The Yankees’ roster appears to be set, including adequate depth in the outfield. Brett Gardner re-signed on a one-year deal to supplement starters Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, with Mike Tauchman, Clint Frazier, and potentially Tyler Wade and Miguel Andujar in reserve. Throw in Aaron Hicks once he recovers from Tommy John rehab, and one might even call the outfield crowded. However, given that every outfielder not named Gardner spent time on the injured list last season, the Yankees could look to sign a familiar face.
Cameron Maybin began the 2019 season with the Triple-A affiliate of the Cleveland Indians. He was traded to the Yankees for cash considerations on April 25 to cover for the recently-injured Aaron Judge and Clint Frazier. The journeyman outfielder was expected to be a stopgap in a thinning outfield, but instead he put together a career year.
Across Major League seasons in which he accrued at least 150 plate appearances, Maybin posted career-high marks in OPS (.858), OPS+ (127), wOBA (.363), and wRC+ (127) in 2019. As impressive as it was to receive 27 percent above-average production from a backup outfielder, perhaps more notable was his display of previously-untapped power. Maybin surpassed career-bests in home runs (11) and ISO (.209) and slugged an impressive .494. Was this power surge the result of the juiced/rabbit ball, or is something more concrete underlying Maybin’s newfound potency at the plate?
The figures from Statcast tell a mixed story. If Maybin’s success was down to a juiced ball, one might expect a jump in his exit velocity during 2019 relative to other seasons. According to Baseball Savant, Maybin saw a 1.6 mile per hour increase in his average 2019 exit velocity relative to his career average. Perhaps more telling, though, is that his batted ball profile appears to reveal a retooled approach at the plate.
A career 4.9 degree launch angle hitter, Maybin launched the ball at an astonishing 11.1 degrees in 2019, and reaped the rewards. He put up career-leading numbers in total barrels (17), barrel percentage (10.2%), and hard hit percentage (39.5%), while in relation to his career average, reduced his ground ball percentage by 13.2% and increased his fly ball percentage by 7.3%. This is all to say, Maybin contacted the ball in the most effective manner of his career.
Putting aside his offensive capabilities, Maybin represents a defensive upgrade over several of the Yankees’ outfield depth pieces. Per FanGraphs, Maybin grades out as a roughly average outfielder. While not eye-popping, Maybin as a backup outfield glove is certainly preferable over options like Clint Frazier, Thairo Estrada, and even Miguel Andujar.
Off the field, Maybin can provide meaningful contributions to the clubhouse. A veteran with World Series-winning experience, Maybin could help partially fill the void left by CC Sabathia’s retirement, bringing valuable mentorship to a coming-of-age team. In a similar vein, Maybin’s infectious smile and light-hearted demeanor would allow him to step into the shoes left by the recently-departed Didi Gregorius.
It is curious that more teams have not shown interest in Maybin during free agency given his productivity this past season. If he can replicate his performance from last year, he would return good value at his price from 2019. He has expressed an interest in re-joining the Yankees, calling them “by far the best organization” he’d ever been a part of. Time will tell if the feeling is mutual.
The Yankees’ hitting staff has placed an emphasis on controlling the strike zone and doing damage on a pitch to hit, and that is exactly what Cameron Maybin did in 2019. The batting department unlocked surprising power out of players like Luke Voit, DJ LeMahieu, Brett Gardner, Gio Urshela, and Mike Tauchman, and it appears some of this magic rubbed off on Maybin. If so, this could suggest a sustainability to Maybin’s offense, and may tempt the Yankees to reunite with the righty outfielder. If nothing else, they would be re-signing the best hugger in MLB.