Coming into the season, the Yankees outfield was supposed to be a strength. Clint Frazier had a fantastic breakout campaign in 2020, slashing .267/.394/.511 with 8 homers in 39 games, finally putting that prodigious bat speed to good use. Meanwhile, Aaron Hicks posted a 120 OPS+ despite having limited power, thanks to his immense walk rate that gave him a .379 OBP; a year removed from Tommy John surgery, nobody would have been surprised if his power returned in a big way. And then, of course, there’s Aaron Judge, whose only concern was whether he would be able to stay on the field. There were concerns all around, certainly, but there was also immense reason for optimism.
Judge has, so far, remained healthy, but literally nothing else has gone well. Hicks struggled to the tune of a 74 OPS+ before undergoing season-ending surgery in May to repair a torn tendon sheath in his left wrist. Frazier similarly struggled, lost the starting left field job to Miguel Andújar, and then hit the injured list with possible vertigo and vision issues. Vertigo was at least ruled out recently, but given his concussion history, it’s not far-fetched to wonder if his season, and even his career, could be in jeopardy.
Andújar, for his part, has put together some good stretches, but the lows have put him at a .667 OPS (83 OPS+) for the year, he’s been a bit of an adventure in left field — and did I mention he’s on the injured list, too? Brett Gardner, re-signed to be a fourth outfielder, looks lost at the plate half the time, and the recently-acquired Tim Locastro’s career 78 OPS+ is probably not the answer, either.
Enter Joey Gallo. The two-time All-Star outfielder is the biggest piece of trade bait that the last-place Texas Rangers have available to cast, and boy, would he look good in pinstripes.
This is Gallo’s hit chart for the 2021 season, superimposed on the outline of Yankee Stadium’s dimensions. According to Statcast, he would have four more home runs this season were he playing in the Bronx and not Globe Life Field in Arlington, and judging from the graphic, there are at least two other hits that would come close. Additionally, his left-handed swing is tailor-made for Yankee Stadium — he pulls the ball 40 percent of the time, and all but 8 of those hypothetical 28 home runs would go to right field.
The biggest knock against Gallo is that he strikes out too much. Frankly, I don’t care — when you’re pace for 40 homers and are working walks slightly more than 20 percent of the time (the most in the league), even a 30-percent strikeout rate won’t matter. How do I know that? Because that’s exactly what Gallo is doing this year, and he’s slashing .239/.402/.522, good for a 153 wRC+. That figure ranks eighth-best in baseball and better than anybody on the Yankees — even Judge!
But let’s pretend for a second that I did care about the punchouts. Well, as Josh noted in his breakdown of the Rangers as a potential trade partner, Gallo is walking at a career-high rate and striking out at a career-low rate. Even better, he’s chasing only 19.8 percent of the time, in the league’s 91st percentile. In short, his plate discipline — which has typically been a point of Gallo criticism — has been an immense strength for him this season.
Even better, Gallo has absolutely exploded since the first foreign substance memo went out on June 3rd. Before that date, he posted a .208/.358/.383 slash (111 wRC+) with a 34.1-percent strikeout rate and 17.7-percent walk rate, in addition to mashing only nine long balls and accruing 1.1 WAR. Since that date? Gallo has slashed .301/.480/.796 (231 wRC+) while homered once every other game; moreover, his strikeout percentage dropped to 24.8 percent and his walk rate increased to 25.6 percent — in other words, in the last month, this strikeout-prone batter has walked more than he’s struck out!
Defensively, the 2020 Gold Glove winner is one of the best in the league, and his 5 Outs Above Average this season are tied with seven others for sixth in the rankings. He’s exclusively played right field this season, but he not only has experience in both left and center, he’s succeeded there — he’s been about league-average at both positions according to OAA, Defensive Runs Saved, and UZR/150. And the Yankees could conceivably use him at either position — like I mentioned above, the team has glaring holes at both spots.
As Gallo is under contract for the 2022 season, Gallo is going to cost a lot — probably more than Brian Cashman is willing to part with, if we’re being honest. It’s also worth noting that there’s no guarantee that Texas is even going to want to trade him; they may instead lock him up for a long time. If he is truly available, however, then the Yankees need to go all-in. Whether or not he’d be enough to propel the Yankees to a playoff spot this year is up for debate, but as a move with 2022 in mind, there’s arguably no one better on the market this July.