Whether it’s due to injuries, bad scouting, or simple underperformance, the Yankees outfield outside of Aaron Judge has been a bit of a revolving door in recent seasons. It’s been particularly uneven recently, as the team struggles to right the ship in a season that once looked like it had limitless potential. It’s a bit of a duh — two more strong, starter-caliber outfielders would help any team — but the Yankees’ inability to find anyone who can, or should, stick around alongside Judge is really starting to have an impact on the offense, and it showed in Brian Cashman’s approach to the recent trade deadline.
Coming into the season, the outfield had plenty of upside, and major question marks. Joey Gallo and Aaron Hicks were supposed to get the bulk of the playing time on the grass, with Giancarlo Stanton rotating into right field every so often. Gallo is now a Dodger after an absolutely brutal stint in New York; Hicks has been largely mediocre all season; Stanton’s days in the outfield this season might be done once he returns from his Achilles injury, especially with Judge now playing right field again rather than center. If Judge were not putting up a historical season, the production from the outfield would be horrid — both Gallo and Hicks have OPS+ marks below 100.
Cashman’s moves to fill out the outfield simply haven’t worked over the last few years. It looked like Jackson (fka Clint) Frazier was an answer with plenty of years of team control, but his breakout 2020 season turned out to be an aberration.
Hicks impressed so much in 2018 that the Yankees rewarded him with an extension that goes through 2025 (with a club option for 2026 that one can assume isn’t being triggered). At that time, the $10,000,000 average annual value of that contract looked like a steal. Now, while he’s not exactly weighing down the payroll, it’s hard to envision the Yankees deploying him at his current 92 OPS+ rating for three more seasons.
At the trade deadline this year, Cashman clearly viewed depth in the outfield as a major need. Andrew Benintendi was brought in from the Kansas City Royals as a replacement for Gallo and as Gallo’s mirror image with the bat — low chance to hit a home run, but with the ability to hit for major contact. It’s too early to judge him yet, but so far his results have been far from impressive. Regardless, he’s a free agent at the end of the season.
Matt Carpenter was a savior this season, coming in to occasionally play the outfield outside of his natural positions because the Yankees simply needed his bat in the lineup. His broken foot now takes that possibility away until the end of the season.
Cashman even made one of his biggest headscratchers in recent memory by trading an effective starting pitcher, Jordan Montgomery, for Harrison Bader, a center fielder on the injured list who will not return until September, if all goes correctly. He’s an excellent defender and has put up good seasons on offense as well in 2020 and 2021. Plantar fasciitis is a worrisome injury for a speedy, glove-first player, however, and if he hits like he has in his worst seasons I can see fans having very little patience for him.
All of this is yet another reason why Judge deserves a money truck parked very neatly in front of his home. Without him, what’s the starting outfield on Opening Day 2023 — Hicks, Bader, and Stanton? Obviously a trade or free agent signing would need to be made. In fact, I think they would need the very best free agent on the market, who also happens to be an outfielder. The worst case scenarios without him — that Hicks will continue to hit like he has this season, Bader will have a sub 100 OPS+ and limited power, Stanton will get hurt— are far too likely to abide. The outfield revolving door will just keep spinning.
When the starting rotation was badly in need of stability, the team gave major money to Gerrit Cole. The same thinking needs to apply to Judge, or the outfield unit could look very ugly.