The New York Yankees appear to finally be emerging from a bad slump that brought down their AL East division lead. With Giancarlo Stanton returning to start the series against the Oakland Athletics, and Oswaldo Cabrera providing a spark in the major leagues, the outfield situation is going to continue to get more and more complicated.
Looking ahead plausible configurations for down the stretch and the playoffs, obviously Aaron Judge is a lock to play every important inning given health. But with players returning from the injured list and others slated to return before or during the postseason, manager Aaron Boone is going to have to make some very important decisions with his outfield throughout the next two months. Provided most players are healthy, he’s going to have a number of combinations to choose from, and picking an optimal one could be crucial to the team’s hopes.
To preface, most of these combinations hinge on the designated hitter. Stanton, Matt Carpenter, Aaron Hicks, and even Judge can take the night off in the field and just take at-bats. So below are three potential combinations for the seven, eight, and nine in the field.
It’s not every day that a team can boast this level of outfield talent. Judge made a statement playing center field early on in the season, and even though I’m hesitant to believe Boone would put him out there full-time, it’s still a very real possibility we see this formulation in October at some point.
Stanton has expressed the desire to play in the field, and with Benintendi continuing to heat up, we could see some fireworks on the outfield grass from this combination.
If Harrison Bader is healthy, it wouldn’t be a great look to not play him. General manager Brian Cashman traded a key pitcher in the rotation in Jordan Montgomery, who has really found his stride with the St. Louis Cardinals, was a shock to many. However, if Bader can provide some high defensive value in the outfield while being a respectable threat at the plate, the deal could still be a success. Bader also eliminates the risk of putting Judge in center field, as his range on defense is lethal to opposing fly balls.
With this combination, Judge moves back to right field, his natural position, and Benintendi stays in left field while a player like Stanton can be the DH.
This is one of the more “worst case scenario” combinations. Benintendi still stays in left while Stanton takes over in right. The biggest change is Hicks in center field, which many, including myself, would believe to be an indication of the worst.
While not the worst in the league, Hicks has shown time and time again that he can’t always be trusted. His -1 OAA according to Baseball Savant and -6 DRS in center field according to FanGraphs is not going to instill confidence in anyone watching that he’s worthy of a postseason outfield slot. However, this situation may arise if Judge needs a day off and Bader can’t play for injury-related reasons.
Obviously, there are plenty more combinations to be had with all of the depth. Carpenter would most likely be DH’ing if he returns, as his outfield arm isn’t striking fear into many opponent’s hearts. This also leaves Cabrera as the odd-man out, which is unfortunate considering his defense in right field has been nothing short of excellent. It’s a minuscule sample, but he’s already accrued +5 DRS, which may just be a quirk of advanced defensive stats. Even so, he’s shown he can make an impact with his glove at multiple positions.
With players like Carpenter and Bader returning from injury close or into the postseason, it makes the outfield situation more complicated, but more depth is always a good problem to have. While depth may make Boone’s job tougher, ultimately, the Yankees will be in a better position if he has a number of options to choose from.