Dissecting the Yankees Left Field Options

Yankees left field

To put it plainly, left field is a spot of concern for the New York Yankees. With Aaron Judge in right and Harrison Bader in center, two-thirds of the outfield looks great. However, the battle for left field is between internal and external options. The two main internal options include Aaron Hicks and Oswaldo Cabrera. With Stanton primarily being a DH, he does not factor heavily into the team’s outfield plans.

Coming into the offseason, some exciting external options included Brandon Nimmo, Andrew Benintendi and Bryan Reynolds. Nimmo and Benintendi already have new contracts with other teams, and Reynolds is a trade piece that comes with an exorbitant price tag. Brantley, 35, is a lefty who has been one of baseball’s best contact hitters in the past decade but has reportedly agreed to a contract with the Houston Astros. With most of the great external options off the board, it’s time to dissect where the Yankees could turn in their search for a new left fielder.

Yankees Left Field Options

Internal Options

There have been many reports that New York is looking to trade Aaron Hicks. Despite this, he is still an option to play left field. With three years and $30 million left on his contract, Hicks is both tradeable AND playable for this cost. It is easy to imagine Hicks posting a 2-3 WAR season and is worth $10 million per year. By the same token, this $10 million AAV makes his contract an easier one to trade than, say, Josh Donaldson, who is earning around $22 million in 2023. Despite some blunders early on, Hicks was great defensively, as he posted a total of +8 DRS and +1 OAA in left field. Comparatively, he posted -4 DRS and – 1 OAA in centerfield. It is clear Hicks is only a corner outfielder at this point in his career. Offensively, there is not much to like about Hicks’ profile besides his plate discipline. If the Yankees cannot trade Hicks this offseason, he profiles best as a fourth outfielder rather than an everyday starter in left field.

Oswaldo Cabrera is another internal option and perhaps the most exciting one for fans outside of Bryan Reynolds. In 2022, Cabrera hit .247/.312/.429, a 111 wRC+, and a 1.5 fWAR that is a product of some outstanding defense. The position he played most was in right field, in which he posted +9 DRS in just 208 2/3 defensive innings. In 70 innings in left field, Cabrera was neutral at 0 DRS, yet it came in a small sample size. As a young, athletic, and versatile switch-hitter, it makes sense why fans are so excited about Cabrera’s development and career. However, is sticking Cabrera in left field every day the best use of his talent? Offensively, Cabrera is unproven and might struggle to adapt to big league pitching over a full season. Defensively, he can play multiple infield and outfield positions at a high level. The question for Cabrera is not if he will make the opening-day roster but if he will be an everyday utilityman or the primary left fielder.

The Bryan Reynolds Option

This is the most thrilling of the left-field options. Bryan Reynolds, a 27-year-old Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder, is an all-star switch-hitter who recently requested a trade. He is a player that has been on the Yankees’ radar for a while. With a career .281/.361/.481 batting line and a 126 wRC+, Reynolds would be the best upgrade the Yankees can make. This might be the best time to trade for him, too. The Yankees have enough farm system depth and talent to withstand a potential trade for Reynolds. However, it seems like the team would have to part with two of their three best prospects, Oswald Peraza and Jasson Domínguez, to headline the trade package. This might be a tough trade package to offer because Peraza might be the team’s opening-day shortstop. Additionally, sliding from center to left field might be great for Reynolds, as he posted a -14 DRS and -7 OAA in center in 2022. Undoubtedly, an outfield alignment of Reynolds, Bader, and Judge would bring great excitement to the Bronx.

Michael Conforto

The next potential left field option could be Michael Conforto. This is also the riskiest of all the options because he did not play in 2021 due to shoulder surgery. He is perhaps the single biggest question mark in free agency this winter. Conversely, if Conforto’s shoulder is healthy, he would be a huge upgrade for the offense. With a batting line of .255/.356/.468 that adds up to an all-star caliber .824 OPS, Conforto definitely brings more upside than someone like Aaron Hicks. If the Yankees could help Conforto reach anything near that level, he would be well worth it. He is only 29 years old and is likely looking to succeed on a one-year deal with the ability to cash in big next offseason. The Yankees could give Conforto a two-year deal with an opt-out after the first year or a one-year deal with incentives or performance bonuses. New York should consider adding Conforto because of the upside he could provide in the lineup, and it won’t be too expensive.

Max Kepler

The last external left field option is Max Kepler, whose name has been thrown around a lot lately. As a player with a career 101 OPS+ and only one excellent season in his career, one would wonder why the Yankees might have an interest in Kepler. However, looking at his Baseball Savant page, it is clear why. Kepler is a player who has long underperformed his peripherals. Let’s get the defense out of the way. Kepler has always been an outstanding defender in his career, with +48 DRS and +58 OAA. In 2022, those totals were at +10 and +12, respectively. His best position is right field, but he is someone that would serve as a solid backup center fielder, too. Offensively, Kepler posted a .298 wOBA in 2022 yet an xWOBA of .338, which is the same as Manny Machado and higher than Dansby Swanson and Julio Rodríguez (both at .337). He had a .227 BA and .348 SLG, yet he carried a much better xBA of .266 and xSLG of .412. It is clear Kepler has the ability to be an above-average hitter.

As somebody who frequently scours through Baseball Savant and FanGraphs, this makes Max Kepler, a very interesting player. Sometimes there are anomalies in the fact that they consistently underperform or overperform their expected stats. If the Yankees do trade for Kepler, they must address this. They would have to determine if they can help him produce results that closely mirror his expected numbers. Even if they cannot address this, they would still get an elite defender with good plate discipline.

Final Thoughts

With the exception of Reynolds, all these options come with question marks. Between injuries with Hicks and Conforto, inexperience with Cabrera, and underperformance with Kepler, there is much to consider. Reynolds is the top option but would perhaps cost the most in terms of prospect talent. Kepler is perhaps the most fascinating because of the short porch and the discrepancy between his results and expected stats. Conforto is the biggest question mark, yet it has a decently high offensive upside. There is no doubt the Yankees are always attempting to find out where Cabrera might be most valuable. Either way, the Yankees must pivot to find a starting left fielder.

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Players mentioned:

Aaron Judge, Harrison Bader, Aaron Hicks, Oswaldo Cabrera, Brandon Nimmo, Andrew Benintendi, Bryan Reynolds, Josh Donaldson, Oswald Peraza, Jasson Domínguez, Michael Conforto,Max Kepler, Dansby Swanson Manny Machado, Julio Rodríguez