The Yankees' outfield is prone to breaking down at any second, and unfortunately that even includes its depth. Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Carlos Beltran all dealt with some sort of injury last year, as did Slade Heathcott and Mason Williams, two of the primary Triple-A outfield options. It has already been announced that Mason Williams will start the season on the disabled list as a result of rehabbing from the shoulder surgery he underwent last August, but he may not be the only one.
The Yankees are saying that he should be ready, but the skeptic in me started to wonder what would happen if Gardner were to also start the season on the disabled list. The team has already decided to delay his spring training debut because of a bone bruise he suffered last year. So if he's not ready in time for the season, do the Yankees have a plan?
Granted, Aaron Hicks would probably get the nod to be the starting left fielder until Gardner returns, but what happens behind him is what concerns me. Hicks is currently slated to be the fourth outfielder, and has Dustin Ackley behind him as a fifth outfielder option, even though Ackley is more just a being that can be placed anywhere but not necessary perform well anywhere (Ditto anyone?). So while a Gardner injury would likely promote Hicks from fourth outfielder, it probably wouldn't (and shouldn't) promote Ackley from fifth to fourth outfielder. Luckily, the Yankees do have some options.
As previously mentioned, Williams is still recovering from his own injury and is definitely starting the season on the disabled list, so he's out of the running. Factoring Williams out of the picture, Slade Heathcott, Chris Denorfia, Ben Gamel, and probably to some, Aaron Judge are likely in the running to break camp as the fourth outfielder. Let me start off by saying unless everyone else's arm falls off (and let's hope this doesn't happen) Judge will not be an option, despite how much many fans may want to see it. Judge is the potentially one of the future faces of this franchise, and the Yankees will rightfully give him all the time he needs to develop, so he will start off in Triple-A. Ben Gamel, on the other hand, is just as unlikely to win the job, but that's more on account of him not being that good more than anything else.
This leaves Heathcott and Denorfia as the likely front runners for this hypothetical fourth outfielder position. Heathcott is a very well-known commodity among Yankee fans. He was taken 29th overall in the 2009 draft and has heard his name brought up many times by fans, the media, and the front office since then. Unfortunately, between injuries and other issues, he has never really been able to stick around. He finally made his MLB debut on May 20th, 2015. Nine days later, he was put on the disabled list. Though Heathcott was able to come back in September and do this, the Yankees would be wise to not fully trust Heathcott with such an important role. He's likely to break down at any moment.
Theoretically, the two players could battle it out during spring training, which could make for a fun positional battle to watch during a spring training where almost every position is already decided. As exciting as it would be as a fan to see Heathcott given the opportunity or at least the chance to battle for it, the edge in this situation probably belongs to Denorfia.
Denorfia, just signed two days ago, is 34-year-old outfielder who will be entering his 11th year in the major leagues. He brings something to the table that the Yankees just happen to love, veteran presence.
Chris Denorfia will be in camp with the #Yankees, Cashman said they needed some experienced RH OF depth. Has an March out in his contract.— Bryan Hoch (@BryanHoch) March 2, 2016
This tweet pretty much sums up the three things that are working in Denorfia's favor. As previously mentioned, he brings experience/veteran presence (presents) to the roster, which it's pretty well known how much the Yankees love that. Additionally, and arguably more importantly, he's a right-handed hitter. The Yankees have a very lefty-leaning lineup to begin with, so any chance to add someone who can hit from the right side is probably welcome.
Granted, Hicks adds another switch-hitter to the "regular" line-up if Gardner goes down. Beltran is not very good from the right side, so whereas the original plan may have been to let Hicks play for Beltran against lefties, it would still be possible to sit Beltran and start Denorfia in those games. The other reason is his March opt-out.
Even if Gardner doesn't need additional time, it's possible the Yankees would still try and make room for Denorfia on the 40-man roster. If the Yankees don't add him to the roster by the end of spring training, he can opt-out and choose to pursue a deal elsewhere. Given that they have injury concerns with their starters and their reserves, the Yankees might be wise to try and keep as much depth around as possible. Especially when the player in question can provide decent security. When it makes sense for the Yankees to keep him around if Gardner doesn't need additional time, in the event that he does, it makes sense for the Yankees to keep Denorfia then too.
It may very well be too early to decide what happens, hopefully Gardner is ready to go and the Yankees don't have to have a contingency plan. If he's not, though, Denorfia seems primed to play a significant role. Maybe Heathcott impressed enough during his cup of hot chocolate (I don't drink coffee, plus that expression is overused) in the big leagues for the Yankees to take a chance. If that's the case, Denorfia will just have to