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New York Yankees Spring Training: 5 Biggest Storylines For Outfield/DH
- Updated: February 9, 2017
Pitchers and catchers report to Tampa for the New York Yankees next Monday, thus officially kicking off Spring Training. The rest of the roster will report later on in the week. With Spring Training right around the corner, it is time for my final installment of the biggest storylines heading into Yankees Spring Training. This week, it’s time for the outfielders and DH spot.
Related: 5 Biggest Storylines for Infielders
Jacoby Ellsbury Playing Up To His Contract
The 2017 season will be Jacoby Ellsbury’s fourth with the organization. Thus far, Ellsbury has been an above average center fielder for the Yankees. In his tenure, Ellsbury has slashed .264/.326/.382 with 32 HRs, 208 runs scored, and 80 stolen bases out of 102 attempts. On the surface, those numbers are solid for any team’s CF. Ellsbury might not be on the same level as the elite center fielders in the game, but that is an exclusive list.
The issue with Ellsbury is that his contract would imply that he is one of the elite center fielders in the league. In the 2013 offseason, Ellsbury signed a 7 -ear/$153 million deal. While his numbers are solid, they are not worthy of that contract. For instance, his 32 HRs that he has hit since coming to New York equals the amount of home runs he slugged in 2011. 2011 was a career year for Ellsbury (32 HRs, 105 RBIs, .321 BA, and finished second in AL MVP voting), it was largely the premise behind giving him that money. Another reason why Ellsbury is not living up to his contract is that he has averaged 136 games per season. Ellbury’s injury concerns are another reason why that contract continues to look like a bad signing.
It has been reported that Ellsbury has worked on his point of contact in his swing. Attempting to get his swing path similar to his 2011 season; that should be a promising sign for Ellsbury to have a good season this year. He does not need to blast 30 HRs to make him worth the contract, but he does need to up his batting average and OBP to be the lead off hitter that the Yankees paid for.
Related: Reviewing The Jacoby Ellsbury Deal
Can Matt Holliday Bounce Back?
The only offensive spot on the Yankees roster that needed to be filled this offseason was the DH spot. While Brian McCann and Gary Sanchez could have filled that hole while the other caught, McCann was sent to the Houston Astros early in the offseason. Matt Holliday was the man that the organization decided to fill that spot instead.
A seven-time All-Star, Holliday has the pedigree as a great hitter. However, his past two seasons have been injury plagued and mixed with poor performance. In 2016, Matt Holliday only played in 110 games where he slashed .246/.322/.461. His power has remained constant over his tenure with the Cardinals, ranging between 20 (2016 & 2014) to 28 (2010) when he plays more than 100 games. Holliday’s recent injury history may be troublesome to Yankee fans, but he is only signed to a one-year deal and he will be prominently the DH.
Positioning at DH, Holliday should avoid the injury bug. The question heading into the season is if Holliday can improve from last season. Over most of his time with the St. Louis Cardinals, Holliday had 90+ RBIs. Holliday does not need to completely revert back to that, but he needs to prove that injury was the reason his numbers slipped. If the Yankees have any hope of contending for the postseason, Holliday needs to be a factor in the lineup.
Brett Gardner Trade Status
Similar to Chase Headley and Starlin Castro, Brett Gardner’s status with the New York Yankees is a bit of question mark. He will be on the team for Opening Day, but how long will he remain a Yankee? Gardner has two years left on his deal, but one of the major stories throughout the offseason was the availability of both Gardner and Headley. The reigning Gold Glove winner might see a shift in scenery before the trade deadline.
The thing about Gardner’s trade status is that it is completely dependent on numerous factors out of his control. There are two scenarios that could lead to Gardner being shipped elsewhere. Scenario one is the most obvious: if the Yankees are out of contention by the deadline, then Gardner will most likely be moved to continue the growth of prospects. The other scenario could be if Aaron Judge and a called-up Clint Frazier (or another outfielder) are simply outperforming Gardner and he becomes expendable.
Although Gardner won a Gold Glove last season, his offensive production was just alright. He slashed .261/.351/.362 last season, which was par for the course recently. The biggest drop that happened last season was his slugging percentage. A balmy .362 was down from .399 in 2015 and more so from 2014 where he slugged .422. Gardner is not a power hitter, but that pop those two seasons helped his value. Gardner could have to give way for younger players who need a position.
The Late Addition of Chris Carter
I am glad that I waited later in the week to write this article since the signing of Chris Carter adds a more interesting story to this article. Rather than write about the potential for a great defensive outfield, Chris Carter being signed adds intrigue to the roster. While Carter played 1B in Milwaukee, his abysmal defense might force the Yankees to put him at DH. Carter’s NL-leading 41 HRs last season is plenty of reason to put him in the order, but does he play ahead of Holliday or Greg Bird?
The signing of Chris Carter will have a direct impact on Matt Holliday. While the feeling is that Carter might platoon with Bird at first when the team faces lefties, I think Carter might be closer to pushing Holliday out of DH. With that said, Holliday will still remain in the lineup. The positional battle for RF now has become more interesting.
Before Clint Frazier will be called up (assuming he starts in AAA this season), Aaron Judge and Aaron Hicks are going to battle for RF. However, both players have struggled at the MLB level, with Hicks having more time to prove himself than Judge. In a scenario that could happen, what if both Judge and Hicks struggle offensively? Meanwhile, Holliday and Carter are being more productive offensively. Since Yankee Stadium has a right field that is friendly to poor defensive outfielders, it is easy to foresee Matt Holliday playing RF in that scenario.
Battle For RF In Spring Training/Who Will End The Season In RF?
As mentioned above, Aaron Judge and Aaron Hicks will be the two main players competing to be the Opening Day starter in RF. Judge, who struck out in half of his MLB at-bats last season, is favored over Hicks, who has not lived up to his talent thus far. The hope is that Judge will be figure MLB pitching out this season and be the productive force that many believe he can be. However, Matt Holliday and Mason Williams could see time playing in RF depending on how well Judge and Hicks play.
That is the battle heading into the Spring Training, but a more convoluted story will unfold as the season progresses: who will be playing RF at the end of the season? The answers there have a lot more variability because it all depends on how the 2017 season goes for the Yankees. If the Yankees are in the thick of the postseason race, would they trade for an outfielder who has an expiring contract if Judge or Hicks are not contributing? Perhaps the more realistic scenario, the Yankees are in the same position as last season and trade away Holliday, Gardner, and Headley for prospects. Will a prospect such as Frazier be the one in RF? As of right now, the answer is very unclear.
Two of the three outfield positions are set heading into the 2017 season. RF will have a competition for the spot, but many are already assuming that Judge will be the one filling that spot. Most of the intrigue for the Yankees outfield will develop as the season goes on. No matter what aspect of the Yankees one looks at, it will be an interesting Spring Training.