three outfield positions have combined to post an unimpressive line of .258/.309/.401, which, in terms of OPS, ranks as not only one of the worst rates in the league, but also in recent franchise history.
Yankees' Outfield OPS+, 1945-2013
Note: sOPS+ compares a team's performance in a split to the league average. A reading above 100 is considered above average.
Injuries have clearly taken a toll on the Yankees' offense, and, undoubtedly, if Curtis Granderson had not broken his hand twice, the Bronx Bombers would be enjoying much more production from their outfield. However, the weakest link in the chain resides in right field, and the main culprit has been Ichiro Suzuki. When the Yankees decided to let Nick Swisher walk away over money, the plan was for Suzuki to provide comparable value at half the price. Instead, the offense has been saddled with a black hole as Suzuki and a cast of part-time players have combined to post an OPS of .651, the fourth lowest rate in the majors.
Much has been written about the short sighted decisions the Yankees made this off season, so it's time to move past the mistakes of the winter and explore potential solutions for the summer. Although the offense has several weak spots in the lineup, the most glaring, and perhaps quickly remedied, are in the outfield. Also, even if Granderson makes a speedy recovery from his most recent bad break, the void in right field would remain, so Brian Cashman's top priority should be trying to fill it.
Even though the new wild card format has most teams still on the periphery of the post season, some early season sellers are starting to emerge. Listed below are five candidates who would fit well with the Yankees as either an immediate stop gap or more long-term solution. The potential trade targets are listed in order of the perceived likelihood of the Yankees being able to consummate a trade for them.
Chris Denorfia - San Diego Padres (2013 Salary: $2mn; Remaining: 1 year/$2.3mn)
Yankee fans might not be familiar with the 32-year old veteran who has toiled as a utility outfielder in the relative anonymity of San Diego, but Chris Denorfia's ability to hit left handed pitching and play all three outfield positions make him an ideal reinforcement for the struggling Bronx Bombers. An added bonus that Hal Steinbrenner will enjoy is he's cheap. Denorfia's current salary is only $2 million, and his deal extends to 2014 for about the same, so the outfielder would not only fit nicely on the roster, but also within the confines of a budget. Of course, being inexpensive probably makes him more valuable to the Padres, but considering his limited role and advanced age, it stands to reason that the Yankees could obtain Denorfia for a less than elite prospect. Also, if San Diego is looking to make a more impactful deal, Denorfia could also be rolled into a trade involving Chase Headley, whose early struggles and unwillingness to sign a long-term deal with the Padres could move GM Josh Byrnes to shop him.
Michael Morse - Seattle Mariners (2013 salary: $6.75mn)
The Yankees were reportedly interested in Michael Morse during the off season, but weren't able to meet the Nationals' demands. Perhaps with Seattle slogging its way through another disappointing season, the cost has come down? Although Morse is somewhat of a defensive liability, his power from the right side would be a welcomed addition to the Yankees, even if recent trends suggest he is becoming more of a one-dimensional player. Another advantage to Morse is his pending free agency, which not only lowers his trade value but requires no forward commitment from the Yankees. Brian Cashman and Mariners' GM Jack Zduriencik have had several trade discussions in the recent past, so the groundwork for a deal could already be in place (perhaps David Adams would be a place to start).
Alex Rios - Chicago White Sox (2013 salary: $12.5mn; Remaining: 1 year/$12.5mn)
In the recent past, the White Sox have proven to be eager sellers, so, even though Alex Rios has been Chicago's only offensive pulse, GM Kenny Williams probably wouldn't hesitate to make a deal. Based on his resurgence over the past year and a half, Rios would be a steal at the approximately $20 million remaining on his contract. As a result, the White Sox would likely be reticent to add money to a potential deal, not to mention more insistent on a better prospect. Because of uncertainty regarding the Yankees' financial plans for 2014, it's hard to gauge their willingness to pay both costs, but, if Brian Cashman is empowered to improve the team without the limitations of a 2014 budget, Rios should be a prime target.
Josh Willingham - Minnesota Twins (2013 salary: $7mn; Remaining: 1 year/$7-$8mn)
If the Twins aren't in sell mode already, they should be soon, and Josh Willingham is easily one of their most marketable commodities. Unfortunately, GM Terry Ryan has proven to be a stubborn trading partner. Because Willingham is signed to such a team-friendly contract, it won't be easy to pry him away from Minnesota, but the extra year might be worth the price, especially if the Yankees plan to stick with their 2014 budget. For this year, Willingham's righty power would give the team's lineup an immediate boost and also reintroduce the kind of patience that used to be a Bronx Bomber hallmark. As with Rios, obtaining Willingham would likely require the Yankees to trade a better prospect, but the overall value seems to justify a higher price.
Andre Ethier - Los Angeles Dodgers (2013 salary: $13.5mn; Remaining: 4 years/$70mn)
With the emergence of Yasiel Puig, the Dodgers are facing a crowded and expensive outfield, and Andre Ethier is looking more and more like the odd man out.
Despite being a consistent performer, Ethier's struggles against southpaws make him a less than ideal fit for the Bronx Bombers, but as a left hander, the advantage of Yankee Stadium could help mitigate some of his short comings. A shift to the Bronx seems to make sense for all parties involved, but only if the price is right. The first stumbling block is clearly the money. The Yankees weren't willing to pay Swisher a similar amount, so they'd likely require Los Angeles to chip in at least $20-$30 million. That might be too much for even the free spending Dodgers, but assuming the teams could get past the hurdle, the next piece of the puzzle would be the players involved.
The Dodgers' unwillingness to abandon their post season aspirations could work in the Yankees favor. In order to get back into the race, GM Ned Colletti will need to find a starter and a reliever to supplement his team's tattered pitching staff. Would Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain fit the bill? For most teams, the pending free agents wouldn't have much value, but a win-now team like the Dodgers might have different ideas. If Los Angeles was willing to take the pair, who have become somewhat superfluous on the Yankees' staff, it would lessen the prospect cost and, perhaps, make it more palatable for the team's ownership to throw in so much cash.