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New York Yankees Spring Training: 5 Biggest Storylines For Outfield/DH

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 Pitchers & Catchers

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.

Related: ‘Tis The Season: Yankees To Sign Matt Holliday

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.

Griffin Fuller
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Griffin Fuller

Former Division 1 pitcher at Stetson University with an immense passion for the game of baseball. Grew up playing baseball from the age of 3. Student of the game of baseball in every aspect.Located out of Debary, Florida.
Griffin Fuller
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  • john

    The biggest issue I have with Ellsbury is Gardner could slide over a play center just as well and slightly outperform him at the plate. It has been killing the Yankees these last few years to have 2 outfielders who basically are table setters. It is a pipe dream but I would love to see Ellsbury shipped off with 40 million to offset his contract. I know he hasn’t been a Pavano style bust but the Ellsbury signing is among the worst moves in the last 10 years.

    I like the Carter addition but don’t think he will push Holliday out of a job. I look for Holliday to rebound and be a very productive DH even if he misses a couple of weeks due to age related aches and pains. My fear with Carter is he might not get enough Ab’s and might press. This dude is already a wiff machine, if he plays 2x per week he might never get into a groove. That being said I still like the signing as it’s cheap and if Bird can’t go I’d rather see Carter as the starter than Austin. Austin seems like a possibly useful spare part not a guy I want to see getting 500 Ab’s at such a premium offensive position as 1st.

    Excited for this year to begin, we as fans finally have some real hopes for the start of a nice homegrown run here during the next 10 years.

    • Griffin Fuller

      Thanks for the comment John! I agree with you about Ellsbury and Gardner. Gardner could easily play CF for the Yankees. The two have very similar styles and Gardner is much cheaper than Ellsbury. The thing that kills me about Ellsbury is (other than his contract) that we could have retained Granderson that same offseason for way less money to be a power bat.

      I think the Carter addition can be beneficial. It is most likely that Carter could push Bird, Austin, and/or Judge out of a spot rather than Holliday. My thought is that Austin should start the season in AAA (if Choi can prove to be a suitable backup) to continue to progress rather than ride the bench.

      • john

        Thanks for writing, great to find another Yankees board. You are right the Grandy Man could also have been brought back. I really believe Ellsbury was forced on Cashman by ownership as a gesture towards the fans for letting Cano walk. Cano got paid stupid money so it was wise to pass on him, signing Ellsbury was a bad reaction to the negative PR.

        It will be interesting to see how Carter pans out and is used. Safe to say if he gets 500+ Ab’s something probably has gone wrong or he has somehow turned into a better player. I envision him getting about 300 Ab’s mixed around 1st, Dh, and hopefully very little time in the outfield. I could easily see him crushing about 20 bombs and hitting his usual .230 and being a valuable part timer.

        • Griffin Fuller

          While I think letting Cano walk played a part in signing Ellsbury, the contract itself was due to the market. The Rangers overpaid for Shin Soo Choo that same offseason. Both Choo and Ellsbury had one major thing in common: they both had a stellar season that each team hoped the player could reproduce. Ellsbury has not been playing poorly, but his contract is the value of his 2011 season.

          For Carter, I could see him easily cranking out 20-25 HRs while starting a little more than half the games. One thing to look at for with Carter (and Holliday) is their trade value at the deadline. If the Yankees are not in contention, I would highly doubt Cashman would hold on to them if he can get value for them.

          • john

            The market was high for outfielders that year but Ellsbury was not coming off his career year and basically looked like a slightly better Gardner. I know you are not defending the signing but it was just stupid, no need for another table setter hitter capable of playing Cf. I would rather be defending the signing of Choo at least he has a corner bat (when healthy). Gardner is probably the odd man out due to his more movable contract but Ellsbury is looking at a 4th outfielder role the last 2 years of his crazy deal no matter Gardner’s fate.

            You are very correct if the team is out of it Holliday and Carter will both be shopped big time. If Holliday recaptures his form he could be flipped for a similar package to Beltran.

          • Griffin Fuller

            To play devil’s advocate, I think the thinking on Ellsbury was that he would return to his 2011 form, especially with the power. The allure of playing in Yankee Stadium with a short RF brought thoughts of Ellsbury being more of a power bat than he currently is.

            Unless the Yankees go on a postseason run, I think Gardner will be traded during the offseason for a SP.

          • john

            Yes you are right. I agree the hope was Ellsbury would thrive with the short porch. For the team’s sake hopefully his swing tweak will work out. Love the new direction the team is taking avoiding “these” types of deals.

            Hopefully someone will need a plug and play leadoff hitter and the team can get a decent prospect or 2 for Gardy. Really looking forward to seeing some of the high end prospects making their way to the show in the near future.