What a winter this is shaping up to be for the Yankees. They’ve already brought back Aaron Judge, Anthony Rizzo, and Tommy Kahnle, and more than one report has them linked to Carlos Rodón if not something bigger. That said, even with the reunion with their supersized right fielder, there is still a potential vacancy in the other outfield corner with several intriguing options to fill it on the free agent and trade markets.
Left field is far less settled thanks to Andrew Benintendi’s departure in free agency and Aaron Hicks’ regression to the point that he is no longer a tenable starting outfielder. The Yankees have shown interest in Benintendi since free agency began and recently explored Max Kepler’s availability. The most intriguing news comes from Joel Sherman of the New York Post who reports that New York has called the Diamondback inquiring on their surplus of young outfielders. Earlier today, my colleague Malachi investigated the intriguing former top prospect Alek Thomas, but it appears the player the Yankees most covet is his teammate Daulton Varsho.
2022 Stats: 151 games, 592 PA, .235/.302/.443, 27 HR, 74 RBI, 16 SB, 106 wRC+, 4.6 fWAR
2023 Contract Status: Projected to earn $2.8 million in first of four years of arbitration-eligibility. Free agent after 2026 season.
If I were to ask you which player finished with the eighth-highest fWAR and ninth-most home runs among all full-time outfielders in MLB last year, I’d feel safe in the assumption that none of you would name Varsho. But that’s exactly what he did in 2022, his 4.6 wins placing him between Kyle Tucker and Steven Kwan on the OF fWAR leaderboard and 27 home runs tying him with Juan Soto, one behind Julio Rodríguez — lofty company to be sure. That power surge fuels a large part of this league-wide spike in interest in the 26 year old outfielder.
His previous high-water mark of 11 came in a 2021 campaign that saw him play 95 games in the bigs sandwiched around a month-long early-summer stint in the minors. What’s encouraging is that these results followed tangible changes he made to his swing, which suggests a stickiness to this new found power. He made a concerted effort to become a dead-pull hitter from the left side — understandable considering power is easier to access when pulling the ball — and the results are quite stark.
His pull percentage jumped roughly 15 percentage points to 50.9 percent, the highest pull rate among qualified hitters in 2022. He also made far more consistent quality contact, interestingly by lowering his launch angle a little over three degrees to produce a 10.2 percent barrel rate that was almost double his career rate. A lefty who makes consistent solid contact to the pull side sounds awfully appealing playing in Yankee Stadium.
Here are his 27 bombs overlayed atop Yankee Stadium’s dimensions:
Yeah, that’ll play.
Drafted in the second round of the 2017 MLB Draft, Varsho rose to the top-five on many publications’ top prospect lists for the Diamondbacks before earning his major league debut in 2020. Originally drafted and developed as a catcher, Varsho made the gradual transition from behind the plate to the long grass such that he played 71 games in right field, 54 in center field, and 31 at catcher in 2022.
What’s particularly impressive is the ease with which he moved to the outfield and mastered the position. In 2022, he ranked tops among all outfielders with 18 Outs Above Average (OAA), and when you break down the components of his outfield play it’s clear that he’s improving year-over-year at the position. He quickened his reaction time and initial burst off the bat such that he was able to cover over a foot-and-a-half more than last season in jump ability, moving from tenth in the league in 2021 to fourth in 2022 in feet covered vs. average.
Of course, all of this combines to make Varsho one of the more expensive trade candidates on the market, as do his four years of team control. While certainly not a perfect resource, Baseball Trade Values has Varsho among the top-25 players in baseball in trade value, higher even that the other blockbuster outfield trade candidate frequently linked to the Yankees, Bryan Reynolds.
A trade for Varsho would almost certainly have to include Anthony Volpe if not another of the Yankees’ top-three prospects. New York may find that price too rich for their blood and pivot to one of the remaining free agent outfielders or an internal candidate. Oswaldo Cabrera demonstrated he can be plus defender in left field and there’s serious encouragement the bat can carry on producing at an above-average level in an MLB regular role. Should the Yankees balk at the asking price for Varsho, they could certainly do worse than Cabrera as the everyday starter in left, but it can’t hurt to maintain an open line of dialog with the Arizona front office should the price come down.