If offseason reports have said anything about this Yankees team, it's that they're looking to grab some young pitching. In order to get that, it would be in the team's best interest to sell an outfielder. They already have three outfielders signed through next season, along with potential backup Aaron Hicks. Not to mention the fact that there are a surplus of minor league outfielders in the system.
Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury have both been considered candidates to leave during the offseason. Gardner has three years remaining on his deal, with an average annual salary of $12 million. This contract isn't terrible, so it's easy to look at Gardner as a trade candidate. Ellsbury, meanwhile, has a whopper of a contract: six years remaining (the final year being an option), with an average annual salary of just over $21.1 million. Gardner had an incredible first half last season, slashing .302/.377/.484 with a 137 wRC+. This first half was good enough to warrant Gardner's first All-Star honor. He cooled off significantly in the second half, slashing just .206/.300/.292 with a 66 wRC+. As it turned out, Gardner was dealing with a wrist injury in mid-April, per hitting coach Alan Cockrell, and even though Gardner tried to down-play the issue, the injury obviously limited Gardner's performance.
One of the more popular rumors from this offseason was the Yankees trying to shop Gardner, that way they could bring in free agent Jason Heyward. But as the offseason has dragged on, it seems more and more unlikely that the team brings in Heyward. Another rumor that went rampant for a few days was the straight swap of Gardner for Cubs' shortstop Starlin Castro. Castro experienced a revival late last season, when manager Joe Maddon put him at second base, while rookie Addison Russell played shortstop. This rumor was shut down by CBS's Jon Heyman, but it was an interesting one when it surfaced.
If the Yankees truly want to bring in young pitching to the organization, the one place where they can spare places is in the outfield. Not only do they have a solid outfield with Gardner, Ellsbury, and Carlos Beltran, but they have great organizational depth. Of course, there's top prospect (based on MLB's Yankees' Prospect Rankings) Aaron Judge, who can play right field. Of the rest of the top 30 Yankees prospects, seven are listed as outfielders: Mason Williams, Jake Cave, Dustin Fowler, Juan De Leon, Slade Heathcott, Leonardo Molina, and Ben Gamel.
Of that list, Cave is the interesting name. When the Yankees set their 40-man roster earlier this offseason, Cashman and company surprisingly gave Gamel precedence over Cave. Cave finished his 2015 season with a .278/.339/.359 slash, the worst offensively of his career. Cave spent some time in Double-A Trenton before being promoted to Triple-A Scranton. Gamel, meanwhile, is coming off the best offensive season of his career, slashing .300/.358/.472 with a 138 wRC+ in Triple-A Scranton.
One player from the list above who has been on the rise as of late is Dustin Fowler. Fowler, an 18th-round pick from 2013, slashed .298/.334/.394 last season, spending time in both Low-A Charleston and High-A Tampa. Fowler, like number-five prospect Gary Sanchez, had a great offseason in the Arizona Fall League, slashing .279/.313/.410, with seven RBI and seven stolen bases. Fowler has been rising through the ranks since spending 2013 in the Gulf Coast League, and he has the potential to be a member of the Trenton Thunder come 2016.
Next to the promising names are the names of two guys who have already seen time in the big leagues: Williams and Heathcott. Along with Ramon Flores, Heathcott and Flores were thought of as the fringe outfielders in the Yankees' organization. Flores was sent to Seattle in the Dustin Ackley deal, so Williams and Heathcott were next in line. Of course, Williams only played eight major league games before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury, so his time in the bigs was short-lived. Heathcott, meanwhile, found his way on the Yankees, after being plagued with some bad injury luck as well as some off-the-field issues. Heathcott did pretty well in his short time with the Yankees, including a clutch three-run home run, which gave the Yankees a victory over Tampa Bay back in September. With Aaron Hicks replacing Chris Young's spot on the roster (presumably), Heathcott could very well be the top replacement if an outfielder went down with an injury, but Williams is also in that conversation.
With the Rule 5 draft slowly approaching, the Yankees are going to need to make a move soon. Cave is not protected on the 40-man roster, and some have argued that Cave could be a top pick at the draft. If the Yankees want to get anything out of Cave, they need to deal him soon. The draft is held on December 10, less than a week away. Time is ticking for Cashman and company. Meanwhile, if the Yankees say they are comfortable with Ackley and Rob Refsnyder platooning second base, then I'll trust their judgement. If that's the case, then young starting pitching is what the organization is looking for. The outfield is the deepest position in the club, and with a lot of young outfielders, it's very possible that one or multiple of these names are gone come Opening Day. If young starting pitching is what they want, it looks like outfield is the position to give up. The question is, which name(s) are most attractive to other GMs?