The Yankees’ outfield has undergone quite a transformation not just since last season, but since the start of Spring Training. Since Grapefruit League games started in late-February, the Yankees have lost Curtis Granderson to injury (fractured forearm), released Matt Diaz, traded for Vernon Wells (still unofficial, but it will happen), and signed two players off the scrap heap after they were released by other clubs. Here’s the outfield alignment the team is looking at come Opening Day…
|Starter||Vernon Wells||Brett Gardner||Ichiro Suzuki|
|Backup||Ben Francisco||Melky Mesa||Brennan Boesch|
|Depth||Thomas Neal||Juan Rivera|
Obviously Granderson will step right back into the lineup — the Yankees have already acknowledged scraping their plan to put Granderson in left and Gardner in center due to the injury — when he gets healthy, which is expected to happen in early-to-mid-May. That figures to come at the playing time expense of Wells, though I suppose there’s a non-zero chance Ichiro winds up a glorified fourth/platoon outfielder.
It seems very likely Wells will play pretty much everyday in New York. He hasn’t at all these last two years, producing a .222/.258/.409 (82 wRC+) line in 791 plate appearances with the Angels. His only redeeming quality is his power (36 HR in 208 G since 2011), so if you’re in a non-OBP league he’s basically a poor man’s version of Adam Dunn. Low average, some pop … that’s pretty much it. The Yankees have a knack for getting something from nothing when it comes to old and declining players, so maybe Wells can muster a .270 AVG with a 30-homer pace like he did in 2010. I’m not counting on it though.
Francisco and Neal are competing for a bench spot in Spring Training, though the Wells trade may have completely changed that. It might not be necessary anymore. Even if it is, neither guy is worth much in fantasy, especially since Francisco is well past the point of being a “hey he might be interesting with more playing time” guy.
Gardner missed basically all of last season with an elbow issue, but he has real fantasy value as a legit 40+ steal guy when healthy. He won’t hit for a lick of power and his average will only be okay (.260-.275-ish), but he draws walks (career 11.0 BB%) and is a high-percentage runner (career 137-for-167, 82%). There are indications the Yankees will use Gardner at the leadoff spot — rather than ninth, where he’s done most of his work — now that Derek Jeter will begin the season on the DL, which potentially means more plate appearances and more steals and, thanks to being one spot closer to Robinson Cano, more runs scored.
Melky2.0 is in the running for that right-handed outfield spot along with Francisco and Neal, but he seems most likely to start the year in Triple-A. He’s an older (26 already) but interesting prospect cut from the Drew Stubbs mold — four tools but he’s missing the most important, meaning the ability to make contact. If he got 600 plate appearances, Mesa could probably go 20-20, or at least 15-15 with very good defense. He’s just unlikely to get that chance in New York.
The fractured forearm makes Granderson somewhat of a question mark because that seems like something that has the potential to linger. It’s his right forearm, so his power arm, which could be real bad since power is pretty much his only fantasy tool these days. For whatever reason the Grandyman has gone from a 20+ steal guy to just a 10+ steal guy — my theory: the team didn’t want to risk injury to his hands or fingers by sliding — and he never hit for much average anyway. His poor second half — .212/.278/.480 (98 wRC+) with a 31.8 K% — and nightmare postseason showing seem to have people way down on Granderson, but guys who hit with a 40-homer pace aren’t easy to find. He’s more than capable as an OF2 type.
Ichiro didn’t hit much in his first five weeks as a Yankee, but the last four were awesome: .394/.402/.532 with two homers and ten steals in exactly 100 plate appearances. He parlayed those four weeks into a new two-year contract and will replace Nick Swisher as the everyday right fielder. Can Ichiro do it again and put together a vintage Ichiro! performance? The projection systems say no way — the fan projections are the most optimistic with a .313 wOBA — but in terms of fantasy, he’s basically Gardner with three-quarters the stolen bases at this point. A .270-.280-ish hitter with 25+ steals is a useful fantasy piece, but not the force Ichiro was once upon a time.
The Yankees plucked Boesch off the scrap heap a few weeks ago and he figured to start in left field — or right with Ichiro sliding to left, either way — until the Wells trade. He could still get a decent amount of playing time as a part-timer in the outfield/DH and I like his chances of taking advantage of Yankee Stadium’s short right field porch as a pull-power hitter, but he’ll probably have to hit his way into the lineup regular. There’s a good chance Boesch will open the season in Triple-A.
Rivera, meanwhile, is likely to make the roster as Mark Teixeira‘s replacement at first base. He’s outfield eligible but hasn’t hit much in recent years — one 100+ wRC+ season since 2007 (2009) — and doesn’t have much fantasy value. Rivera is a .250-ish hitter with maybe 10-15 homer pop, and that’s just not useable. Gardner, Ichiro, Granderson when healthy, and maybe Wells or Boesch if things break right are the guys to watch in New York’s outfield this summer.