Good problems don’t exist. There are just problems. Having so many tubs of delicious ice cream that they don’t fit in your freezer isn’t a “good problem,” it’s a problem. If you don’t solve this problem, your floor is going to be covered in melted mint chocolate chip ice cream in about 25 minutes. And so goes the Yankees’ outfield glut.
The Yankees are headed into 2018 and beyond with too many good outfielders (and Jacoby Ellsbury). Yes, this is better than having no good outfielders. Yes, most teams would be thrilled with one Aaron Judge and two serviceable outfielders. But, this is still a problem that needs solving, because you can only have too much ice cream for so long before you earn yourself a sticky floor.
As of now, the Yankees will start 2018 with Brett Gardner, the 2017 Heart and Hustle Award winner, in left field, Aaron Judge, the 2017 Rookie of the Year and MVP runner-up, in right field, the highly talented Aaron Hicks in center field, and the $152 million catcher’s interference, Jacoby Ellsbury, on the bench. Beyond that, there’s Clint Frazier, Tyler Austin, Billy McKinney, and Estevan Florial all waiting for a chance to prove themselves in the bigs. The problem lies within those last four names.
Austin’s year was plagued by injury, but he has shown enough potential that his position on the Yankees as a utility man could be solidified next year. McKinney had a great year in Triple-A Scranton, batting .306/.336/.541 with 10 home and a 140 wRC+. There were some question marks around McKinney ever since he was dealt to New York by the Cubs as a part of the Aroldis Chapman deal, but his success this year seemed to quell those concerns and stoke the buzz. Florial has been showing talent way beyond his age, as the 19 year old impressed in Charleston and Tampa this year and has become the talk of the Arizona Fall League in recent weeks.
The biggest issue is the most immediate one: Frazier. Red Thunder exploded onto the scene after his big league debut this year. Though his numbers were a pedestrian .231/.268/.448 over 39 games, he provided a much-needed spark to a slumping team with clutch hitting, in the clubhouse, and a rare ferocity on the base paths. His role was reduced after Hicks returned from injury, but the impact was clear.
The solid starting cast in the outfield and the lingering presence of Ellsbury’s monster contract seem to put Frazier at odds for the 2018 roster, a notion that Brian Cashman confirmed in a recent interview.
Cashman said that Clint Frazier is "currently blocked with the (outfield) surplus we have in New York. He's part of our depth right now, even though he's got ceiling and he's an exciting young talent."— Bryan Hoch (@BryanHoch) November 14, 2017
This leads to the question: when will it be Clint Frazier’s time? Judge becomes a free agent in 2023, Ellsbury in 2022, Hicks in 2020, and Gardner in 2019. If Gardy has another banner year like he did in 2017, it doesn’t seem likely that the Yankees will let him go to another team without a fight. Barring an injury or an unlikely trade, Frazier doesn’t seem to have a viable path to a starting role in the near future. That’s a frustrating situation for a young, confident player who got a taste for big league success on a playoff-bound team.
So how will management handle the surplus? Well, that’s where the “problem” really begins to come into play. They have two MLB-ready talents in Frazier and Austin, a solid prospect in McKinney, and a potential future star in Florial, all sitting behind a group of highly-talented and experienced players. The Yankees will have to decide if they would rather eat their cake or have it.
Frazier doesn’t seem like a likely trade option at the moment as his stock is too high with the team and the fanbase. Additionally, Florial is unlikely to be considered as he’s still a ways off from the major leagues and simply has too much upside. That leaves Austin and McKinney. Austin has the advantage that he can play a utility role, but given the infield glut the Yankees are also facing—with star prospects Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar as well as utility options like Tyler Wade and Ronald Torreyes at the ready—that may not be a necessary skill. Should the Yankees look to make a trade for a starting pitcher, Austin and McKinney could certainly be on the chopping block.
This is why “good problems” are really just problems that need solving. Cashman and the Yankees have some difficult decisions coming their way over the next year or two that will surely result in the selling off of some solid and likable prospects. Until then, the hope is that the players stuck without a visible path to playing time can keep their frustrations at bay as they look for opportunities to impress. Otherwise, the Yankees will be sitting with a freezer full of ice cream, a sticky floor, and a stomachache.