Yankees Outfield Dilemma

By Jack Caldwell ’18

When Jacoby Ellsbury suffered a concussion after tumbling into Yankee Stadium’s outfield wall, it seemed like the Yankees could be in trouble. After all, Ellsbury had been a key cog in the unorthodox Yankee lineup, providing speed and consistency in the cleanup spot. However, the outfield has been hitting bombs in the Bronx, with starting outfielders Aaron Judge, Brett Gardner, and Aaron Hicks looking better than Ellsbury. With an untradeable contract, and outfield prospect Dustin Fowler knocking on the door, the Yanks have their hands full. So, what’s the next step in the Bomber outfield conundrum?

Starting pitching is key for this Yankees squad to have a bright future, short and long term. Currently, New York lacks a definitive ace, and there doesn’t seem to be a starter that they can depend on in postseason situations. Although Severino has been stellar, I don’t think anyone would feel completely comfortable with a 23-year old making a playoff start. With Pineda, it has been an absolute roller coaster ride through his Bronx tenure, and he has yet to appear in the playoffs. Tanaka has been anything but an ace, and the rest of the staff is still somewhat shaky. The Yankees are short on starters, but overloaded with outfield talent. It’s nearly impossible to build a contender entirely in-house in baseball, as there are too many needs and not enough draft picks to disperse evenly. With weak free agency coming up in terms of pitchers, that leaves the only reasonable option as trading outfielders for starting pitching. The prime contender for this move? Clint Frazier.

If you’re a Yankees fan, you know the name Clint Frazier. The highly-touted prospect with flaming red hair and legendary bat speed has already made noise around baseball, despite having never played in the majors. Despite his talent, he doesn’t seem to be a perfect fit in New York. His long, attention-grabbing hair is very un-Yankee-like, and he has a somewhat boastful personality that can get him in trouble (like when he allegedly asked for Mickey Mantle’s number). However, the attention surrounding his name is appealing to many franchises around MLB. A team like the White Sox, who are drowning under the massive Cubs’ fan base, would likely embrace a strong personality in Frazier, and have an elite starter in Jose Quintana to bid for him. If the Yankees throw in another couple of lower-level prospects (such as infielder, Jorge Mateo, who is useless after the acquisition of infielder, Gleyber Torres), Quintana could be a realistic deal with Frazier as the highlight on the New York end.
If Frazier is dealt, that still leaves five great outfielders available to patrol the Bronx outfield. In addition to Ellsbury, veteran Brett Gardner, breakout star Aaron Hicks, and superstar rookie Aaron Judge make up the current outfield. Additionally, Dustin Fowler sits in Triple-A as a supposedly major league-ready prospect, and his quiet demeanor similar to Judge and Gary Sanchez make him look like a perfect fit on the Yankees. But what comes of the others?
Although Joe Girardi has said the veterans won’t lose their starting jobs, it may be time to sit Ellsbury more often than not. Considering his age and proneness to injury, Ellsbury seems to be more productive when playing after rest, and although he is one of the team’s highest-paid players, the Yankees may just have to bite the bullet and do what’s best for the team. Aaron Judge is a lock in right field, and Hicks looks like he could be a great option in centerfield if he keeps up this year’s numbers. That leaves Brett Gardner.
Gardner has been one of the most productive Yankees this season, and is considered the heart and soul of the team. However, Gardner also has a long and consistent history of collapsing in the second half of the season. He plays a tough style of baseball, and his small frame usually can not sustain such a beating throughout the season. Signed through 2018 and putting up near All-Star numbers, Gardner is also an attractive piece of trade bait, who could possibly be added to a Frazier deal in order to hold on to younger prospects. Gardner is by no means a central part of the future of the team at 33 years old. Fowler is hitting .331 in Triple-A, and is the true future of the Yankees. Room must be made for him to thrive, with a year or so to adjust to New York before the team becomes a potential top contender at the end of the decade. If the Yankees keep Gardner, there’s almost no chance he will still be around after his deal expires; so why keep him when there’s a young kid in the minors who’s worthy of an outfield spot?
Having too much of a good thing is the best kind of problem to have, but there are crucial moves to be made by the trade deadline that could decide the future of the New York Yankees. If they make the tough moves in trading Gardner, lessening Ellsbury’s playing time, and dealing Frazier, they can fill essential needs and give young players opportunities to grow. If they keep one foot in the past, it could disrupt the chemistry and development of the team, but if they stay focused on the future, the road ahead will remain bright.

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