There is a glut of outfielders in Yankees camp this spring, but it always seemed a little odd that there weren't too many veterans bidding for a shot at the Opening Day roster. Reliable outfield bats off the bench have been a staple of the most successful Yankees teams of the past two decades, from Tim Raines to Ruben Sierra and even current assistant hitting coach Marcus Thames.
However, the Yankees now have a similar name on their spring training roster. GM Brian Cashman announced that the team came to terms with 34-year-old outfielder Chris Denorfia, a righthanded hitter who has been in the big leagues 10 years with a solid .272/.330/.392 career triple slash accompanied by a 103 career OPS+. He will be a backup option in camp and contend for a spot on the final 25-man roster:
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
Most well known for his days on the Padres when he seemingly hit a walk-off single every other Sunday wearing those unusual camouflage uniforms, Denorfia bounced back from a career-worst season in 2014 to hit .269/.319/.373 in 103 games with the NL Central-winning Cubs. Although it was only an 89 OPS+, it was still a rebound and he also had one of their top highlights of the season when he smashed an extra-innings walk-off homer against the Royals in a late-September game to break a scoreless tie as the Cubs made their playoff push.
Denorfia has fared much better against lefties in his career, batting .285/.353/.419 against them, though he oddly had a reverse split last year. Nonetheless, Denorfia is a fine pick-up who could certainly has a chance to assist with outfield depth, though his opt-out means that he probably won't stick around if he doesn't make the team.
As the team stands right now, they head into 2016 with Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Carlos Beltran as their outfield starters with Aaron Hicks and utilityman Dustin Ackley providing backup. However, all three starters are over 30 and have had injuries dog them in the past, so it would not be a shock if one of them pulled a hamstring and had to miss time early.
That's where Denorfia comes in, as he provides a little bit more security than the likes of Slade Heathcott (liable to break at any moment), Mason Williams (still broken from last year), and Aaron Judge (not ready). And before some commenter jumps in with this idea, no, Rob Refsnyder is not a real backup outfield option, as he hasn't played there since 2012.
The Yankees could very easily decide to put Denorfia on their Opening Day roster anyway. He's more experienced as an outfielder than Ackley, and if they don't want to lose Denorfia after seeing him in camp, they might have room to take him. The worst case scenario is that he'd bad, they cut bait, and they quickly move on. Minor league deals afford this luxury, so no real harm done.