In forming the 2021 All-AL East team last week, one thing became abundantly clear — even if it was already commonly believed — when looking at the results. The Rays finished in first place with merits, but the team didn’t really have any of the dominant performers in the division, and that’s not really how it was built. Yes, the Rays have stars, however it remained consistent even with the loss of Tyler Glasnow, it was this good even before Franco — it’s all about depth.
One of the big benefits of being in a huge market and having the financial capabilities only matched by Los Angeles is in your ability to spread the wealth and obtain quality pieces to complement your 26-man roster. The Yankees need to address center field and shortstop, ideally with significant upgrades that are currently available on the market, however there are solid players elsewhere that could add depth to this roster without a huge financial commitment — one of those players is Tommy Pham.
Pham has experience as a center fielder, but he hasn’t played there on a regular basis since 2019. Since then he’s moved firmly over to left field, and his defense is a big reason why — his metrics as a defender have regressed from fairly competent to below-average. He isn’t unplayable in the outfield, but if you’re building off of a roster that already has Aaron Judge and Joey Gallo penciled in at the corners with Giancarlo Stanton waiting in the wings for reps, it becomes difficult to piece together how all of those players would get playing time.
Aaron Hicks is the outfielder with the least job security, but he can play center field straight up as opposed to fitting a square peg into a round hole. How can Pham realistically be in the picture if all of these factors are going against him?
To start, while Hicks is serviceable while he’s healthy, the concern is evident — he hasn’t been often enough to lock him in like the other outfielders. Without being able to rely on Hicks for 500-600 at-bats, getting depth is the main goal of the offseason — even if it isn’t an ideal fit. Pham may not be the perfect fit, but he’s fairly consistent and can be used in rotation with the others on the roster to fill the innings.
On top of this, Pham isn’t expected to get a significant deal on the free agent market. Pham’s latest rumored asking price before the lockout began was a three-year, $60 million deal, which might be a bit high as far as average annual value is concerned for the Yankees, but the length is manageable. If his asking price dips down at all once the lockout ends, he could easily end up in the Yankees’ market.
From 2017-19, Pham compiled 13.7 fWAR and became one of the better outfielders in the game, topping his wRC+ out at 149 in the first year of that period. His tenure with the Padres fell well short of expectations with an atrocious shortened 2020 and a mediocre 2021. It’s easy to look at the production and be discouraged, but the data suggests that he was fairly unlucky over the past two campaigns. Furthermore, Pham has maintained his profile of a patient hitter with a chase rate in the 98th percentile in 2021 and encouraging walk and strikeout percentages.
Tommy Pham isn’t the answer to the clamors of this fan base and his signing wouldn’t satisfy that, but he could wind up becoming a viable option. The Yankees have money in the short-term to spend, and if they’re serious about improving from their 2020-21 showing then they need to use it. Pham might not be a bad place to start.