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Yankees Mailbag: Catching roles, potential outfielders, and roster outlook

The mailbag gears up for a winter of speculation as the year comes to a close.

New York Yankees v Oakland Athletics Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Good afternoon everyone, it’s time to dive back into the mailbag and answer some of your questions. Remember to send in your questions for our weekly call by e-mail to pinstripealleyblog [at] gmail [dot] com.

thor14 asks: Cole looks to win the Cy Young Award having had Ben Rortvedt as his primary catcher. Would the Yankees start 2024 with Rortvedt and Wells (both LH hitters)? Trevino and Higgy are not going to be missed from an offensive standpoint.

I don’t think the Yankees will start with both of them on the roster, but I could see a spring training competition between the two to see which one could break camp with the team. The other spot will go to Jose Trevino, who is still slotted to start next year, and we'll see if a healthy offseason reignites his bat closer to that first-half of 2022 form he had before diving in the second half. However, while Kyle Higashioka has been in the organization for a long time, I think the depth has finally arrived to push him out into the expendable side of roster management.

Austin Wells honestly hasn’t flashed much shine in his stint with the major-league team, but his prospect pedigree has him pegged for a strong bat which could pair well with Trevino, and his much-maligned defensive capabilities behind the plate during the minor-league season haven't been nearly as bad as initially thought. Ben Rortvedt has caught on as a personal catcher for Gerrit Cole while Trevino is out, but he doesn't have the upside in either category to put much faith in. The job is Wells' to win, but if both underperform, Wells would be likelier to start at Triple-A to figure things out as a full-time starter.

Gortex asks: What’s your take on the following left-hitting OFs based on the following (availability, trade cost, and potential impact): Max Kepler (assuming Twins pick up his team option), Matt Wallner, and Nolan Jones.

Jones has been the breakout player of the bunch, and for a Rockies team that's far off from contention, swiping a four-win outfielder from Cleveland for a low-A prospect seems like a steal. They're unlikely to just give him away (although the Rockies are one of the few teams I wouldn't put it past to mess up a negotiation) and have him under control for a long time to come, so I'm going to say that's not happening anytime soon.

That leaves us with two candidates from the Twins, and for a team likely looking to still contend (or whatever the AL Central equivalent is) they're more likely to move the player with less control in Kepler. He's been on the team's radar before, and while I've never been thrilled by his performance he's certainly better than the void that the team has fielded out in left this year. Picking up Kepler as a stopgap wouldn't be the worst move, and it shouldn't cost more than some of the organization's mid-tier prospects. To briefly touch on Wallner, it's possible that the Twins would instead listen to offers for him, but then you'd likely have to deal someone from the major league roster in exchange for a 25-year-old blazing through their system. The Yankees don't have many guys on the roster that other teams would want to take on, so that's a risky endeavor at best.

ConorGallogly asks: Do you view the Yankees under contract or team control for 2024 to be better, worse or similar to the 2023 versions? What player’s potential improvement offers the most hope for 2024? Why?

Well, the Josh Donaldson and Frankie Montas deals are off the books for the 2024 Yankees, so that's a point in their favor. However, the past year has only thrown more skepticism into how the remainder of the Giancarlo Stanton, DJ LeMahieu, and Anthony Rizzo deals will play out, and the Aaron Hicks contract is on the books with literally no upside to gain there. Obviously, there are holes to fill out that won't be addressed for a couple of months at least, but it's looking a lot more grim to retool this team as constructed as opposed to last year's squad.

As for potential, there's a short list of players you could pick from. The realistic answer for me is Anthony Volpe, because what we saw from him in 2023 was still overall a solid success despite clear flaws in areas that he has shown to be strong in previously. The power stroke was there, and it's just about getting him comfortable and consistent facing big league arms in order to elevate him from serviceable starter into the more fun to talk about tiers of players.

And if you want to talk about pure hype and what they could bring to this team that wasn't there before, then there's no answer better fitting than Jasson Domínguez. The top prospect shined in his brief cameo, and while it will unfortunately be a while before we see him again due to his UCL tear, if he can come back even close to the form he was in to close out this year then the Yankees have something special for the future.