The central storyline of the Yankee offseason currently is, of course, the Carlos Rodón saga, but rumblings persist that the team is looking to do more than bolster its rotation. The whispers that they were in deep with Carlos Correa proved inaccurate, but most reporting indicates that the Yankees won’t be done if or when they secure another starting pitcher.
The buzz this week has centered around the club’s potential pursuit of an outfielder, with reports surfacing that the Yankees had held trade discussions with the Twins and Diamondbacks. Both teams have a surplus of outfielders, and while the Yankees have their starting right fielder and center fielder locked in, they don’t seem to have penciled in either Oswaldo Cabrera, who could be better used in a utility role, or Aaron Hicks in left field. The trade talks do make some sort of sense, in a vacuum at least.
In the context of this Yankees offseason, though, the idea of the Yankees making a deal with either Minnesota or Arizona doesn’t pass the smell test. In particular, neither team can reasonably offer a trade that would clear what we might as well term as the “Benintendi Bar”.
Any move the Yankees make to upgrade their outfield simply must be a clearly superior to move to just re-signing their trade deadline acquisition from last season, Andrew Benintendi. The 28-year-old has the benefit of offering prime seasons on his next contract, and is coming off a quality overall season between Kansas City and New York, but most importantly, he would require just dollars to acquire, rather than prospects.
Let’s look at the Twins’ and Diamondbacks’ cases individually.* Arizona has loads of young talent at the outfield position, with Corbin Carroll looking like a young star, and with Alek Thomas also a recently-graduated top prospect. Jake McCarthy finished fourth in NL Rookie of the Year voting, and Daulton Varsho, a converted catcher, provides plus pop and defense.
Given their prospect pedigrees and the cavernous distance between them and free agency, though, the likes of Carroll and Thomas are likely going nowhere. That leaves McCarthy and Varsho as primary targets, and neither can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that they are significant upgrades on Benintendi.
McCarthy had a nice rookie season, but he never showed much thump coming up as a prospect, and he overperformed his underlying Statcast figures en route to his 116 wRC+ last year. He projects for a 107 wRC+ and 2.3 fWAR in 2023 per FanGraphs’ depth chart projections. Varsho is the more intriguing figure of the two, as he has obvious athleticism and instincts that have allowed him to man the disparate positions of catcher and center field:
Yet even Varsho likely played above his head to hit 27 bombs last year, and FanGraphs pegs him for a 108 wRC+ and 3.0 fWAR in 2023.
Meanwhile, the incumbent Benintendi projects for a 113 wRC+ and 2.3 fWAR for 2023. The shape of the production he, McCarthy, and Varsho could provide differs, but in aggregate, they all end up in a similar place. The catch, of course, is that Varsho and McCarthy, the former four years from free agency and the latter six, would cost a top prospect in a trade, such is the allure of cost-controlled talent in today’s MLB. Is it worth it for the Yankees to sacrifice an Oswald Peraza or Jasson Domínguez to go from Benintendi to Varsho, when Benintendi could be had for just money?
The same story plays out on the Minnesota end of things. Byron Buxton isn’t on the table, while Trevor Larnach, Alex Kirilloff, and Max Kepler could all probably be in play. Larnach and Kirilloff present worse versions of the Varsho and McCarthy ideas; both Larnach and Kirilloff come with five years of team control, and thus would be costly to trade for, but neither has had even as much success in the bigs as Arizona’s outfielders. Larnach projects for 0.8 fWAR in 2023, and Kirilloff for 1.1 fWAR.
Kepler is more interesting, what with an established track record as a solid big league regular. But even he projects for a reasonable but unexciting 2.0 fWAR, and if his 2024 club option is picked up, he’ll be due an average of nearly $10 million over the next two seasons. MLB Trade Rumors predicted Benintendi would fetch a $13.5 million AAV on his free agent deal, meaning acquiring someone like Kepler wouldn’t even provide notable savings in the near-term!
Many big-name free agents have surpassed expectations with their newest deals, so Benintendi may beat the four-year, $54 million pact MLBTR predicted for him. Even if the Yankees had to tack a fifth year on there, it’s not clear that doing so would leave them any worse than executing a trade for the reportedly available outfielders.
The crux here is that the trade market is seemingly littered with a bunch of “pretty decent 2-3 WAR guys”. That exact kind of outfielder is available in Benintendi, at a price that’s far from a king’s ransom. The story would be different if an elite outfielder was eminently available, but that player doesn't exist right now.
The Yankees already sit past the second luxury tax threshold. They’re better served living with the tax bill, rather than sacrificing one of their homegrown infield talents, or a couple of their other top prospects, to address left field. There are plenty of good times to flip prospects for major league, but this, with a Benintendi reunion looking just as impactful as any plausible outfield import, isn’t one of them.