There has been a lot of buzz surrounding Aaron Judge this April, and rightfully so. Not only is he the Yankees’ Large Adult Son, but he’s also pretty darn good at baseball. It’s pretty unlikely Judge is this good, but I think it’s fair to say that even after the league learns his quirks, there’s no getting around the fact that any mistake over the plate can be crushed.
So let’s say Judge is a starter, which I think he is. Aaron Hicks is also off to a hot start (242 wRC+), putting him into the conversation as a semi-regular player. I think that, while I still don’t think he’ll be a starter, he’ll get ample playing time with the ability to cover any outfield position.
Then you have Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury, who, while sometimes inconsistent and undeniably older with every day, aren’t going anywhere. These are your four outfielders.
But the Yankees have a fifth! Clint Frazier, the Yankees’ resident top prospect and walking lion emoji, is technically the next player on the depth chart. The question is: what do they do with him?
Frazier was the 34th best prospect in baseball by FanGraphs this spring, and even though Gleyber Torres is likely the better position player prospect in the system, none are closer to the major league level. There is a clear sense that by season’s end, Frazier will be in pinstripes.
This puts two players in jeopardy: Gardner and Hicks. In the immediate future, I don’t see Gardner going anywhere. He’s still an average player on a team that seriously needs a player like that, and I doubt Brian Cashman jettisons Gardner (even with years of rumors) at the trade deadline with Frazier as slightly less than a sure bet.
Hicks, on the other hand, is kind of expendable. There is still the top prospect sheen that the front office is seemingly obsessed with, and I think they still believe he can be viable player, but they’re going to reach a point where they need to make a long-term decision: is it worth holding on to Hicks when you have a superior player waiting in the wings?
My estimation would be that upon Frazier’s call-up, it’ll be in September. He can split some time with Hicks and he’ll snag some off-days from any of the other three outfielders. Depending on how Frazier looks and performs, they can think about giving him a starting spot next spring.
In that scenario, they can flip Hicks, and hold on to Frazier until he proves his mettle and then flip Gardner at next year’s deadline before his deal expires (or, before his team option arises). Or, they can go all-in on Frazier and trade Gardner in the offseason.
This isn’t a major crisis; a lot of teams face it. The Dodgers had the same problem last year with Andre Ethier, Yasiel Puig, Carl Crawford, and Joc Pederson, and that basically worked itself out when Crawford was released and Ethier suffered injuries and became a part-time player. Here too, things will work themselves out.
Good players always find a way to stick at the big league level, no matter the glut. The Yankees just had an issue with a glut at catcher, and so went Brian McCann to the Astros. They’ll have to deal with an impending glut when Gleyber Torres comes up, and they’ll find a way to maneuver that as well.
This is as good a problem you can have for a “rebuilding” team, that you’ll get to the point where there will be too many good players to play. That times up nicely with an upcoming scarcity at starting pitching, so it would be in their best interest to leverage their depth for better positional balance. Frazier will soon make his debut, and things will quickly materialize from there. In no time at all, we’ll be seeing much more of the man with the red locks and the lightning bat, and I couldn’t be more excited.