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Yankees Potential Free Agent Target: Kris Bryant

The Yankees have several holes to fill; fortunately, Kris Bryant can fill several of them.

Division Series - San Francisco Giants v Los Angeles Dodgers - Game Four Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

As currently constructed, the Yankees need to add some position players. I’m not necessarily talking about big bats capable of improving the team’s offense, although they’re certainly not unwelcome. At this point in time, there are four infielders on the roster with big-league experience (Luke Voit, DJ LeMahieu, Gleyber Torres, and Gio Urshela), a quartet outfielders with more than 12 career games of experience (Aaron Judge, Aaron Hicks, Giancarlo Stanton, and Joey Gallo), and one player who is technically both an infielder and an outfielder, but is in truth neither (Miguel Andújar). Even if the team doesn’t invest in the star shortstop that many fans covet, it would be gross incompetence if they did not at least add one infielder and one outfielder.

With former Cub superstar Kris Bryant, the Yankees would have someone who can do it all. Originally drafted second overall in the 2013 MLB Draft, the 2015 Rookie of the Year Award winner, 2016 NL MVP, and four-time All-Star quickly became one of the league’s most impactful players. Since making his debut on April 17, 2015 — two weeks after the start of the season, a very deliberate (and infamous) move by Chicago to manipulate his service time — Bryant ranks 10th in the league with 31.8 fWAR, and his 134 wRC+ is tied for 24th with Brandon Nimmo and Brandon Lowe, slightly ahead of Luke Voit and Corey Seager.

Judging from these numbers, one would expect Bryant to be receiving a contract north of $300 million this winter, even if not the 10-year, $325 million deal Seager inked with the Rangers. Alas, the former Cub has not quite lived up to the Hall of Fame career that many predicted after his sophomore MVP campaign.

Since the end of 2017, Bryant has accrued only 11.1 fWAR — 42nd in baseball — and his 124 wRC+ in that span ranks just 44th. Some of that can be attributed to his body, as he played only 102 games in 2018 due to a shoulder injury, while minor injuries limited him to just 34 games in the shortened 2020 season. His Statcast data, however, suggests a quality hitter with some flaws.

Bryant doesn’t make a ton of great contact, as his 39.7-percent hard-hit rate (putting him in the 42nd percentile) is not quite what one would hope from a guy with Bryant’s reputation, and is comparable to Kyle Seager (99 wRC+), Jonathan Schoop (105 wRC+), and Luis Urías (111 wRC+). Additionally, he swings and misses a lot and strikes out a fair amount.

To Bryant’s credit, he makes up for it by making good choices at the plate, as he ranks 60th out of 300 qualified hitters in Statcast’s Swing/Take metric with +20.

As seen below, Bryant swings quite aggressively on pitches inside the zone, and while he gets dinged for his performance on pitches in the shadow of the zone (roughly the width of one baseball on each side of the zone’s edge), he doesn’t chase a ton of bad pitches. Moreover, when he makes contact on those pitches in the zone, he doesn’t really waste it.

Defensively, Bryant is an interesting case. He has shown immense defensive versatility throughout his career, spending 5,541.2 innings at third, 941.2 in left field, 702 in right, 212.1 at first base, 135.1 in center field (110 of which came in the past year). He hasn’t necessarily shown immense skill at any of them. However, he’s not exactly unplayable at any of them, as indicated by this position-by-position breakdown of his Outs Above Average, Defensive Runs Saved, and UZR/150 metrics.

Sure, barring something unexpected, there are no Gold Glove Awards in Bryant’s future, but in truth, so long as he continues to post numbers like the 124 wRC+ he did in 2021, Bryant’s defense isn’t really going to matter all that much.

The big question ultimately is, “Isn’t he an odd fit for the Yankees?” This is an understandable question, as they already have Urshela and LeMahieu, who can play third, and while he has been largely successful when in the “Role of the SS,” Bryant is most definitely not a shortstop. This is where his defensive versatility helps him, though. Let’s assume based on current roster construction that the Yankees use a “base” lineup that has Gary Sánchez behind the plate, Voit at first, Torres at second, an unknown shortstop, Urshela at third, an outfield of Gallo/Hicks/Judge, and Stanton as the primary DH.

Of the four bench spots, one will go to Higashioka as the current backup catcher and one to LeMahieu as the infielder who will play every day at either first, second, or third. That leaves us with two extra spots. Because Bryant can play all three outfield positions with some level of competence in addition to the infield corners, the Yankees can use that final spot for whatever they want. Of course, much like LeMahieu, Bryant would certainly play every day, and it’s entirely plausible — perhaps even likely — that his addition would result in either Urshela or Voit being moved to free up a spot in the infield. The point is that his defensive versatility is an incredible asset, and one that would allow the Yankees to go in a lot of different directions as they look to improve the team.

Ultimately, Bryant would be a fantastic addition to the Yankees, lengthening the middle of the order behind Judge, Stanton, and Gallo while providing immense flexibility both in overall roster construction and in the day-to-day creation of the lineup. Given the team’s apparent hesitancy to give out a long-term deal this winter, however, don’t get your hopes up.