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The Yankees’ center field dilemma

What to do about one of the game’s most important positions?

MLB: Chicago White Sox at New York Yankees Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

I do think that Brett Gardner’s place in Yankee history is greater than a lot of other people might — he ranks sneakily high on leaderboards, games played, you can do a lot of fun Six Degrees of Separation-type exercises with his career. Despite that admiration for what he has done, it’s clear to anyone looking that he can no longer cut it as a fulltime player.

Y’know how bad Tyler Wade’s been as a hitter? Or Clint Frazier? Or Mike Ford? Gardner’s been worse than any of them, with just a 58 wRC+. He’s still been decent enough defensively, worth one OAA in center field. You need good defense to hang in CF, but at a certain point, a complete lack of offense outweighs solid defense.

We got a hint of possible alternatives last week, at least against lefty starters, as Aaron Judge took over center for the first time since 2018. I’m not necessarily opposed to Judge playing there, but he is a true right fielder. The fact that the org didn’t want him in center in the minors or as a younger player in the majors indicates it is not the optimal place for the team’s best player.

Frazier did spend some time in center in the minors, and could potentially spell some time there in the majors, but his propensity for outfield adventures makes me skeptical of him being a real CF option. Add to the fact that he’s also struggled to hit, and his place in that Good Bat-Good Glove matrix makes me pretty uncomfortable.

And that’s pretty much it for the center field depth chart in the majors. Tyler Wade I guess counts, but I think we’ve all had just about enough of him. Turning to Scranton isn’t much better — after a good first week in Double-A, Estevan Florial has returned to the player he’s always been, running a 30 percent strikeout rate and sub-.300 OBP, not lending much reason to believe in his ability to jump another level.

The Yankees have a shocking lack of net runs from one of the most important spots on the diamond, and unless Aaron Judge is going to be out there full time, there’s not a lot of in-house solutions. But the team’s kind of caught in the middle — the internal options aren’t good but it’s both too early in the season for serious trade talks, and the team has a questionable ability to land major pieces anyway.

The $210 million CBT threshold priority makes it tough to add any players, but especially the kind that raise the ceiling of this team in meaningful ways. Impending free agents, the type of player that might be easy and relatively inexpensive to acquire, don’t inspire much confidence except for Starling Marte, who costs too much money for a CBT-focused season.

It’s also just too early for major trades. There are maybe two or three clear sellers, but Brian Cashman rarely makes significant deals in June. There were rumors he was trying to land Delino DeShields from Texas, who could play center, but those are the kinds of trades we have to talk about for the time being. The club is going to keep trying to squeeze blood from a stone with what they’ve got on the roster.

Center field is not the only problem for this club. It’s not even the only problem this team might try to solve with an impact trade. But the shocking lack of real options, the potential to rely on an out-of-place Aaron Judge or just keep trucking ahead for a month or more are an indictment on how this roster was built in the first place, and the lack of real floor-raising contingencies for a club that spent the entire winter thinking about October.