The Yankees have always valued versatility. They love players who can be good, or even respectable with the bat, and have the ability to play several positions around the diamond. Chris Taylor is perhaps the most versatile free agent on the market right now.
The former Dodger played all over the field in 2021. He started 33 games at second base, 9 at third base, 19 at shortstop, 16 in left field, 48 in center field, and 7 in right field. He is the quintessential Swiss Army knife — the kind of guy who managers can trust to occupy any position in case of emergency.
This is not to say that Taylor is above-average at all those positions. Every metric says he was bad at third base (-30.5 UZR/150, -3 DRS, -2 Outs Above Average), but was otherwise decent mostly everywhere. OAA thinks he was passable at center, with 0, but his -4 DRS and -14.9 UZR/150 tell another story.
In any case, it’s unreasonable to expect someone to be above-average all over the diamond, especially given the difference between infield and outfield defense. But Taylor makes it work in a way that should at least intrigue the Yankees.
Right now, the Bombers have a huge need at the shortstop position. They could also use a reliable center fielder to share time with or at least back up Aaron Hicks, who would be returning from wrist surgery.
Signing a player like Taylor would give the Bombers much more flexibility at the time of building a lineup. He can slot in anywhere outside of pitcher and catcher, allowing manager Aaron Boone to rotate outfielders, rest banged-up stars, and get creative.
However, Taylor’s ability to cover multiple positions would be meaningless if he couldn’t hit. Thankfully, that’s not the case. During the 2021 season with Los Angeles, he slashed .254/.344/.438 with 20 home runs, 92 runs, 73 RBI, and 13 stolen bases in 148 games and 582 plate appearances.
Taylor’s wRC+ was 113 this past season, right in line with his career 111 mark. In other words, he is an above-average hitter in addition to his ability to play everywhere. That’s why he should have a nice, solid market whether he signs before or after the expected lockout date (December 1).
Taylor is not exactly a Statcast darling – 29th percentile in average exit velocity, 33rd in hard-hit rate, 25th in expected batting average – but made things work with a very good eye at the plate (92nd percentile in chase rate, 73rd percentile in walk rate) that helped him overcome his contact issues (8th percentile in whiff rate, 9th percentile in strikeout rate).
Taylor’s impressive postseason performance for the Dodgers is a nice reminder that, when hot, he is extremely dangerous. He might have gone cold in September, but in October, he hit .351/.419/.784 with four homers and a 209 wRC+. Taylor scored nine times, drove in 12 runs, and even stole three bases in 11 games. He also hit this home run against the Cardinals that sent the Dodgers to the NLDS:
The only problem for the Yankees would be his market getting out of hand. MLB Trade Rumors recently forecasted a four-year, $64 million deal for him, which would be a sizable commitment. Given his flexibility, a number of teams would be interested in his services, such as the Blue Jays, White Sox, Mariners, Braves, Marlins, Phillies, Rockies, Giants, and Cubs, just to name a few (not to mention those pesky Dodgers).
If the Yankees fail to make a major upgrade at shortstop and center field, they should seriously consider bringing in Taylor. Even if they do add star players at those positions, he’s worth a look, depending on his market of course, and the length of commitment. New York should be very careful and not give away a very long contract to the 31-year-old.