The Yankees enter the new year a stronger team than the one that just completed the 2022 season, having brought back Aaron Judge and Anthony Rizzo before adding Carlos Rodón to create arguably the deadliest starting rotation in baseball. Be that as it may, the roster is by no means a finished product, and if the Yankees have any true designs on a championship run, they will need to address those areas of concern.
Left field appears to be the most pressing issue, with New York’s current options consisting of the exciting-but-still-relatively-unproven Oswaldo Cabrera and a diminished Aaron Hicks, who quite clearly cannot be trusted with a starting role at this point in his career. All of the starting-caliber left fielders have come off the free agent board, but it cannot hurt to stockpile depth at the position. To that end, it would not come as a surprise to see the team kick the tires on a guy like Tommy Pham.
2022 Statistics: 144 games, 622 PA, .236/.312/.374, 17 HR, 63 RBI, 8 SB, 89 wRC+, -6 Outs Above Average, 0.6 fWAR
Previous Contract: Signed one-year, $7.5 million contract with the Reds last winter. Traded to Red Sox, who declined $12 million mutual option for 2023, instead opting to pay Pham $1.5 million buyout, making him a free agent.
Playing the first four-and-a-half seasons of his career with the Cardinals before being traded to the Rays at the deadline in 2018, Pham was quietly one of the more consistent outfielders in baseball. Between 2015 and 2019, he accrued the 18th-most value (14.9 fWAR) of all qualified outfielders, including a 2017 campaign that saw him finish the season with the seventh-most wins (6.3) of any qualified position player en route to an eleventh-place finish in NL MVP balloting.
While never a standout defender in left outside of that 2017 season, what made Pham so consistently effective was his ability to hit the ball as hard as just about anyone in the league. His 91.4-mph average exit velocity ties him for 23rd in the Statcast Era alongside Ronald Acuña Jr. and Manny Machado, never falling outside of the top quartile in EV from year to year. He’s always been somewhat of a Statcast darling, with maximum exit velocities and hard-hit rates also placing in the 80th percentile or better without fail.
That being said, it would appear that several tendrils of age-related decline have started to creep in. Usually known for his elite plate discipline, 2022 was the first full season that his walk rate dipped into the single digits, though it bears mentioning that he still excelled at laying off pitches out of the zone. 2022 also marked the first full season that Pham graded out as worse than league-average on offense overall, his 89 wRC+ almost 30 points below his career average.
However, what worries me most with Pham concerns his recent record off the field. I’m always wary seeing a player trade teams five times in five years — such transience immediately raises a red flag as it potentially hints at an uneasy relationship between team and player. And given his recent incidents and comments, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say Pham comes with more baggage than a midtown Manhattan hotel bellboy’s trolley.
Following the 2020 season, Pham got into an altercation with a fan heckling him outside a strip club in San Diego that resulted in his being stabbed in the lower back, requiring surgery and over 200 stitches. He’s on record as saying he would physically fight fans who used profanity toward him during games.
After signing with the Reds prior to last season, further comments of his went public that should give anyone pause. When asked about what he hoped to achieve during the season, he responded, “I’m playing to get my numbers. There’s nothing selfish about that. In the past, I put up really good seasons. ... I’m playing to get some numbers. I don’t care about anything else. I got to look out for me.”
Later that season, facing his former teammate Luke Voit, Pham took exception to Voit’s hard slide at home plate, again threatening physical violence: “If Luke wants to settle it, I get down really well. Anything, Muay Thai, whatever. I’ve got a (gym) owner here who will let me use his facility. So, (expletive) ‘em.”
This trend of physical violence appears to be a common thread for Pham, the most notorious example coming in the now-infamous altercation between him and Joc Pederson during batting practice at Oracle Park. Prior to the game, Pham confronted Pederson because of disagreements over their interpretations of rules in their shared fantasy football league as well as a meme Pederson posted in the league group chat ribbing Pham’s former team. Pham escalated the situation slapping Pederson in the face and had to be separated, eventually resulting in a three-game suspension and $5,000 fine.
As thin as their options are in left field and as much as they could use the outfield depth in general, the Yankees already have a potentially disruptive presence in Josh Donaldson, so I’m not sure they need to be adding even more possibly toxic energy to their clubhouse. It’s a hard pass for me.