On Friday night, Clint Frazier launched a ball that ultimately landed 455 feet away in the left field bleachers. That blast was the icing on the cake of Masahiro Tanaka’s gem and the latest shining moment for the Yankees outfielder. Frazier is the latest talented prospect to make his debut, and like Gary Sanchez before him, he’s making an immediate impact and helping the team win games.
From the moment Frazier arrived from the Indians it was clear that the Yankees would one day face a glut in the outfield. That day is nearly here. Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Aaron Judge entered the season as the team’s starting outfielders and all remain under contract through at least 2018. Judge has emerged as a superstar and Aaron Hicks played at an All-Star level, making it even more difficult for a young prospect like Frazier to break through in the Bronx.
Injuries first to Aaron Hicks and then to Dustin Fowler, however, opened the door for Frazier and he has not looked back since. In 20 games since his call up, Frazier has compiled a .282/.296/.564 slash line, good for a 121 wRC+. His strikeout rate of 29.6% and walk rate of 2.5% appear concerning, but he’s chased just 24.3% of pitches out of the strike zone. He’s also made contact on 92.7% of pitches in the zone, suggesting those numbers are likely to improve.
Frazier has been a key component of the Yankees’ surge to the top of the AL East standings, yet his days in the Bronx may very well be numbered. As ludicrous as it seems to demote the regular number two batter on a contending team, Frazier appears the obvious candidate to make way for the returning Hicks. Judge and Gardner are both producing at high levels, while Ellsbury’s massive contract makes him nearly immovable. That leaves Frazier as the odd man out.
What if the team carried all five outfielders, though? Clubs rarely — if ever — carry five full-time outfielders because it simply doesn’t make sense from a roster building perspective. With 25 roster spots and 12 pitchers, a five-man outfield leaves room for just one backup infielder, while two of the outfielders will sit on the bench every day. Yet, for this iteration of the Yankees, the five-man outfield looks like the most logical solution.
In the wake of the White Sox trade, the team now has two players in Chase Headley and Todd Frazier who are capable of manning both third and first base. Playing those two every day leaves little to no role for first baseman Garrett Cooper. He hasn’t appeared since July 22nd, and hasn’t hit well when he has played.
The Yankees could easily send down Cooper for Hicks and not spread themselves too thin on the infield. Headley and Todd Frazier can cover one another at first while Ronald Torreyes can backup any of the other infield positions. Cooper would be able to rejoin the team when the roster expands in September. This arrangement allows Clint Frazier to remain on the team to continue his hot hitting without sacrificing much.
How would Joe Girardi actually make use of five outfielders at once? The obvious solution is simply to bench Ellsbury and rotate the other four players throughout the outfield and occasionally at the designated hitter spot. While Ellsbury would effectively be a $25 million pinch runner, he only hurts the team by playing over superior talent. While it certainly wouldn’t be an ideal situation, the Yankees are in no position to sacrifice any production in the midst of a heated playoff race.