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Yankees potential trade target: Tyler O’Neill

Last year, the Yankees traded for an injured Cardinals outfielder — could they do it again?

Los Angeles Angels v St. Louis Cardinals Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Once the St. Louis Cardinals front office declared that they were going to be sellers at the trade deadline, immediately analysts and fans checked out their roster looking to see which players would fit the teams looking to contend. Not surprisingly, with the Yankees in desperate need of, well, quite a few things, we’ve spent a bit of time profiling players from St. Louis here at Pinstripe Alley: Esteban checked out Dylan Carlson last week, while I looked at Jordan Montgomery earlier this week, and we’ll have more in the coming days. Today, though, we’re going to look at a name that has been tossed around as someone who might interest the Yankees: Tyler O’Neill.

Selected by the Mariners in the third round of the 2013 draft, O’Neill was traded to the Cardinals at the 2017 trade deadline. After making his major league debut in 2018, he established himself as a strong defender, winning back-to-back Gold Gloves in 2020 and 2021, before breaking out with the bat with a 148 OPS+ in 2021. Since then, however, injuries have limited him to just 125 games, and he hasn’t been all that great when on the field either. Over the last season-and-a-half, he has slashed .228/.303/.380 with 16 home runs in 482 plate appearances. On top of that, he has not been his old self out in the outfield, as he’s been worth -1 Defensive Runs Saved, -2 Outs Above Average, and -5.3 UZR/150 this season.

Ultimately, it does not look like the Cardinals will be shipping out O’Neill. As the outfielder gets ready to return from the injured list this week, the organization announced that their starting outfield going forward will be Jordan Walker, Lars Nootbaar, and O’Neill, which sends former top prospect Dylan Carlson to the bench. If any of the outfielders get traded, it’ll likely be Carlson, not O’Neill.

And you know what? That might be fine with the Yankees. O’Neill is a solid player, capable of playing good defense, and while his numbers this year aren’t pretty — .228/.283/.337 slash, a 69 wRC+, 6 extra-base hits in 99 plate appearances — his Statcast data suggests that he’s due for some positive regression. His xSLG of .434 is almost 100 points better than his actual slugging of .337. On top of that, Statcast compares him favorably with the healthy members of the Yankees: his xSLG trails only Giancarlo Stanton, Billy McKinney, Kyle Higashioka, Gleyber Torres, and Harrison Bader among players actually on the roster (Aaron Judge, Jake Bauers, and Josh Donaldson are all on the IL), and his 13.8 barrel percentage would trail only Stanton.

No, O’Neill isn’t a good target for the Yankees because he’s a bad fit; he’s a bad target because he’s too much of a good fit. The Yankees lineup right now is filled with guys who are underperforming their Statcast data (data which isn’t all that positive to begin with!). Adding another underperforming player in the hopes that they “get it right” would be swapping out the deck chairs on the Titanic for the deck chairs on the Empress of Ireland. Sure, things may look different, but you’re still headed to the bottom of the ocean.