Last summer’s trade for Joey Gallo, Aaron Hicks’ return from a torn wrist sheath, and Giancarlo Stanton’s return to the outfield were supposed to turn the outfield from a weakness into a strength. Instead, while Aaron Judge and Stanton have provided elite production at the plate and serviceable production with the glove, Hicks spent the first two months of the season as a pumpkin and Gallo has been the 165th-ranked hitter in baseball out of the 195 with at least 240 plate appearances. And so, here we are again, with the Yankees looking for an outfielder in July.
The 2021 Yankees were in desperate need for offensive reinforcements, as they had just a 99 wRC+ at the trade deadline. This year, the lineup has been more than fine, even despite the Gallo-sized hole in the nine hole, as their 119 wRC+ leads baseball. Thanks to this, the team can look for a defensive-minded center fielder, one who can shift Aaron Judge back to his original right field position and shore up the defense across the outfield.
Could Michael A. Taylor, the Kansas City center fielder who received the 2021 Gold Glove Award for his defensive prowess, be that guy for the Yankees? With the Royals going nowhere fast (a 34-53 record puts them in the cellar of the AL Central) and Taylor a free agent after the 2023 season, Kansas City may very well decide to cash in on Taylor’s breakout season and flip him for prospects. And for what it’s worth, the Yankees have inquired about his availability, according to Jon Morosi.
It’s hard to think of a more capable defensive center fielder who could be available at the deadline than Taylor. His +7 Defensive Runs Saved are tied with Cedric Mullins for second among center fielders (behind only Myles Straw), while his 7.2 UZR/150 ranks third behind Straw and Harrison Bader. Only Outs Above Average isn’t a fan of his performance with the glove in 2022, as it pegs him as exactly league average; even then, he was worth 15 OAA last year, so it’s not impossible to see him improve that number in the second half of the season. Just as importantly, he would allow Judge to slide back to right field, and while Judge has been more than serviceable in center (and would likely continue being the backup out there), having him play the corners again would certainly help keep him healthy.
A major part of the reason the Royals would want to trade Taylor now is that he is in the middle of a career year at the plate, slashing .264/.340/.385 with five home runs, good for a 106 OPS+. An elite defender in center field with a slightly above-average bat to slot at the bottom of the lineup? If that seems too good to be true, well, it is. Taylor’s Statcast data does not reflect that of a solid bat.
That’s a lot of blue, and not a lot of red. Sure, he walks a lot, doesn’t chase a ton of pitches, and runs fast, but he also strikes out quite a bit for a guy with exactly 13 extra-base hits on the season. On top of that, according to FanGraphs’ Ultimate Baserunning and weighted Stolen Base scores, he hasn’t been able to turn his speed into a weapon on the basepaths since 2019.
Still, even assuming that Taylor will return to his career norms (he’s slashed .241/.297/.386 across parts of nine seasons), that’s still a center fielder who plays elite defense and posts a not-good, but not unplayable .683 OPS. He’s a flawed player, of course, but he has a particular skillset that could make him an asset to the Yankees, so long as there were no other major concerns.
The 10 Kansas City Royals who are not vaccinated and will miss the trip to Toronto are: OF Andrew Benintendi, IF/OF Whit Merrifield, C M.J. Melendez, DH Hunter Dozier, SP Brad Keller, SP Brady Singer, CF Michael A. Taylor, OF Kyle Isbel, RP Dylan Coleman and C Cam Gallagher.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) July 13, 2022
Oh. Although the Yankees have only three games left in Toronto, those three games are in the final week of the season, and it’s well within the realm of possibility that the Yankees and Blue Jays will face off in the playoffs this October. While it’s entirely possible that this may not end up being a concern — the border restrictions between Canada and the United States may relax, or the two teams may simply not play any meaningful games in Toronto — this may just make Taylor too much of a risk for the Yankees. He’s got plenty of defensive ability, but in the end, the most important ability is availability, and the Yankees might just prefer to tackle their outfield concerns with players who can, you know, actually play against the teams they may face in the postseason.