Looking Ahead: Right Field for the 2013 Yankees
In little over a month, Nick Swisher will no longer be a member of the New York Yankees. That might not be a problem for some, but it could be a problem for the team. Not only will they have to fill right field in 2013, but they will also have to fill center field in 2014, when Curtis Granderson leaves. For years it’s been the team’s inexplicable policy to never renegotiate a contract, so extensions are almost certainly out of the question. There are several paths that Brian Cashman could take to solve the problem, but most of them will bring their own.
Cashman could choose the direct route and replace his outgoing right fielder with a new right fielder. The only problem is that his options are limited in 2013. Torii Hunter will be a free agent; he will be 37 next year, but 2012 has been his best season in 10 years. His 4.5 WAR, at this stage of his career, is miraculous, but it’s hardly expected that he could repeat such a performance. He has already stated he prefers to return to the Angels, so prying him away, if the Angels are interested, could take more money or years than he’s worth. This would be an unwise decision to make, as the Yankees need to get younger, not older.
The other free agent option would be a return of Ichiro Suzuki. He’s older than Hunter, at 38, and has only put up a 2.8 WAR season, but he would be substantially cheaper. Ichiro will be looking at a one year deal after struggling for most of the season. After averaging about an 80 wRC+ over the first four months of the season, he has averaged a 131 wRC+ over the last two months of the season. That’s way above league average. He also has a .361 batting average in Yankee Stadium, and is above .300 in every AL East stadium, except Fenway Park. He seems like an optimal fit for a stopgap in 2013. The only point of concern could be whether or not he’ll be able to hit left handed pitching. His career 114 wRC+ against lefties shows it has been a strength throughout his career, but his 78 wRC+ this year could mean differently.
Instead of looking to the free agent market, the Yankees could look for an internal option. That could be a problem. The Yankees have five outfield prospects among their top 20 and only two of them have reached Double A. The only realistic options would be Zoilo Almonte, Melky Mesa, and Ronnier Mustelier. Almonte put up a .278/.322/.488 triple slash in his first full year in Double A, but has yet to reach Scranton. He has shown a good amount of power and speed, but his walk to strikeout ratio needs to improve. Melky Mesa made his major league debut as a pinch runner in 2012, but he did not impress in Triple A. He shows some power and good speed, but he too needs to work on his walk to strikeout ratio before he becomes a full time major leaguer. Ronnier Mustelier, at 27 and with a full season in Scranton behind him, seems to be the most realistic option for making the major league roster. His .303/.359/.455 batting line shows that he can hit and get on base. He brings some power and speed and doesn’t strikeout nearly as often as the others do. None of the players have been tearing up the minors, nor are they considered destined for greatness. They could easily compete in spring training for a bench role, but it would be difficult to ask them to replace Swisher’s production.
The direct route might be easy, but it might not be for the best. Instead of looking for another right fielder, the Yankees could sign a center fielder. Obviously, Curtis Granderson has been the Yankee center fielder, but his defense has been on the decline. In 2010 he had a 7.9 UZR/150 in center field, which was his best defensive season since 2007. Since then he’s posted a -5.3 in 2011 and a ghastly -20.5 in 2012. His problem on defense has been his range. He might be fast, but he has trouble reading the ball off the bat, which ends up costing the Yankees when he can’t catch a ball that should be caught. The Yankees already have a better center fielder on the team in Brett Gardner, and he could be taking away plays from Granderson in left-center field, but not that many. The Yankees seem content to keep Gardner in the expansive Yankee Stadium left field, so Granderson’s replacement would have to come from somewhere else.
The Yankees could go after Michael Bourn this offseason in order to improve their center fielder defense, while also filling right field at the same time. Bourn will be an expensive free agent, but he’s a better option than Hunter or Ichiro and will be cheaper than Curtis Granderson will be to resign. He has also been more consistent than Granderson has been. Bourn might not have had a 7.1 WAR season, but he has averaged a slightly higher 4.9 WAR over Granderson’s 4.3 WAR. Since 2010, Granderson has lead the team in runs and home runs, but Bourn could offer 60 stolen bases a season. That combination will be highly valuable in 2013, but the Yankees will have to find a way to replace Granderson’s power after that. If the Yankees are now running on a budget, they might be better off letting Granderson walk after 2013, then worry about filling right field when they have better options.
The most simple solution could be to simply resign Nick Swisher. He might be one of the most underappreciated players in baseball. Trading for him has been one of Cashman’s best moves of his career, because not only has he been great, but he has also been cheap. Since 2009, Swisher has the 6th highest WAR of all right fielders and is in the top 15 for all outfielders. He’s been one of the best outfielders in baseball and could be searching for a big long term contract in return. Swisher seems to like New York a lot, so it might not be out of the question for him to take a discount. Don’t count on it, though.
Regardless of what they end up doing, it will be hard to replace Swisher’s production over the last four years. Even if they resign Swisher, his value could go down considerably, if his contract gets too expensive in money or years. The Yankees need to start thinking of the future and all decisions they make should be looking towards the best value as they seek to get younger.
By: Jason Cohen