I’m old enough to remember Oswaldo Cabrera’s performance down the stretch of the 2022 season. In fact, I wrote about that performance last year on September 28th. At the time, I started to come to the realization that he is a legit long-term option in the outfield. He is the type of player that you don’t necessarily appreciate as much as you should until you watch him play every day. He has something about him. For not being a top prospect, he is as confident as an athlete can possibly be. He shifted into the outfield at the highest level in the world with no hesitation, and did it with flying colors. On top of that, he gets to his power much more often in-game than any prospect evaluator suspected he would.
These were all surprising developments for Yankees fans, but also the team’s front office and coaches. When he was called up, it was assumed he would be a spot starter and utility player that could provide a spark to a struggling team. His 111 wRC+ and 12 (!!) defensive runs saved far exceeded expectations. His energy, knack for quality at-bats, and highlight reel defensive plays took the team by storm. We were all pleading for Oswald Peraza to get promoted into a prominent role with the big league club, but instead we got Cabrera playing every night, and it was a great surprise.
Yet, as the offseason has progressed and the front office has opted not to not sign a free agent outfielder or acquire one via trade, Aaron Hicks has ascended up the depth chart. According to Brian Cashman, the position is Hicks’ spot to lose. To be fair, this isn’t necessarily a knock on Cabrera. His ability to play both corner outfield positions and both middle infield positions make him a perfect candidate to give various players a day off while he moves around the diamond. That is clearly a skill the team wants to take advantage of.
However, I’m not exactly sure the at-bats will be there for Cabrera to take on this role with consistency. As the roster currently stands, the Yankees are crowded in the infield. DJ LeMahieu and Gleyber Torres are locks for everyday at-bats. Josh Donaldson will be given the chance to fail and the battle between Peraza and Isiah Kiner-Falefa is inevitable, but both are likely to be on the roster anyways. Assuming health from all players, where are the at-bats for Cabrera in the infield? Of this group, he is the least talented infield defender. To add to that, if/when Anthony Volpe joins the big league club, there will be even fewer spare at-bats there.
In the outfield, I suspect Cabrera won’t get any opportunities in center, so he is limited to the corners. As we know, he’ll get plenty of chances in left, but the captain, Aaron Judge, is in right. Maybe every now and then when Judge has the day off or is the DH for the day, Cabrera can fill in at right, that matter is further complicated by Giancarlo Stanton likely to get some run out there. If I haven’t already made my point, I’ll reiterate it — the utility at-bats for Oswaldo Cabrera might be hard to come by given the current construction of this roster.
If the Yankees want to capitalize on the surprising development of Cabrera into a legit everyday guy, they should give him the left field job permanently. Every argument has pros and cons, but I’m struggling to find the reasons why this is a bad idea. At this point in their careers, Cabrera has a more advantageous platoon split than Hicks and is likely the better fielder despite Hicks’ experience. And lastly, if he plays well, who's to say he isn’t a perfect player to be a marquee piece of a blockbuster trade for a star outfielder like Bryan Reynolds? Centering trades around players who are already proven at the highest level is ideal. Hicks doesn’t provide that added benefit of potential trade value. I know the team wants to get as much out of Hicks while he remains on the roster, but with a young, talented player looking to prove himself, Hicks should not be a limiting factor. Let Cabrera control his own fate and go from there.