The remaining question for this offseason revolves around left field. With almost every single potential impact free agent off the board, the Yankees and Brian Cashman are left with internal and trade options to fill the offensive hole. As it currently stands, this lineup isn’t good enough to be at the top the league. The Astros, Braves, Mets, and Phillies all have a deeper group of stars. So far, the Yankees have hedged the good-but-not-great lineup with a historically talented rotation led by Gerrit Cole and Carlos Rodón, but if the team wants to raise its floor to an upper 90s-win team, they will need offensive help in some capacity.
None of the outfield free agents were enticing enough to the team to soar past the final tax threshold. Those options included Michael Conforto, Andrew Benintendi, and a few other less impactful names. Next year might not be any different. Some of the players in this class are likely to return, and they’ll be accompanied by similarly valued players. New names such as Ian Happ and Max Kepler might be intriguing, but they aren’t the type of impact players Cashman might be interested in with some other talented prospects knocking on the door by then. Besides, Harrison Bader will be a free agent next season too, and his fit next to Aaron Judge as he ages into his 30s feels like great protection for the new captain, even if Bader isn’t a full-time player depending on the development of his bat in his first full season in Pinstripes.
Moving onto the possible 2025 class, the names are still quite underwhelming, excluding the mega star, Juan Soto. It’s tough to assume the team will be willing to dole out a deal that is likely to be in the 10–15-year, $400 million range since so much can happen between now and then. A trade, rising prospect, or extension might be keep them out of a chance to sign Soto. There are too many ifs and questions around that situation to make me confident in their pursuit of him. All this said, I remain skeptical the Yankees will find a long-term solution in left field in the free agent market for the next few years, so let’s talk trades.
As we’ve all sorted through the trade options, the rumors and smoke around any negotiations seems to be focused on one thing — the team does not want to trade Oswald Peraza or Anthony Volpe. That’s not to say it’s impossible, but if we are to learn anything from the last year or two, it’s that no player or offer has been enough for Cashman to pull the trigger. With the two player’s great success in the upper minor leagues, their departures from the team become less and less likely — especially Anthony Volpe, who is universally regarded as a top-15 prospect in the game, if not higher.
That leaves trade negotiations at a bit of a stalemate. Those two players are ready to impact the team this season. Depending on the Yankees’ evaluations of their offensive readiness, trading one of them might not be worth the exchange in years of team control. The most likely impactful trade option out there is Bryan Reynolds, who has three years of team control remaining. He is likely to be a 125-130 wRC+ hitter with decent defense in center, or a transition to left. With Peraza and Volpe both playing premium defensive positions, it’s very possible the Yankees value their six to seven seasons from those players higher than what remains for Reynolds. I don’t know that for sure, but that’s the logic behind holding onto either of those.
If not them, then who? That’s where Jasson Domínguez and Spencer Jones come into play. They are about a year to a year and a half behind the two shortstop prospects in terms of development. Jones excelled in Low-A Tampa this season. I wouldn’t be surprised if he starts with High-A Hudson Valley, where he will face a real challenge. Domínguez, on the other hand, has already excelled with those Renegades, and will start the year in Double-A Somerset, where he is likely to face the best pitching of his career, and more specifically, the best breaking balls of his career. FanGraphs’ team rankings for the Yankees haven’t been released yet, but Baseball Prospectus’ have, and they surprisingly ranked Jones (No. 3 in the organizations above Domínguez (No. 4 in the organization) despite the latter’s success at such a young age of 19 years old.
Whichever way you want to rank the two doesn’t matter all that much for this article. Their development in 2023 is the focus. If Domínguez demonstrates he can handle upper minor league pitching, he will be knocking on the door to the big leagues later this year, similar to how Volpe did. It’s more realistic his ETA is in 2024, but his performance this year will determine a few things. Will he become a movable piece if the team sees significant holes, or does he perform so well that he is untouchable? The same questions go for Jones, who has already shown he might he fly through the minor leagues with an impressive feel for hitting despite not all that much time as a full-time hitter in his baseball career.
Neither is likely to stay in center field. Domínguez was the only likely option there, but his speed is sort of up in the air as his body and athleticism are still changing, given he is literally a teenager. Unluckily for them, there is only one corner outfield spot on this team. The other is reserved for Aaron Judge. He will dominate that position for the foreseeable future. With a bit of a logjam incoming, it will be interesting to see this all play out. It could go in multiple different directions. The first is that one or both of them doesn’t pan out and the Yankees are forced to free agency with no blue-chip outfielder behind them. The other is that one sticks out over the other and claims the position first. Depending on how that shakes out, one could become expendable. Or perhaps, the team doesn’t feel like waiting and ships either out of town for an immediate impact player. The questions and scenarios are endless, but if one thing is clear, it’s that the future of the outfield in the Bronx is betting big time on these two players’ developments.
Flexibility is important for any franchise, but for a team like the Yankees, it’s even more interesting. Some teams are entirely dependent on player development. The Yankees are not. If these two players don’t pan out, then they have the deep pocket to bring a Juan Soto type player in via free agency. However, if they do pan out, then they aren’t bootstrapped to one option. Superstars can be acquired via trade, or you can hold onto the prospect you believe in the most. Flexibility. Flexibility. Flexibility. It’s impossible to know what the future holds, but what we do know is the more blue chips prospects, the better for the future of the franchise.