The holiday season was a productive one for the Yankees, who checked re-signing the face of the franchise (Aaron Judge), a second ace (Carlos Rodón), and veteran bullpen depth (Tommy Kahnle) off their shopping list, while also adding a small bundle of stocking stuffers in the form of minor league free agent signings. Despite all this action, however, there still remains one item on the Christmas list that the team could not find: a starting left fielder.
Although Brian Cashman expressed confidence that they are comfortable with the internal options — Aaron Hicks, Estevan Florial, and Oswaldo Cabrera — his actions this winter reflect that this is a lie. Not only have there been reports that the team has tried (but failed) to trade Hicks, the Yankees were also reportedly in on Andrew Benintendi, Masataka Yoshida, and Michael Conforto and have actively pursued Pittsburgh center fielder Bryan Reynolds. With the top of the market for the most part exhausted at this point, however, it seems increasingly likely that the Yankees are going to be shopping at the second and third tiers of the available outfielders.
Enter David Peralta. A nine-year vet, Peralta spent the entirety of his career with the Arizona Diamondbacks before being traded to the Tampa Bay Rays at this past deadline. Now entering his age-35 season, he is a long way removed from his 3.4 fWAR 2018 season in which he posted a 130 wRC+ while hitting 30 home runs en route to a Silver Slugger, and even further removed from his 3.9 fWAR sophomore campaign that saw him post a 137 wRC+. That being said, there’s reason to believe that he could fill a role in the Yankees outfield in 2023.
Although nobody would call Peralta a major threat at the plate, he has been slightly above league average over the last few seasons. Since the start of 2019, he has posted a .266/.329/.425, good for a 102 wRC+; to put that into context, that’s four points better than Hicks in that same span. He has consistently posted a well-above average average exit velocity, as his 89.8 mph in that time ranks 34th out of the 102 qualifying outfielders, ahead of Mitch Haniger, Bryan Reynolds, Mike Yastrzemski, Max Kepler, and Andrew Benintendi. And he does that from the left side of the plate, which the Yankees clearly value in their right-handed heavy lineup.
Although historically known as a solid defender — he did win the 2019 Gold Glove and was a finalist in 2021 — Peralta’s defense isn’t as universally praised by the metrics as you might expect. While Outs Above Average has been high on him, as he has accrued 4 OAA in 2021 and 5 in 2022 in left field, Defensive Runs Saved and UZR/150 both consider him to be slightly below-average at best: he was worth -5 DRS and -3.9 UZR/150 in 2022. For a player entering his age-35 season, that pattern raises some eyebrows.
Peralta is a solid player, one who would not be a terrible stopgap for the Yankees this upcoming season. But at the end of the day, I’m just not totally sure he moves the needle enough for the Yankees to pursue him with the intent to start him. After all, his 1.7 fWAR in 2022 was only slightly better than Hicks’ 1.5, and Cabrera easily outpaced him with 1.5 fWAR in 44 games. The Yankees need an upgrade in left field, one that would allow Cabrera to use his defensive versatility as a Ben Zobrist type, but ultimately, Peralta isn’t that upgrade.