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Yankees Potential Trade Target: Ramón Laureano

The talented outfielder could be a buy-low depth piece from a selling team.

Oakland Athletics v Los Angeles Angels Photo by Rob Leiter/MLB Photos via Getty Images

If there’s one area where the Yankees might be set for the 2022 season, it’s the outfield. Aaron Judge, Aaron Hicks, and Joey Gallo are expected to be the main trio, with primary DH Giancarlo Stanton likely to see some starts as well when the others receive days off. However, depth is obviously a necessity, especially with Hicks still somewhat a question mark in center field.

If the Oakland Athletics are as much sellers as they appear to be once the lockdown lifts — they’ve already been rumored to seriously consider deals for Matt Olson, among others — outfielder Ramón Laureano could make sense as a fourth outfielder for the Yankees. There is, of course, the caveat that he needs to be healthy, and that the Yankees trust his results after a suspension for performance-enhancing drugs that will last through April 29th (assuming the season starts on time).

The 27-year-old Laureano was a 16th-round draft pick of the Houston Astros, who traded him to their division rivals in Oakland in 2017 for pitcher Brandon Bailey. After debuting with the A’s, Laureano quickly turned heads for his defensive prowess, particularly his monster throwing arm. His throw from the center field in August 2018 to double off Eric Young Jr. was the first in particular to go a bit viral:

FanGraphs puts Laureano’s career UZR at 10.5. Baseball Savant had him at a negative Outs Above Average rating in 2021, but with above-average jump times and sprint speeds. While defense should be a strong suit in the Yankees outfield between Judge and Gallo in particular, being able to put in an outfielder in the late innings who can scare runners away from trying to score — or who could take over to start should someone get injured — is pretty enticing.

When it comes to reserve outfielders, the general school of thought is to mostly look for defensive ability, and good hitting skills are an added bonus. But Laureano earned his starting role with the A’s and showed that he could hit a bit as well. In 2019, his best season by fWAR, he hit .288/.340/.521 with 24 home runs as the A’s won 97 games and a Wild Card spot.

However, Laureano’s reputation at the plate carries some red flags. The first is that his numbers have d dipped a bit since that 129 OPS+ in 2019; in 142 games since then over the course of 2020-21, he’s hit .235/.325/.416 with a 107 OPS+. That’s still solid for a center fielder, but not quite as splashy. More importantly, in August of 2021, Laureano tested positive for the performance-enhancing drug nandrolone. Laureano denied knowingly ingesting any PED, but the possibility that his past stats were artificially inflated with hang over his head for the rest of his career, whether that’s fair or not.

On top of that, Laureano received core surgery at the beginning of October. After surgery, Laureano was reported to be expected to be ready for spring training — so if it’s delayed, as it seems like it might, it’s even more likely he’d be ready to go once his suspension lifts. On the other hand, if the season is significantly shortened, that will give Laureano even less time to make an impact on the field. Suspension aside, Laureano was known as a good clubhouse presence in Oakland and a leader, traits that may have helped a Yankees squad that frequently appeared sluggish in 2021.

The combination of Laureano’s suspension and injury recovery means that Oakland may have to settle for less in a theoretical trade of Laureano than they would have only a year ago. If he’s available, I think he’d be a great addition to the Yankees, suspension aside. He’s not a free agent until 2025 and even has two minor league options left, so if he can’t match his previous performance the team would have options. For a team that was sluggish and slow, his skills would be a plus.