At this point, the free agent market is clear of superstars, and the bargain-hunting has begun. Teams are now looking to find players who can fill a need that will improve the team in the coming year. Yankees GM Brian Cashman seems to be looking at his outfield, knowing that he cannot expect — or really want — Aaron Hicks to be a regular. Harrison Bader has only appeared in a little over half of his possible games since the start of 2021. While everyone is high on the prospects of Oswaldo Cabrera, it may not be ideal to just hand him the starting left field job. Sure, obtaining a player like Bryan Reynolds would be a major upgrade; Cashman has not historically given up his top prospects in a deal like that.
The Yankees do need a left fielder. They need someone reliable. They need someone who can get on base with regularity and who can add the occasional home run. Ideally, they could use another left-handed bat to help balance the lineup. And, they could use a player who can swipe a base now and then and play above average defense. They could also use a player on a short-term deal who would allow for Cabrera to gradually take over the everyday role, if needed.
The Yankees do not necessarily need a star at the start of the season. They require a player who fills those needs in the short-term, can fill multiple roles, and be an average regular if the need arises. With the roster as currently constituted, the need will most certainly arise. Robbie Grossman, a 32-year-old outfielder who has 10 years of MLB experience, does address the Yankees’ needs.
Grossman won’t make headlines and certainly won’t be leading in merchandise sales, but that actually may be the point. Most likely, Grossman will be signed to a one-year deal, perhaps with an option for a second year. There isn’t a long-term commitment, allowing for potential internal upgrades, trade deadline additions, or for a better outfield market to develop in the next couple of years with Juan Soto potentially hitting the free agent market or becoming available via trade.
Grossman is coming off of a down year that saw him battle multiple injuries (knee, hand, and groin) and even have an injured list stint in June with a neck strain. After coming off of a career season in 2021, those injuries really took a toll on Grossman’s production. He did, however, get traded at the deadline, going from the Detroit Tigers to the Atlanta Braves for their pennant race run. In Atlanta, Grossman was healthier and was able to produce more than he did in Detroit.
Overall, Grossman hit .209/.310/.311 with 19 doubles, 7 home runs, and 6 stolen bases in 129 games. It was the only season in which he played in more than 51 games that he failed to post an on-base percentage above .332. An injury-riddled campaign could mean one of two things for a 32-year-old. It could be a sign of age. Or, it could simply be a lost season. The cost of finding out which one it was will not be exorbitant, thus making the gamble well worth the risk.
Grossman’s main skill is his ability to get on base. From 2016-21, he averaged .253/.359/.400 with 21 doubles, 10 home runs, 7 stolen bases, 60 walks, 90 strikeouts, 105 OPS+, and 115 games played. In that span, his .359 OBP ranks 58th in Major League Baseball. While not a star, Grossman’s presence on base would give greater production opportunities to the Yankees’ power hitters.
A switch-hitter, Grossman has historically played more against right-handed pitching, slashing .237/.343/.369 against right-handed starters in 624 starts. In 269 starts against southpaws, Grossman has produced at a .262/.354/.395 rate, though interestingly, he hit .320/.436/.443 off southpaws in 2022 while righties stymied him.
Even in the down, injury-riddled season with steps backward from 2021 in hard-hit rate and other expected batting events, some of Grossman’s rates were quite similar to his career marks. His walk rate of 11.7 percent was still well above the Major League average of 8.2 percent. His 27-percent strikeout rate was a career-high, but not abnormally above his career rate of 22 percent.
With the glove, Grossman is an average to slightly-above-average defender. Last season, he posted a defensive runs saved mark of +1 in left field (531 innings) and +2 in right field (458.2 innings). He rates right down the middle per Statcast, sitting between the 50th and 55th percentiles in Outs Above Average, Outfielder Jump, and Arm Strength.
Grossman does profile close to another current Yankees’ player — namely Hicks. Admittedly, that doesn’t make for a compelling case for the signing of Robbie Grossman. There are two main differences, though. Since 2017, Hicks has averaged 83 games played per season, compared to Grossman’s 120. Hicks was extended with the idea of him being an everyday starter. With the exception of the 2021 season, Grossman was never considered an everyday player. And, Grossman comes at the fraction of the cost of Hicks.
The 2023 Yankees are in need of players who offer flexibility in terms of roster construction. Robbie Grossman isn’t a name-brand and wouldn’t make the Yankees a guaranteed World Series contender, but he would be a useful player for the Yankees. He can play both corner outfield spots, provide average defense, and offer the lineup some reliable on base skills that, with the exception of Judge, Anthony Rizzo, and DJ LeMahieu, the lineup lacks.
Grossman would make the lineup deeper, the bench more flexible, and offers the Yankees flexibility to see if Cabrera can gradually win the job ... or if they need to go out and acquire a long-term solution. The name won’t garner the headlines, but his production and flexibility has a solid chance to make the Yankees better.