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Yankees 2017 Potential Free Agent Target: Carlos Gomez

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The longtime Brewers outfielder won’t cost much, and he was one of the best players in the game just a couple of years ago.

MLB: ALDS-Toronto Blue Jays at Texas Rangers Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

While it may not be a necessity, the Yankees are in the market for an outfielder or a big bat. The team expressed some interest in Carlos Beltran but never pursued him, and Edwin Encarnacion’s name was discussed before they signed Matt Holliday.

With Beltran off to the Astros, and Encarnacion expecting a contract over five years and $100 million, it’s worthy to discuss to some lower price, but possibly higher reward, contracts. That’s why Carlos Gomez could be very interesting.

2016 Statistics: 118 G, 453 PA, .231/.298/.384, 13 HR, 53 RBI, 83 wRC+, 0.9 fWAR

Age on Opening Day 2017: 31

Position: Outfield

Gomez was originally signed by the New York Mets as a 16-year-old international amateur back in 2002, and he made his major league debut in 2007. He was traded in the famous Johan Santana trade that sent the Twins ace to New York in exchange for Gomez, Deolis Guerra, Philip Humber and Kevin Mulvey before the 2008 season.

He had a couple of poor seasons with the Twins, and was then sent to the Brewers for JJ Hardy in 2009. That’s when Gomez’s career really flourished. From 2010 to 2014, Gomez hit .267/.324/.456 (110 OPS+) with a whopping 18.4 rWAR in that time. In 2013, he had the most WAR of any player in the National League.

The last two seasons, though, have seen his fortunes go south, with an important caveat. Since 2015 he has hit an incredibly poor 91 OPS+, but with a slightly better 2.2 rWAR/650 PA. After being released by the Astros in August and then signed by the Rangers, Gomez hit at a 134 OPS+ clip.

The question, then, is whether that late-season performance is at all a predictor of future performance. If so, then he could be a solid free agent acquisition. If not, he’s a 90 OPS+ true talent hitter with declining defense. Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs, as of September, leans towards the former:

As an Astro this year, Gomez’s exit velocity through the date of his last game ranked in the 20th percentile. Since he returned with the Rangers around the end of August, his exit velocity ranks in the 83rd percentile. Meanwhile, as an Astro this year, Gomez’s launch angle ranked in the seventh percentile. With the Rangers, he’s up to the 91st. Gomez, weirdly, was a ground-ball machine. He was rolling over on way too many pitches. Now he has his better balance, and balls are being hit into the air again... Gomez has chased less often out of the zone. He’s swung at fewer first pitches. I wouldn’t say we’re seeing prime Carlos Gomez — he’s in an outfield corner now, and he’s stolen four bases. But this has been an absolutely massive turnaround, after Gomez was dumped by a team that could’ve badly used him.

It’s a small sample size turnaround, but it’s still interesting to think about. The issue with signing Gomez is two-fold: you have to hedge your bets that Sullivan’s estimation is at least somewhat correct, and you have to find a spot on the Yankees’ roster. (Not to mention the fact that the Yankees clubhouse does not appear to be fond of him.)

Gomez would likely start in right field, but that leaves out Aaron Judge. He could start in left field, but then they’d have to trade Brett Gardner. In that case, is Gomez even a better option than Gardner? On a one-year pillow contract, he could be. However, if Gomez wants something like the three-year, $36 million deal MLB Trade Rumors predicts, then it would be a tough sell.

This is a long shot, but I think these mid-tier outfield options are intriguing. In a bad free agent class, there are still going to be some serious surprises, and likely for a bargain. It might seem alluring to go all-in on someone like an Encarnacion, or else abstain completely from the free agent market entirely. Nonetheless, a player like Gomez might be an enticing option for an outfield spot if they feel he is more like the second-half version of himself than the first-half, and if they want to deal from outfield depth for pitching.