The New York Yankees Outfield: Old and Improved

Love ‘em or hate ‘em, they are the New York Yankees and they are still the face of American baseball. They are about winning, they are about hardware (or bling if that’s the word you prefer) and they are all about the big market spending. But we’re not here to judge right now. Whether you think this year’s plundering of the free agent market was more Brittney Spears “Oops, I did it again,” or more Urkel “Did I do that?”, it doesn’t matter, because this is the fantasy baseball section of FanGraphs and that’s what we’re talking here. Our assignment is to tell you who is in this team’s outfield and what that means to fantasy owners, so let’s bypass the small-market, crybaby tantrums and let’s talk game.

Over in right field, the Yankees brought in former Cardinals (and Royals and Astros and Mets and Giants) right fielder Carlos Beltran on a three-year, $45M deal. The well-traveled, soon-to-be 37-year-old outfielder is coming off yet another solid season for the Redbirds in which he smacked 24 home runs with 84 RBI while posting a .296/.339/.491 slash line. It wasn’t his most impressive season that we’ve seen, but it seems to be right in the range of what we can expect from him as he moves into the twilight years of his career. No one seems to be expecting huge things from him, as many expect his age to catch up to him sooner or later, but for now, he’s got three-straight years of playing at least 142 games with no fewer than 22 home runs and 84 RBI in a given season and he’s moving to the second-best home run park for left-handers. Survey says….! Ding! Ding! Ding! Draft with confidence. I even wrote about how I would happily scoop him up in fantasy drafts back in December if we were to don the pinstripes and now that he has, that’s just what I’m doing. His current NFBC ADP is at 96.85 and that seems to be about right in other mock drafts I’ve done recently. Giddy up!

In center field, the Yankees made an even bigger splash…a cannonball, if you will…in the free agent pool this winter with a seven-year, $153M deal for former Red Sox staple Jacoby Ellsbury. As expected, he’ll patrol center and bat leadoff this season and the expectations seem to be incredibly high. While everyone seems to expect another 50-plus stolen base year for the 30-year-old, they are also clamoring for a power display like the one he gave in 2011 thanks to a move to a very short porch in right field. Personally, I don’t see it all happening and given the fact that expectations are running so high, I am avoiding him in fantasy this year because I am not spending a first or second-round pick on him. For me, the risk is too great. Yes, I think the short porch in right will help add to his home run total, but I see a much more realistic 15 homers than I do something in the 25-30 range. I also see 30-40 stolen bases than I do 50-plus. Why? Because I’m still not convinceD that he’ll make it the full season.

I’ve thrown the dreaded ‘injury-prone’ tag onto Ellsbury before and the debates have gone on and on. I cite games played since 2010 and immediately Ellsbury Nation comes back at me with the whole ‘fluke injury’ argument. Back and forth and back and forth we go and the argument gets tired. But since this is my article and my soapbox, I’ll just say this…

He is injury-prone. Why? Because injuries have been a constant with him and the style of game he plays makes him more susceptible to them. He’s a dirt-dog, and while we continuously laud players for that style and mentality, it does put them further into harm’s way. Is Ellsbury not going to go crashing into the center field wall a dozen times this year? Yes he is. Is he not going to lay himself out and make a ton of acrobatic, diving catches out there? Yes he is. Is he not going to slide head first into second, third or even home plate? Yes he is. Will he try to take out the second baseman and break up the double play? Of course he will. That’s the game he plays and that’s why we as baseball fans love him. But it’s that style of play that leaves him wide open for these “fluke injuries” and he hasn’t exactly proven himself to be that tough, little piece of iron that Rocky Balboa was when he faced Ivan Drago in everyone’s favorite fourth installment. He’s also proven to be a bit of a slow-healer to boot. And he’s 30! Did I mention that? We’re not talking about some 22-year old kid laying his body on the line here.

So while the baseball fan in me can appreciate a guy like Ellsbury, the fantasy GM in me says that I can get my stolen bases for much cheaper further down in the draft by a guy who takes much fewer risks with his body. You can invest the high pick all you want. I won’t and I won’t recommend it. No hate. No snark. No animosity. Just good old-fashioned fantasy-sense. Now you may proceed to roast me in the comments section while I move on to left field.

With the addition of Ellbury, the Yankees have shifted Brett Gardner over to left field and pushed him down to the bottom of the order once again. He’s also 30-years old, but far less accomplished than Ellsbury which is why is was so easy to bump him. His power is single-digit at best, his batting average is mediocre and while he’s capable of swiping 40 or more bags in a season, last year’s total of 24 was a major disappointment. Still though, with steals down across the board last year, he was able to post a positive return-value to his fantasy owners. While his value this season will start out on the lower end because of where he hits in the lineup, he should prove himself a worthy fantasy pick in the end. His 173.99 ADP puts him somewhere around the 14th or 15th round in 12-team leagues and in the 11th or 12th in a 15-teamer. That’s not too bad, value-wise, especially if he can hit above .270 for the year and swipe roughly 30 bases.

The fourth outfielder job is definitely an interesting one for the Yankees. The DH slot allows them to take Alfonso Soriano out of the outfield logjam and find a way to keep his still-potent bat in the lineup. That leaves the 40-year old Ichiro Suzuki as the primary outfield reserve. They searched for a trade during the offseason but to no avail, so it’s going to be up to them to find a way to keep him involved and, hopefully, happy. After all, his presence is going to be an important factor in helping Masahiro Tanaka adjust to the major league lifestyle in New York, so a happy Ichiro is a helpful Ichiro. His role on the team has yet to be officially defined, but given the players currently occupying the starting positions, it seems his role will be to fill-in every so often, pinch hit when needed and act as a defensive replacement. It’s not the stuff upon which fantasy dreams are built, but should anyone in the outfield get hurt….and I’m not naming and names here…then he’ll see some extra work and maybe help out with some stolen bases. The rest of him is in obvious decline, so relying on him for much more than that would be silly.

Waiting in the wings, we’ve got guys like Zoilo Almonte and maybe Slade Heathcott, but for fantasy purposes, that’s really all we need to do is give them a mention.




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Howard Bender has been covering fantasy sports for over 10 years on a variety of websites. In addition to his work here, you can also find him at his site, RotobuzzGuy.com, Fantasy Alarm, RotoWire and Mock Draft Central. Follow him on Twitter at @rotobuzzguy or for more direct questions or comments, email him at rotobuzzguy@gmail.com


23 Responses to “The New York Yankees Outfield: Old and Improved”

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  1. Bruce says:

    Over/under 500 ABs for Gardner, assuuming no injuries for any of the other outfielders (or him)?

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  2. Fardbart says:

    The big problem with the Yankees in 2013 was their stunning lack of organizational depth was exposed when their aged and fragile, big-ticket stars broke down. To address this issue they went out an added 3 extremely fragile and/or aged guys to plug into their starting lineup (Roberts, Ellsbury and Beltran) plus McCann. Theses guys are upgrades (other than Roberts), but the whole formula here assumes that an even more fragile team than the 2013 bunch will not suffer injuries to key players.

    they still have no depth.

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    • jdbolick says:

      Outfield is the one place where the Yankees have abundant depth. In addition to the two veteran backups, three of their top prospects are OFs with AA experience.

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      • Cardinology says:

        Soriano and Ichiro are as good a pair of 4th and 5th outfielders anyone has outside of LAD. Kelly Johnson can fill in if someone is out a game or two and I would zoilo would be the next called up if there were a long term injury. No world beaters there, but that’s plenty of reasonable depth.

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      • Iron says:

        Prospects in AA doesn’t scream depth.

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    • Tom B says:

      Is it really “stunning” that losing 8 starting players exposes a lack of depth?

      Name one team in baseball that has the “depth” to survive an unprecedented streak of injuries like that.

      “Depth” is to outlast the 1-2 injuries that you will always have. NO ONE has a contingency for their entire lineup getting hurt.

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  3. balfazzar says:

    So, was that a yes or a no on Ellsbury with my last pick in the 1st round?

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  4. James says:

    That’s it on Soriano? 30/90 potential for dirt cheap. I’m drafting him as a borderline top 30 OF and as low as most people have him.

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  5. Troy says:

    Keeper question, 15 team league I can keep two players from last year. 5X5 league, 3SP, 2RP, 3P, 4OF, UTL, MI & CI. $260 budget. I have a few keeper options but can only keep 2 players at an inflation of $3.

    M. Carpenter $1
    M. Wacha $0
    T. Rosenthal $0
    Ellsbury $25
    Freeman $15

    I was thinking Wahca at $3 and Carpenter at $4 but looking at projected values Ellsbury and Rosenthal might be the best value as they are both tier 1 players at their position. All of them are good value but who holds the most value at the price point? Is Ellsbury really a $40 player in NY?

    Any help appreciated.

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    • Cardinology says:

      I kind of like Wacha and Rosenthal. Just personal opinion, but Carpenter doesn’t seem to have a lot of power potential or sb potential, but even so, he’s not a bad choice either given his avg and runs. Freeman sticks out as the obvious drop.

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    • gbaked says:

      Wacha and Rosenthal… no doubt.

      Freeman at 15 is also a good keep (if you throw him back and try to draft him you will be at around 25 bucks)…

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      • Troy says:

        I was thinking that but I think Wacha’s value is inflated by what he did in the post season, not the regular season and I am a little concerned about the injury risk with pitchers. The key is I can keep them again for another $3 next year. Wacha, Carpenter and Rosenthal have the best value long term as they might be value again next year.

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    • jdbolick says:

      Erase the contract numbers, then write down the names and decide how much you would be willing to pay for each in the auction. Subtract the contract numbers from that and then you have your answer. For me that would be Rosenthal and Carpenter simply because I wouldn’t go terribly high on Wacha in a mixed league.

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    • Cory says:

      Carpenter and Rosenthal seem to be the best “value picks.” I wouldn’t normally urge one to keep a closer, but a $17~ closer for $3 is too good to pass up.

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  6. MLB Rainmaker says:

    I swear I posted this earlier, but I’d bet there will be some sort of platoon rotation that moves Beltran to DH against RHPs, with Ichiro and Gardner in the field, and and possibly see a timeshare between Soriano, Gardner and Ichiro in LF against LHPs.

    While Beltran, Ichiro and Soriano are old, all three still have talent, and likely more talent than Gardner, specially if they stay rested and fresh.

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  7. Jay says:

    Am I the only one worried Ellsbury will have his every-other-year “I’m hurt all the time” season? He’s not playing for a contract like last year. Maybe it’s unfair, but I have so many bad memories from owning him during those years.

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