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Yankees Potential Free Agent Target: Mitch Garver

The former Ranger is an intriguing but unlikely option for the Yankees.

Texas Rangers Victory Parade Photo by Smiley Pool - Pool/Getty Images

Headed into the 2023-24 offseason, the New York Yankees desperately needed to upgrade their offense. They ranked 11th in the American League in runs/game and 12th in OPS+, and just three members of the 2023 offense — Aaron Judge, Gleyber Torres, and Jasson Domínguez posted an OPS+ above 100, and the Martian played only eight games.

While Anthony Rizzo’s concussion, DJ LeMahieu’s strong finish to the season, and Anthony Volpe’s youth provide some hope that the infield will see an overall increase in production, the outfield was an absolute disaster when the winter began. Oswaldo Cabrera (58 OPS+ in 2023), Everson Pereira (20 OPS+ in 27 games), and Estevan Florial (76 OPS+ in 19 games) were the only other healthy hitters out there outside of No. 99. Because of this, the Yankees prioritized the position, first adding Alex Verdugo to increase the floor and then reeling in Juan Soto in a blockbuster trade with the San Diego Padres.

Thanks to that pair of moves, the Yankees offense looks considerably more dangerous today than it did one week ago. That said, question marks still remain. Can the maligned Giancarlo Stanton rediscover the dangerous bat that sent him to the All-Star Game in 2022? Will Volpe build upon a rookie campaign that flashed promise but also frustration? Will young catcher Austin Wells continue the growth he saw at the end of the season? The Soto/Judge pairing at the top of the order allows the Yankees to wait and see how these answers shake out, but being that they are the Yankees, they can throw money at the problem to reduce these questions if they so choose. One intriguing direction to throw that money would be toward Mitch Garver.

A ninth-round draft choice by the Minnesota Twins out of the University of New Mexico in 2013, Garver made his MLB debut late in 2017 before seizing the starting catching job early in 2018. Known more for his bat than his prowess behind the plate, Garver had a bit of an up-and-down career in Minnesota, putting up strong performances in 2019 (155 wRC+, 3.9 fWAR) and 2021 (139 wRC+, 2.2 fWAR)

In the middle of those years though came a disastrous COVID-shortened 2020 that made Gary Sánchez’s production that year look good (43 wRC+, -0.1 fWAR). Looking for more stability and to free up some salary, Minnesota traded him to the Texas Rangers for Isiah Kiner-Falefa after the 2021-22 lockout ended, the predecessor to the infamous deal that sent IKF, Ben Rortvedt, and Josh Donaldson to New York for Sánchez and Gio Urshela.

After a forearm injury ended his first Rangers season in July 2022, Garver played a big role for the World Series champions this year. Serving as the team’s designated hitter and backup catcher, he slashed .270/.370/.500 with 19 home runs, along with a career-high walk rate (12.8 percent) and his lowest strikeout rate since 2018 (25.3 percent). A plethora of injuries, however, limited him to just 87 games, though he partially made up for it with an .898 OPS and 11 RBI as Texas blew past Baltimore and Houston in the first couple rounds.

Arizona mostly quieted Garver in the Fall Classic, but he came up big with the go-ahead single off the previously dominant Zac Gallen in the seventh inning of the Game 5 clincher.

On the surface, Garver may seem like an unusual fit. He’s a right-handed bat who best deployed as a designated hitter, and although he’s no longer the defensive disaster he was early in his career thanks to his work with now-Yankees catching coordinator Tanner Swanson, he does not fit the defense-first catching profile the team seems to prefer. The Yankees already have an oft-injured righty DH in Stanton; why would they want another?

The answer depends on just how much faith the Yankees have in Stanton to both stay healthy and fix himself at the plate. Due to his age (he turns 33 in January) and injury history, Garver won’t be setting any records this winter: MLB Trade Rumors projects him to sign a three-year, $39 million contract, and FanGraphs is looking at two years with a similar AAV. For a player who can back up or serve as a third catcher behind Jose Trevino and Austin Wells, plus an option at first base if Rizzo isn’t healthy, that’s not out of the Yankees’ budget.

That being said, while the Yankees offense would certainly look deeper with Garver available, the Bronx is not currently an appealing option for a designated hitter, and won’t be so long as Giancarlo Stanton is in pinstripes. Chances are, he will find a team with a more clearly defined role and more at-bats for him than the Yankees can offer, especially now that Shohei Ohtani is off the board.