Let’s flash back to five months ago. The Yankees had one of the deepest outfields in all of baseball, and there were opinions that the Yankees needed to shed from their mountain of outfield depth. The team had Aaron Judge, Aaron Hicks and Giancarlo Stanton as their outfield “Big 3,” Mike Tauchman had emerged as a fourth outfielder, Clint Frazier and Tyler Wade were still around, Estevan Florial and Jasson Dominguez were on the way, and Brett Gardner was a candidate to be re-signed.
Oh, how things have changed.
It is March 3, 2020, and the Yankees are dangerously low on capable MLB outfielders, despite cutting no one from the aforementioned cohort. All of the three starting outfielders (Stanton, Hicks and Judge) are injured, with timelines ranging from a few weeks to a few months to complete question marks.
Opening Day is in three weeks, and there is a distinct possibility that the starting outfield could consist of converted third baseman Miguel Andujar patrolling left field, a 36-year-old Gardner in center, and Clint Frazier, who was ready to be run out of town by fans just two months ago, in right field.
It’s not time to press the panic button, declare the season cursed and sign Yasiel Puig or overpay for a veteran outfielder in a reactionary move, but the Yankees need to do something to ensure that they have adequate outfield depth for Opening Day.
Although Andujar has handled his transition to left field reasonably well (per the small sample size we have and comments from his manager), I would not think that Aaron Boone would want to start a player who just began to learn the position a month ago on Opening Day in left field. Frazier is better-equipped to start if needed, but comes with his own concerns in the field after his difficult 2019 season. Oddly enough, the 36-year-old edition of Gardner, along with Tauchman, who was in Triple-A with the Rockies at this time last year, are the Yankees’ two most reliable outfield options right now.
So, who else do the Yankees have? Zack Granite, Rosell Herrera and Trey Amburgey are non-roster-invitees and could fill in in a pinch, but aren’t exciting options. Granite, a Staten Island native, has speed but little else. Herrera has had a good spring and can also play some infield, but has only hit at the Triple-A level and not over his two years in the bigs. Amburgey has been around the system for a while and has power, but is the dark horse of this bunch. These options are more akin to a Shane Robinson or a Gregorio Petit than a Tauchman or a Cameron Maybin, who the Yankees acquired last spring and would be helpful right now.
In that respect, who could be this year’s Maybin? The Phillies seem to have a lot of outfielders and little room to fit them all. Former standout prospect Nick Williams could be a buy-low candidate after a rough 2019 season, while former Cubs World Champion Matt Szczur and one-time Ray Mikie Mahtook are also on their roster bubble. Elsewhere, Jake Bauers, Phillip Ervin and Franchy Cordero are all facing competition in Cleveland, Cincinnati and San Diego, respectively. They are younger and offer more offensive upside, but would cost more to acquire.
None of these options are particularly attractive, but neither were Tauchman and Maybin last year. If the Yankees caught lightning in a bottle twice last year, maybe they can do it again with another sneaky spring training trade.
The Yankees put together a terrific 2019 season based on their ability to deal with adversity and still thrive. Early on, it looks like 2020 won’t be much different. The Yankees don’t have enough healthy outfielders right now, and will need to see someone in the outfield step up, whether it’s someone internal or external.