A week into the new year and the Yankees’ search for a left fielder continues. Reports indicate that they are more than happy to enter the 2023 season allowing their internal options — Oswaldo Cabrera and Aaron Hicks — to combine to man the position. However, that does not mean they should give up on trying to improve the position, especially with the news Dan Hayes and Aaron Gleeman of The Athletic broke concerning the Twins’ willingness to trade a corner outfielder this winter.
Max Kepler is widely expected to be the outfielder dealt from the Twins’ deep reserves. At the very least, he offers solid corner outfield defense and batted ball metrics that make one dream of unlocking above-average production at the plate, and as essentially a pure rental doesn’t jeopardize future payroll flexibility. However, if the Yankees wanted to go for a younger player with greater upside and more team control, they might consider his teammate Nick Gordon.
2022 Stats: 138 games, 443 PA, .272/.316/.427, 9 HR, 50 RBI, 6 SB, 111 wRC+, 1.5 fWAR
2023 Contract Status: Entering second year of pre-arbitration-eligibility, projected to near league minimum. Free agent following 2027 season.
Son of former Yankees reliever Tom “Flash” Gordon and younger half-brother of current free agent Dee Strange-Gordon, Nick Gordon was drafted by the Twins with the fifth overall pick in the 2014 MLB Draft. According to some publications, he was considered the Twins’ top overall prospect in 2017 and 2018, but saw that sheen tarnish in the interceding years after his performance petered out in the upper minors and major leagues. Originally drafted as an infielder, his subpar defense up the middle led the Twins to transition him to a corner outfield spot where he’s mostly held his own.
Gordon has an aggressive, free-swinging approach at the plate, his 42.4 percent chase rate and 4.3 percent walk rate placing tenth- and eleventh-worst respectively in the league among batters with at least 400 plate appearances in 2022. However, when he does make contact, he makes it count, as he finished among the top 20 percent of hitters in average exit velocity and expected slugging. He also mashes righties, his 41.5 percent hard-hit rate against them placing tenth out of batters with at least 350 plate appearances against righties in 2022.
There were also signs last year that Gordon was starting to make good on his prospect pedigree, his 111 wRC+ the highest mark since he was in Double-A in 2018. He raised his average launch angle by more than three degrees, leading to an 8.5 point drop in ground ball rate and corresponding increase in fly ball rate as well as a 9.4 percent barrel rate well above league average. If he were to find himself on the Yankees, he would do well to work on pulling the ball in the air more — less than 30 percent of his fly balls were to the pull side, though as Statcast estimated he would’ve hit five more home runs had he played his home games in Yankee Stadium.
Gordon would likely fare no better nor worse than Cabrera or Hicks with the glove. He has consistently graded out as slightly below average in the outfield, and the areas for improvement are clear. Gordon is in the bottom 20 percent of outfielders in jump, with his initial reaction and burst dragging him down. Playing next to outfield quarterback Harrison Bader, one wonders whether he could learn a thing or two from one of the best defensive outfielders in baseball.
At 27 years old, Gordon is on the older side of players with less than two years of major league service time. That said, five years of team control cannot be discounted even if they carry a player into his post-prime years. That combination of “advanced” age and multiple years of cheap control makes it hard to gauge the package required to pry him from Minnesota.
The Twins certainly have incentive to explore his market, doubly so considering he has no minor league option years remaining. With as many as six corner outfielders on the major league roster, playing time will be hard to come by, especially as the Twins try to incorporate their youngsters into the fold. According to Hayes and Gleeman, Minnesota is seeking reinforcements to their bullpen, so they and the Yankees line up in terms of respective needs. He’s far from the flashiest option for left field, but considering the Yankees’ and Twins’ recent history of consummating trades, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the two sides touch base before winter is up.