Giancarlo Stanton enters 2020 at a crossroads for his future. The slugger had an up-and-down 2018 season that saw him carry the team at times and endure significant struggles at others, then didn’t get to follow up on that in 2019 due to a host of injuries. Stanton is entering the final year before an opt-out in his contract that can either send him back to the free agent market or lock him up in New York until at least 2027.
When Stanton arrived he was blocked from his natural role in right field by Aaron Judge and shifted to primarily playing as the designated hitter. Injuries and off-days for the regular outfield starters allowed Stanton to get some time in the field however, playing 36 games in left field and 37 in right. Despite the similar amount of innings played in each role and much more familiarity with his former role, Stanton actually performed better in left field, posting 4 defensive runs saved and a 4.6 UZR.
Stanton’s shortened 2019 meant that the Yankees didn’t get a chance to see if his defensive skills stayed on par with what he put up two years ago, but the team has currently constructed their roster with the assumption that Stanton can play out in left. Stanton is penciled in as the left fielder of an outfield short on depth with their starting centerfielder Aaron Hicks out, and carrying another talented bat that has defensive questions on the roster in third baseman Miguel Andujar.
What the Yankees decide to do with Andujar might be heavily connected to their confidence in Stanton’s defense. If Stanton can hold his own in a difficult part of the outfield to cover in Yankee Stadium, that opens the DH slot to play Andujar regularly if he can’t beat out Gio Urshela for third base. That arrangement would easily be the Yankees best offensive lineup if the team stays healthy, and provides the highest upside for their defense.
If Stanton can’t make it work in left however, things get complicated both in the short-term and long-term. Hicks’ injury means that Brett Gardner is expected to cover center for the first half of the season, and wouldn’t be available to play left. Mike Tauchman could cover the role, but that may force a call-up to bring in another backup outfielder and a potential roster cut. Stanton would shift back to the DH, meaning one of Andujar or Urshela would be left without starting time.
Andujar’s future as a fielder has been questionable up to this point, but if the team decides that they can’t play him at third then he could become a tradeable asset. The clock is already ticking on Andujar’s service time, so sending him down to develop for another year while Stanton is set to be on the roster for years to come likely isn’t a scenario worth pursuing.
Andujar isn’t the only offense-first bat that could get pushed down by a lack of an open DH slot, though. Luke Voit has been a fixture in the lineup when healthy, and while first base isn’t highly valuable defensively it isn’t hard to envision a future where Voit could be moved off into a DH role to maintain his bat while improving the team. Voit’s -6 DRS and -3.9 UZR in 2019 are a valid concern, and one that doesn’t look like it will improve much if at all. That avenue becomes blocked with Stanton there instead, and could force the Yankees to either sacrifice defense or make a tough choice in moving on from Voit.
The Yankees have the pieces in place to have a championship-caliber team, both for the upcoming season and for several to come. If Stanton fits into his new role it cements the building blocks of the roster, but if he can’t then the structure may need an overhaul.