The Yankees felt their chances against Houston would have improved had DJ LeMahieu and Andrew Benintendi been healthy. Outside of Aaron Judge, LeMahieu and Benintendi were the team’s best contact hitters, and contact was hard to come by against the eventual World Series champions.
New York won’t be able to see if Benintendi would’ve made a difference next season, though, as the left fielder signed a five-year, $75 million contract with the Chicago White Sox. Since the season ended, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said it was his preference to sign Benintendi to a new contract. A team source, however, told The Athletic that the Yankees did not want to give Benintendi a five-year contract and did not want to pay the $15 million AAV he received from the White Sox.
With Benintendi signed elsewhere, the Yankees are forced to pivot to find a new everyday left fielder. There are two left-field options on the 40-man roster in Aaron Hicks and Oswaldo Cabrera. The Yankees are still exploring trade options for Hicks (and Josh Donaldson) but have not received much traction on either front.
Cabrera played only nine regular-season games and six playoff games in left field for the Yankees as he learned on the fly after gaining little professional experience there in the minor leagues. The Yankees view Cabrera as more of a super utilityman who could fill in at almost every position on the field sans center field and catcher.
“I think Cabrera can be an everyday a lot of things,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said Friday. “I love the player. I love his makeup. I think he showed this year that whatever situation you put him in, he’s equipped to handle it. I think he’s a guy who I think we’re going to look up in 10 to 12 years and he’s had a really long, strong big-league career. I think this year he proved he can do that in a lot of different positions.”
Cabrera in the clutch. ? pic.twitter.com/9GIaCPFwxK
— New York Yankees (@Yankees) September 7, 2022
Instead of Hicks or Cabrera, it’s likelier the Yankees explore an outside option to be the starting left fielder come Opening Day. But the free-agent market for left fielders has dropped off considerably now that Benintendi has signed.
Former Mets outfielder Michael Conforto, 29, is the best option available in free agency, but he missed all of last season due to shoulder surgery. The Athletic’s Tim Britton projects Conforto to receive a one-year, $14.5 million contract. Former Astros outfielder Michael Brantley, 35, is projected to receive a $16 million contract. Jurickson Profar could be an intriguing option after coming off the best season of his career, but he’s never been able to find consistency.
Given the availability on the free agency market, the best options for the Yankees to address left field would be through trade. Pittsburgh’s Bryan Reynolds has asked for a trade but the Pirates are asking for a “(Juan) Soto-type package.” The Yankees do have interest in Reynolds, according to a team source, but not at the current asking price. For the Yankees, any Reynolds trade — considering what Pittsburgh is looking to receive — would likely have to include top prospects Oswald Peraza and Jasson Domínguez. Peraza is the odds-on favorite to be the team’s starting Opening Day shortstop, while Dominguez is still a few years away from the big leagues.
A likelier trade option for the Yankees would be Minnesota’s Max Kepler, who’s coming off consecutive seasons of below-average production at the plate and is available. Kepler is owed $8.5 million this season and has a club option for 2024. Cubs left fielder Ian Happ could also be dealt after the team explored trades involving him dating back to the deadline. Happ was a Gold Glove winner in left field this season for Chicago and has one year remaining on his contract.
Arizona has a trio of outfielders available, including Daulton Varsho, Jake McCarthy and Alek Thomas.
Varsho is, by far, the best of the bunch and would likely be expensive for the Yankees to land. He’s not a free agent until 2027 and is already one of the best fielding outfielders in baseball. He finished 2022 with plus-18 Outs Above Average, the highest among all qualifying outfielders, and plus-19 in Defensive Runs Saved, the second-highest mark for any outfielder, according to FanGraphs. At the plate, Varsho, primarily a pull hitter, hit 27 home runs and stole 16 bases this season for the Diamondbacks. Adding Varsho would give the Yankees one of the best fielding outfield groups in baseball with Harrison Bader in center and Judge in right.
McCarthy was the best hitter out of the three Arizona outfielders, slashing .283/.342/.427 to go with 23 stolen bases over 99 games. Defensively, he was below average in his rookie season. On a positive note, he is more obtainable than Varsho and still has six years of team control remaining. Thomas was Arizona’s No. 2 prospect this season and finished 2022 hitting .231/.275/.344. He didn’t showcase much at the plate but was a good defender, finishing with plus-7 OAA and plus-6 DRS in center field.
Left field is the biggest remaining priority for the Yankees to address this offseason, but the options to fill the vacancy are worse with Plan A off the board.
(Photo: Nathan Ray Seebeck / USA Today)