With incumbent left fielder Andrew Benintendi inking a five-year, $75 million contract with the Chicago White Sox the other day, the Yankees will likely turn to the trade market in order to fill their hole in the outfield. Perhaps not uncoincidentally, the Kansas City Royals are open to dealing their starting center fielder, Michael A. Taylor, according to Ken Rosenthal. Could Taylor, who the Yankees inquired about at the same time they traded for Benintendi at the deadline, replace his one-time teammate in left?
Taylor’s calling card is his defense. No matter what defensive metric you prefer, he graded out as an elite center fielder in 2022. His 19 Defensive Runs Saved was most among the 63 center fielders with at least 200 innings and his 12.9 UZR/150 ranked fifth. Outs Above Average wasn’t quite as high on him — he only accrued 5 OAA — but even then, he ranked just 15th. He also has elite arm strength in the outfield, coming in at the 92nd percentile on Statcast.
The Yankees have traditionally valued defense in left field, and have repeatedly targeted elite defenders capable of playing center field for the position (Johnny Damon, Brett Gardner, Ichiro Suzuki, Joey Gallo). Although the Joey Gallo experience might give people some pause (Taylor has played just 373.1 innings in left across 53 games, mostly in 2015), it’s easy to see why Brian Cashman might target him. A Michael A. Taylor/Harrison Bader/Aaron Judge outfield would be arguably the best defensive outfield in baseball. All three have won hardware for their defense — Taylor and Bader have won Gold Gloves, and Taylor and Judge have won Fielding Bible Awards — and all three are capable of playing center field on a consistent basis.
And yet, despite his elite defense, Taylor ought not to be a priority for the Yankees this winter. He posted a .254/.313/.357 slash line with nine home runs, ten doubles, and three triples, good for a 90 wRC+. That was by far his best season at the plate since 2017. And the Statcast data is certainly not encouraging, either.
I will never begrudge building a strong defense. Defense was a major strength for the Yankees last season, and the outfield was no exception: their 18 DRS and 4.9 UZR/150 ranked sixth and fifth, respectively. With Harrison Bader manning center field, however, the Yankees don’t need another elite defender, they need a competent defender with a quality bat, preferably a switch-hitter or a lefty. Taylor has never been that, and there’s no reason to believe he can be.
Back at the trade deadline, Taylor and the Yankees were a potential match, albeit an imperfect one; at the time, the Yankees needed an outfielder, and with Judge manning center on a daily basis due to Aaron Hicks’ struggles, an elite defensive center fielder made a lot of sense. Brian Cashman evidently agreed, but he tackled that hole by bringing in Bader. Taylor would simply be a redundancy, and while I wouldn’t oppose bringing him in as a fourth outfielder if the Yankees could move Hicks, as a starter, he simply wouldn’t move the needle against the Astros all that much.