With the 2019 season approaching quickly for the New York Yankees, let’s take a look at their left field options for next year.
The Yankees outfield was quite tumultuous at times in 2018. The team came into the season expecting Aaron Judge, Aaron Hicks, Brett Gardner, and Giancarlo Stanton to rotate between DH and the three outfield positions, perhaps with Judge and Stanton experimenting a bit in left field, territory previously unfamiliar to them.
Judge’s injury midseason, Hicks’ injury to start the year and Gardner’s inconsistencies led to the team playing 12 outfielders over the course of the season, including the abysmal Shane Robinson era, when Robinson started 24 games because he was one of their only options despite his .143 batting average.
The acquisition of Andrew McCutchen in late August sent Gardner to the bench when Judge returned from his injury. Going into 2019, the Yankees seem to have cemented Hicks and Judge as their everyday center fielder and right fielder, though left field remains up in the air. Here are a couple names who we could see in left field come Opening Day.
Gardner’s 2018 season can be best described as streaky. At times he was one of the team’s most consistent hitters, a great leadoff hitter to set the table for the big bats who followed him in the lineup, like in May when he hit .313 with 13 runs, 11 RBI’s, 11 walks and three home runs in 80 at-bats.
However, there were also times where he looked lost at the plate, and he was eventually downgraded to a bench role after Judge’s return. After the All-Star Break, he hit a measly .209 with just 12 RBI’s and a .604 OPS in 215 at-bats. He saw minimal playing time in the playoffs, his only start coming in Game Three of the ALDS when Aaron Hicks was unavailable because of an injury sustained in Game Two.
The Yankees brought him back on a one year, $7.5 million deal plus a $2 million buyout from his previous contract. Some fans criticized the move, suggesting that Gardner shouldn’t be making “starting outfielder money”, and although even $10 million isn’t truly “starting outfielder money”, it’s still a bit of a hefty price for an aging veteran who doesn’t bring much more than speed, contact hitting and a veteran presence.
Gardner will certainly compete for the left field job at Spring Training, but the Yankees didn’t bring him back to start and expect them to exhaust all their options before naming him the starting left fielder.
Frazier had a very disappointing 2018. After making his big league debut and showing flashes of potential while displaying his famous bat speed in 2017, his 2018 was plagued by many injuries, mainly a lingering concussion sustained in Spring Training that bothered him throughout the season. He went up and down between AAA and MLB in 2018, overall only posting 34 at-bats with the Yankees.
In those 34 at-bats, he gathered nine hits (including three doubles), one RBI, nine runs and five walks. However, his defensive struggles were on full display, as he oftentimes looked lost in left field. We all know what kind of potential Frazier has with the bat, his main two question marks going into 2019 are the injury concerns and whether he can play respectable defense in left field.
He’ll certainly be given consideration for the job in Spring Training, but the Yankees could definitely ease him into the job, so don’t expect them to hand him the keys to the job the moment his plane lands in Tampa.
Many people expected Stanton to get significant playing time in the outfield in 2018, but concerns regarding his hamstring led to the Yankees focusing on him as the primary DH, especially in the second half when Judge and Sanchez were out and the Yankees couldn’t afford any more injuries.
Ideally, his hamstring woes are gone come Spring Training but if they are persistent (and they very well could be), we could be in for another year of Stanton as the everyday DH. However, a potential Manny Machado signing could force Miguel Andújar to slide from third base to DH, especially once Didi Gregorius returns midseason.
If Machado forces Andújar to DH (or if Andújar’s defensive struggles continue at third base) we could see Stanton in left field much more often.
The Bryce Harper-Yankees relationship is a confusing one. Harper famously graced the cover of Sports Illustrated as a 16-year-old in 2009, describing his affinity for the Yankees and what it would mean to him to put on the pinstripes.
Now, Harper enters the 2019 season as a free agent heading into the prime of his already illustrious career. In his first eight seasons in the league, Harper has won an MVP and a Rookie of the Year and has been named an All-Star six times. In his 2015 MVP season, he led the National League with 118 runs and 42 home runs and he led all of MLB with a .460 OBP and .649 SLG.
Most recently, he hit 34 home runs and had 100 RBI’s with a .393 OBP in 2018, though he did have a .249 batting average, a significant .070 below his 2017 batting average of .319. Many people expected the Yankees to pursue Harper this offseason, but General Manager Brian Cashman downplayed the idea of a Harper signing at the Winter Meetings this month, saying that the tea already has six outfielders and that they have no interest in signing Harper to play first base as some had suggested.
However, when asked about the potential of his client going to the Yankees, agent Scott Boras said that Cashman had never said that they were out on Harper by any means despite his comments to the media. This led to some speculation that the Yankees did have interest in Harper and were just downplaying it for the time being.
Harper would be yet another slugger to add to an already prominent lineup and would fill one of the only holes this team still has.