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Yankees Potential Free Agent Target: Austin Meadows

Meadows hasn’t logged a full season since 2021, but he has a strong track record at the plate.

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

In 2023, the Yankees outfield became a swirling mixture of replacement-level players and mediocrity after Aaron Judge’s injury in Los Angeles. The organization scrambled to replace its most important player and didn’t have much of a plan beyond cross-your-fingers journeymen like Willie Calhoun, Franchy Cordero, and Billy McKinney.

The outfield lacked depth, and while some of the stopgaps performed admirably, it was painfully clear the Yankees weren’t prepared when Judge went down. To be fair, it’s always difficult when a team loses its best player, but there’s no denying the outfield was thin. Cody Bellinger is likely the team’s primary outfield target, but even if they secure a top outfielder, the Yankees would do well to also hunt for depth. Austin Meadows is an intriguing buy-low option to fill out the 26-man roster, bringing a complicated mix of talent and question marks.

2023 Statistics: 6 games, 21 PA, .238/.238/.286, 0 HR, 2 RBI, 38 wRC+, -0.2 fWAR

2024 FanGraphs Depth Charts Projections: 62 games, 266 PA, .260/.336/.458, 10 HR, 66 RBI, 116 wRC+, 0.9 fWAR

Previous Contract: Second arbitration year at $4.3 million with the Tigers

The buy-low part stems form the fact that he’s barely played the last two seasons. He missed most of 2022 with an Achilles injury and departed the Tigers clubhouse in June 2023 with an issue characterized to be mental-health related. Still, Meadows has a track record of being a consistent power threat from the lefty side, skills that will be of interest to Brian Cashman and the front office. Any competent lefty bat would be a positive addition, especially to fill at least a part-time outfield role.

The Tigers non-tendered Meadows earlier this month and he’ll now hit the free agent market. MLB Trade Rumors projected his arbitration salary at $4.3 million once again, and Detroit made the decision to spend that money elsewhere. The layered nature of Meadows’ situation makes the outlook on him murky, but Meadows is a former All-Star and top-ten pick once projected to become a fearsome middle-of-the-order bat for years to come. That mix of talent and established success is hard to come by for a price tag below $5 million.

He began his career with the Rays, and 2019 was his best work, with 33 home runs and a 144 wRC+, though the juiced ball throws the repeatability of those numbers into doubt. The 28-year-old is just two years removed from a strong, fully healthy season with the Rays in 2021, and that represents his potential as a lefty-swinging power-hitting corner outfielder. Tampa Bay traded him to Detroit in April 2022 for Isaac Paredes, and Meadows’ fortunes have sunk since.

The Yankees have been clear on their desire to add another quality outfielder and they’ve been linked to several. Brian Cashman’s assessment of Giancarlo Stanton was out of line, but the nugget of truth within his oddly combative rant holds water. Whether because of durability or underperformance, Stanton presents a multitude of issues heading into his age-34 season. All of us want to see Big G rebound, but the depth pieces need to be ready to roll. Meadows demolishes lefties, and if Stanton continues to struggle, a platoon situation isn’t out of the question. Possibly having Bellinger, or some other outfield import, locking down center field helps that calculus, too.

Meadows is far from a sure thing, and has a long way to go to capture his 2019 and 2021 form. If he does, though, even on a part-time basis, he could represent a part of the solution as a lefty outfielder with some pop.