The Yankees have multiple outfielders on the injured list. The group starts, of course, with Aaron Judge, who ran the bases on Wednesday but is still without a specific timetable to return from a torn ligament on his big right toe. Backups Greg Allen, Willie Calhoun, and Jake Bauers are also on the shelf. That, evidently, creates a big problem.
Even when everybody is healthy, the Yanks are lacking a starting-caliber outfielder. If they are going to try to compete for a spot in the postseason (they just aren’t doing a very good job at the moment), they need talent at the position.
Of course, it would be ideal if they could trade for a star, but those are expensive prospects-wise. Instead, they could target a player like Washington Nationals outfielder Lane Thomas: young, talented, and, at least in theory, not too expensive.
Thomas had a good case to be considered the Nats’ lone All-Star representative, an honor that went to Josiah Gray instead. The righty is hitting a cool .293/.342/.488 with 15 dingers, eight stolen bases, a 122 wRC+ and a career-high 1.9 fWAR in 407 plate appearances.
He makes sense for the offense-starved Yankees, but only if the price is right. Judging by what Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo told Jesse Dougherty of The Washington Post, he might not be as cheap as we would think:
I asked Mike Rizzo what sort of trade deadline this will be — wholesale sell like 2021? A few guys like 2022? — and he just said the Nationals are “open for business.” He said if a team sees Lane Thomas like he does, as an all-star caliber player, there will be discussions.— Jesse Dougherty (@dougherty_jesse) July 18, 2023
It might be posturing, and it’s understandable to some degree. But the Nationals are at least two years away from being relevant and Thomas’ trade value might not be higher than it is right now. It will be interesting to see how his market develop in the next few days.
For now, all we can say is that the 27-year-old Thomas has always been talented. He displayed an interesting power-speed combo as a prospect that helped him hit 60 home runs and steal 75 bases in the minor leagues (he was caught 40 times, though).
What he had lacked prior to the trade that sent him from St. Louis to Washington was both consistency and an extended opportunity. The Nats, a rebuilding team, gave him that chance in 2021 after acquiring him, and he responded with a .270/.364/.489 line with seven home runs, four steals and a 127 wRC+ in 206 plate appearances.
Those numbers gave him a chance to be an everyday player in 2022. He wasn’t a disaster, but was slightly disappointing nonetheless, with a .241/.301/.404 line and 17 long balls, 52 RBI, eight steals and a 96 wRC+ in 548 trips to the plate. Still, the Nats felt he was capable of more, especially after a good second half (114 wRC+ compared to just 80 before the break).
He showed up in stellar form this year, and he has been one of the best players on the Nationals. That’s not necessarily high praise, but he has been legitimately good and the numbers show it.
The most impressive thing is that he went the entire first month without a homer, and now has 15 for the season. He seems to be on his way to a 20-15 campaign with a .290 average. Call it the player Andrew Benintendi was supposed to be.
If there is a negative about Thomas, besides the fact he still doesn’t have a huge track record of success hitting MLB pitching, is that his plate discipline has regressed a bit compared to past seasons. He is striking out at a 25.6 percent clip, up from 24.6 percent in his career, and he is walking a lot less, 5.9 percent compared to an 8.4 percent rate in his big league tenure so far.
Still, it seems to be part of a more aggressive approach, which is fine because it has helped reach his ceiling. The Yankees would be wise to at least inquire about his availability and what it would take to get him to the Bronx. After all, the Nationals are open for business.