clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The Yankees’ looming fourth outfielder question

Aaron Boone and company have multiple ways to fill the backup outfield role.

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

MLB: Spring Training-New York Yankees Workouts Dave Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Heading into spring training, the shortstop and left field position battles have drawn the most anticipation among the fanbase. This isn’t surprising, and not just because position battles in the starting lineup are relatively uncommon in the Bronx: both battles are filled with names that fans get very passionate about. The shortstop battle sees a pair of top prospects, Anthony Volpe and Oswald Peraza, battle stopgap and 2022 punching bag Isiah Kiner-Falefa for the job, while the left field job sees the young utilityman Oswaldo Cabrera, who captivated Yankees Universe with his high-energy plays and clutch hits last September, up against the highly unpopular Aaron Hicks.

One position battle that has not yet been discussed yet, however, is the fourth outfielder job. To a large extent, that is because, assuming either Peraza or Volpe wins the shortstop job, the Yankees currently have 13 position players who are all but sure bets for the Opening Day roster:

  1. Jose Trevino
  2. Kyle Higashioka
  3. Anthony Rizzo
  4. DJ LeMahieu
  5. Gleyber Torres
  6. Isiah Kiner-Falefa
  7. Josh Donaldson
  8. Aaron Judge
  9. Harrison Bader
  10. Aaron Hicks
  11. Giancarlo Stanton
  12. Oswaldo Cabrera
  13. Peraza/Volpe

Barring an unexpected trade, fourth outfielder responsibilities would fall by default to the loser of the Hicks/Cabrera battle (with Stanton as an extra option every now and then).

That said, recent developments, combined with the realities of the roster, suggest that the answer might not be so simple. For starters, according to Brendan Kuty of The Athletic, there really doesn’t seem to be much of a battle for the left field job at all; not only does it appear “like it’s Aaron Hicks’ to lose,” but manager Aaron Boone has indicated that the team views Cabrera primarily as an infielder. While words only mean so much in February and I’d be surprised if Cabrera doesn’t play significant innings in the outfield — when a rookie accrues 9 Defensive Runs Saved as an outfielder in just 278.2 innings after just four games out there in the minors, you don’t limit him to the infield — it seems more and more likely that Cabrera will fill the Ben Zobrist superutility role, playing all over the diamond while receiving starting-level at-bats.

So if Cabrera isn’t the official fourth outfielder, who could it be? At this point, there are a few approaches that the team could take. Perhaps the easiest solution would be to simply forego the idea of having a traditional fourth outfielder, with Cabrera and Stanton’s outfield contributions combining with Judge’s ability to back up Bader in center field to fill the role with a committee. Alternatively, the team could turn to former top prospect Estevan Florial, who is out of options this spring, or any of the numerous veteran outfielders signed to minor league deals with invitations to spring training; doing so, however, would require them to free up a roster spot, either by optioning Cabrera or Peraza to Triple-A Scranton or by trading one of Donaldson, Kiner-Falefa, or Torres (a Hicks deal would create its own set of outfield questions). And of course, as always, injuries can always rear its ugly head, completely alter what the Opening Day roster needs to look like, and render every previous discussion absolutely irrelevant.

Of course, it’s still early in the spring; games haven’t even started yet. Due to injuries, underperformance, and players coming out of nowhere to force the team to bring them north, the Opening Day roster never looks the way we expect it to when pitchers and catchers report. Perhaps one of those surprises will come in the outfield.