The hot stove finally started cooking last weekend, as the Yankees signed both DJ LeMahieu and Corey Kluber on Friday. Despite these two major additions, however, the team still has some holes to fill on the roster. With Aaron Hicks’ injury history and Mike Tauchman’s lackluster 2020, the backup center field job may just be one of those that Brian Cashman will be looking to fill.
The sixth overall selection in the 2012 MLB Draft by the Chicago Cubs, Albert Almora Jr. has never quite lived up to his top prospect status in his Major League career. Having made his MLB debut during the Cubs’ World Series title run, he put together a respectable season-and-a-half to start, posting a .292/.330/.448 in 440 plate appearances over 171 games from 2016-17, good for a perfectly league-average OPS+ of 100. Since then, however, his performance at the plate has dipped every year, to a 86 OPS+ in 2018, 67 in 2019, and ultimately to a 29 OPS+ in 2020’s shortened season.
It gets worse from there. The only part of his 2020 more disheartening than his .167/.265/.200 slash line was his Statcast data: none of his 21 battled balls last year registered as barrels. Furthermore, his strikeout rate skyrocketed from 17.1 percent to 26.5 percent — which, while not substantially worse than the league average, represents a drop-off in the only aspect of Almora’s approach at the plate that was consistently decent. Quite literally the only positive that he saw in his game was the fact that his walk rate doubled from 4.4 percent to 8.8 percent.
Much like his offensive performance, Almora’s defense has trended in the wrong direction since the beginning of his career. After peaking in 2018, in which he was worth 10 OAA and recorded 10 DRS with a 2.9 UZR/150, the defensive metrics dropped to 3 OAA and -5 DRS with a -4.1 UZR/150 in 2019; 2020 saw his OAA bottom out at 0 OAA, while his DRS and UZR rebounded slightly to 0 and 3.5, respectively. While there’s some reason for optimism — Almora covered 36.2 feet on his average jump in 2020, identical to his 2018 self — it’s hard to be confident in a guy only two years after putting together a defensive performance worse than every center fielder except Ian “Play literally anybody else out here” Desmond.
The same decline happened with Almora’s sprint speed this past season. Over the course of his career, Almora has consistently run between 27.7 and 28.4 ft/s — not otherworldly speed, but within the 70th-80th percentile in the league and thus more than serviceable. In 2020, however, that dropped to 26.8 ft/s, closer to Miguel Andújar and DJ LeMahieu than Tyler Wade and Brett Gardner.
All of this adds up to somebody who probably does not represent a good investment of resources for the Yankees, with a minor league deal containing an invite to spring training the absolute maximum that the team should spend on him. If the injury bug were to hit hard, Albert Almora might be better than trotting the positionless Andújar and utility infielder Thairo Estrada out to the outfield on a daily basis ... then again, it might not be, either.