The fallow field of Gold Glove geezers. The golden years of Gold Glove peers. Yankee Stadium Nursing Home, LLC. All fairly depict the state of the Yankees’ outfield in the first half of the last decade. In the lean years between the 2009 World Series and the 2017 ALCS, the Yankees employed a tetrad of past-prime leather-flashers. Ichiro Suzuki, Carlos Beltran, Andruw Jones, and Vernon Wells all suited up in pinstripes, with varying degrees of success.
Ichiro was one of the truly transcendent players to have graced the league. Between the NPB and MLB, Ichiro has the most base hits in history. He won a Gold Glove in each of his first ten years in MLB, and over that span amassed at least 200 hits in each season. He was named American League Rookie of the Year and American League MVP in 2001, and set the record for most hits in a single season in 2004 with 262. Ichiro was truly a complete player, blending his otherworldly hitting ability with incredible speed on the basepaths and in the field, and a laser beam of an arm.
By the time he joined the Yankees in 2012, Ichiro’s peak years were behind him. However, after posting an impressive .322 average and 113 OPS+ in his debut season with the Yankees, there was hope he had discovered some of that old Ichiro magic. Alas, it was not the case, as he only managed a .273 average and 83 OPS+ across his next two seasons as a Yankee. Nonetheless, fans were grateful for the chance to have witnessed a glimpse of the Ichiro of old.
Carlos Beltran is one of the all-time great switch-hitters in the history of the game. Since winning American League Rookie of the Year in 1999, Beltran experienced success at every major league club he’s played for and is one of only five switch-hitters to reach the 400 home run mark. A career 119 OPS+ and 118 wRC+ hitter, his greatest period of achievement came with the Mets in the second half of the 2000s. Between 2006 and 2008, Beltran won a Gold Glove in each season while averaging 34 home runs and 113 runs batted in. His ability to contribute offensively in the latter stages of his career culminated with a World Series victory with the Astros in 2017.
Beltran had perhaps the most productive stint with the Yankees of the four players, posting a respectable 56 home runs, 117 OPS+ and 117 wRC+ across two-plus seasons. He was one of the lone bright sparks on an otherwise dismal 2016 Yankees squad, batting .304 with 21 homers and a 133 OPS+ in 99 games before being traded to the Rangers. However, his recent embroilment at the center of the Astro’s cheating scandal, as well as concealment of that information as a special assistant in the Yankees front office, will certainly leave a sour taste in the mouths of Yankees fans. In fact, his involvement with the sign-stealing scheme contributed to his removal as the Mets manager, and may threaten his Hall of Fame candidacy.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Andruw Jones was one of the best all-around outfielders in the game. A borderline Hall of Famer, he’s arguably the best defensive outfielder ever. His Defensive Runs Above Average (278.8), Total Zone Runs (254), and UZR/150 (17.4) all rank first in the history of major league outfielders. From 1998 to 2007, Jones collected ten straight Gold Glove Awards, while bashing at least 26 home runs in every season, including 51 in his 2005 MVP-runner-up campaign. However, after leaving the Braves in free agency and joining the Dodgers in 2007, his career rapidly plummeted.
While Jones experienced initial success, accumulating a 126 OPS+ and 132 wRC+ in his first 77 games as a Yankee, that accomplishment would only be confined to the 2011 season. He followed up that campaign with a miserable 2012 season, batting below the Mendoza line at .197 with only an 87 OPS+. Apparently that was enough for Jones, as he took what remained of his talents overseas to Japan, where he would play a final two seasons
Vernon Wells spent the majority of his career as the Toronto Blue Jays’ centerfielder, where he ranks near the top of several all-time leaderboards. Wells’ best season came in 2003, when he led the American League in plate appearances (735), hits (215), doubles (49), and total bases (373) en route to an eighth-place MVP finish. He followed this season up with three consecutive Gold Gloves in center, establishing himself as one of the elite dual-threat outfielders in the league.
In March of 2013, the Angels traded Wells to Yankees. Of the four players mentioned in this article, Wells had undoubtedly the most abysmal Yankees tenure. He only mustered a .233 average and 74 OPS+ before being designated for assignment following the end of the season. Perhaps his most memorable moment in pinstripes was being thrown out at third by current Yankees centerfielder Aaron Hicks.
At times, a field has to go through a blighted period to yield a bumper crop. Nutrients must be replenished for new seeds to be sown. The Yankees are now set to reap the rewards of such patience, with an outfield ripe with talent. While in much of the previous decade they had to survive off the slim pickings of pensioners, the Yankees now boast a former-MVP in Giancarlo Stanton, and future-MVP in Aaron Judge, and a potential Gold Glover in Aaron Hicks.
Not many fans will look back upon the early-to-mid-2010s with much fondness. Those lean years are categorized first and foremost by the failure to make a World Series appearance. They were a period of aging veterans, stopgap solutions, rebuilding and roster turnover. Ultimately, they sharpened the hunger in the bellies of players and fans alike and laid the framework for the current championship window.