Amidst the fire and F-bombs that made his recent press availability so notorious, Yankees GM Brian Cashman delivered an important, if less colorful line, that hopefully has serious impact on the pinstriped offseason:
“We need two outfielders,” Cashman said.
Last winter, the Yankees did not do enough to help their offense. Now, at least, they seem aware of a trouble spot for a lineup that was, frankly, terrible for too much of last season. The “Bronx Bombers” were 25th in the the major leagues in runs per game (4.15), nearly half-a-run worse than league average and ahead of only the Marlins, Guardians, Tigers, White Sox and A’s. Not a great neighborhood.
Injuries, underperformance, etc. – Cashman covered all of 2023’s issues. They’ve got a chance to address it now by adding. We’re here to help.
Here are five suggestions for the Yanks to consider as they look to fill center field and left field, preferably, as Cashman said, with left-handed hitters.
Go for the big Juan
Yes, there’s only one year of control left for Juan Soto and then he’s due what will be a massive contract. After last season, the Yankees need an impact lefty bat and the Padres outfielder might be available via trade. A .930 OPS and a .410 on-base percentage, his numbers last season, sure would look good tucked snug next to Aaron Judge in the batting order. And you’d have to believe Soto would hit more than the 35 homers he had in ‘23 if he played half the time in Yankee Stadium, short right-field porch and all.
Put him in left field, let his swaggy star power flow and then give him a big extension. He just turned 25 on Oct. 25, so it’s not like they’d be dealing for an aging star heading for career twilight.
Sure, it would cost prospect talent. And maybe they could skip the trade and sign Soto when he hits the free agent market after ‘24. But they need immediate help. Not all prospects become something. Go for it by getting someone who already is one helluva something. Does anyone really want to endure another punchless Yankee season?
With Jasson Domínguez down after Tommy John surgery, the Yankees need someone to play center field until The Martian’s hopeful midsummer return. Of course, even that hinges on everything going well with his recovery. Plus, Domínguez is only 20 years old with just eight games of MLB experience. He sure looked good last year, but he’s still a relative unknown other than his mega-prospect status.
Enter Cody Bellinger, whose dad is former Yankee reserve Clay Bellinger. Bellinger enjoyed a resurgence in 2023 with the Cubs with 26 homers and an .881 OPS. Strikeouts were becoming a concern, but he slashed his strikeout percentage to 15.7, the best of his career and well below MLB average. Bellinger could play center field all year, in case Domínguez ultimately needs more seasoning in the minors, or move to left if The Martian comes back quickly. Bellinger could take over first base in 2025 if the Yanks part ways at that point with Anthony Rizzo. (They hold a $17 million option for that season on Rizzo).
Bellinger was the NL MVP with the Dodgers in 2019, but then had three alarming seasons. Injuries were a factor, but there could be lingering concerns about his ups and downs, so there is risk here -- and he’s likely to be expensive. When healthy, though, he still offers major upside and he’ll only be 29 in July.
Rock with Joc
This suggestion speaks to the Yankees' need for lefty bats and the idea that Joc Pederson would be fun to watch slug at Yankee Stadium. Pederson was mostly a DH last season, but still played 37 games in the outfield for the Giants. He wasn’t as productive in 2023 as he was in his All-Star season the previous year when he hit 23 homers with an .874 OPS. But he’s got pop and October chops (two rings, 12 postseason homers), qualities the Yankees could use.
He’s good at drawing walks, a skill the Yanks admire, and has a career .800 OPS. It’s not as splashy as our first two ideas, but it might just fit, especially when we keep hearing from Hal Steinbrenner that you don’t need a $300-million payroll to win the World Series.
Fit Whit’s hits
Since Whit Merrifield became a regular in 2017, he has the second-most hits in MLB, behind only Freddie Freeman. So he could be a significant acquisition for the Yankees, who were 29th in MLB in both total hits and batting average last year and are regularly criticized for being too power-reliant. Make contact! Make some things happen!
It’s not a perfect suggestion – Merrifield is a righty hitter and he’s spent much of his career at second base. But he has started playing the outfield more in recent years, seeing action in 84 games there last season for the Blue Jays, the same number of games he appeared at second. His positional versatility might be useful and Merrifield is a capable base stealer who owns three AL stolen base titles, though he didn’t have his best season as a thief in 2023. The Yanks ranked only 21st in MLB in steals.
Don’t forget about Kevin Kiermaier, the superlative defensive center fielder who would be a tremendous get if Bellinger doesn’t work out. Kiermaier has vast experience in the AL East, having played the bulk of his career with the Rays before a one-year stint in Toronto in 2023, where he had a .741 OPS and won his fourth Gold Glove.
He’s had to battle injuries in his career, in part because of his dogged style of play. It hurts to crash into walls in pursuit of deep drives, after all. But Kiermaier would greatly enhance Yankee run prevention and he’s got plenty of postseason experience, too, including a terrific 2020 World Series against the Dodgers (.368 average, two homers). Plus, he bats left-handed.