As the calendar moved to November and hot stove season unofficially began, you saw some people tangentially connect Michael Brantley to the Yankees. Most were of the “hey, this might be an idea” more than anything, but they were out there. However, due to the Yankees’ outfield situation, it seemed unlikely.
As of last Thursday, we now know signing Brantley might actually be something the Yankees are interested in. Buster Olney reported that he is one of the free agents the team had made contact with. Olney also said he thinks Brantley would be more of a backup option if DJ LeMahieu signs somewhere else, but it’s not something to totally ignore.
With the Yankees at least considering Brantley, would signing him be a good idea?
Other than an injury-affected season in 2016, Brantley has been a consistently good hitter for years. He’s posted a wRC+ of at least 109 in every season since 2014, with the exception of that 2016 season. Also exclude 2017, and he’s posted a wRC+ of at least 124 every year in that timeframe. He’s a flat-out good hitter.
One of the reasons people seem to be connecting the dots with him and the Yankees is that he’s a left-handed hitter. The Yankees’ best left-handed hitter last season was Brett Gardner, who put up a 110 wRC+. If you count switch-hitters, then there’s Aaron Hicks at 124 as a lefty. Hicks’ numbers especially are very good. However, he’s not a pure lefty, and Gardner is not currently under contract with the Yankees and brings concerns of regression at his age.
One line of thought is that the Yankees should sign Brantley as someone to help break up the righty heavy top of the lineup, in addition to him just being a good hitter. Brantley would profile as a solid fit in the top half of the card if the Yankees went this route.
There is also a question of where exactly Brantley would play. He’s only played 58 career innings in right field, and that spot is occupied by that Aaron Judge guy anyway. He hasn’t played in center field since 2015, and he didn’t exactly grade out as a good fielder there when he did.
That leaves left field. Clint Frazier is coming off a genuinely strong breakout season. They could trade him, but doing that for a guy who will turn 34 next season and would probably only be around for one or two years feels short-sighted. Giancarlo Stanton seemingly being set in stone as full time DH throws a bit of a wrench in any kind of outfield rotation plan.
Yet, we have the aforementioned report that the Yankees made contact with him. MLB Trade Rumors predicted that he’d get a two-year, $28 million dollar deal. While that’s not a long term deal, it’s also not one you sign someone to just for fun. They clearly have some idea of what they would do about an outfield backlog if he joins the roster.
Of course, that report could also just be agent conjecture. It also says that he would probably be a plan B with no LeMahieu. It’s entirely possible the Yankees just bring LeMahieu back and we never hear anything about the Brantley rumors again. However, they’re out there and something to consider.
As a baseball player, the Yankees could do a lot dumber things than sign Michael Brantley. Considering their roster, things just get a little complicated.