Yankees mailbag: Offense concerns, Bryan Reynolds and other left-field options

Happy New Year, Yankees fans. We have a little over a month to go until pitchers and catchers report to Tampa for spring training. Until then, you all had so many questions about the state of the team, so we’re going to break up the mailbag into a couple of parts.

As an aside, I’m looking forward to having a full year on the beat. It’s already been a thrill to live out a lifelong dream of being around the Yankees on a day-to-day basis for the past few months. I’m excited to continue growing in this role, building more relationships within the organization and telling stories that you can’t get anywhere else. If any of you have story ideas that you’re interested in, always feel free to drop them in the comments or reach out to me on Twitter or through email. And if you had any additional mailbag questions, write them here. I’ll try to get to as many as I can.

Part one of the mailbag is below. Let’s get to it.

The Yankees spent a fortune, but because Aaron Judge was a re-signing, they essentially have the same offense as last year. That offense was pitiful down the stretch and in the playoffs. How will the Yankees hit enough to win? — Rob M.

To me, this is the biggest issue the Yankees have yet to address this offseason. They lost Andrew Benintendi in free agency to the White Sox, which hurts because he was projected to be a top-of-the-order left-handed hitter for the Yankees this coming season. Their internal left field options in Aaron Hicks, Oswaldo Cabrera and Estevan Florial are downgrades in what Benintendi offers both in the field and at the plate.

Adding more contact hitters was viewed as a necessity for the Yankees after their performance against the Astros but it hasn’t been done yet. There’s still time — and they don’t have to necessarily address this until the trade deadline — but, yeah, the lineup still needs improvements for an October run. Without upgrades, the Yankees will rely on guys like Hicks and Josh Donaldson bouncing back, Giancarlo Stanton and DJ LeMahieu being 100 percent healthy, unproven players like Oswald Peraza and Cabrera being key contributors and Judge being otherworldly.

Adding Carlos Rodón is a significant upgrade for the starting rotation but the Yankees’ rotation in the playoffs was good this season. They just couldn’t hit. At least on paper, it’s a precarious lineup that’s once again too right-hand dominant if no additional improvements are made.

The Yankees’ lineup struggled in the postseason last year but as of now, the offense hasn’t changed much. (Al Bello / Getty Images)

Had to re-sign Judge. Rodón is a great addition. Yankees need a proven LF who can hit consistently, plus another contact hitter. The Yankee lineup performed pathetically against the Astros, and the inevitable injuries are no excuse. Early signs this offseason were encouraging, but Hal Steinbrenner’s recent “we’re not done yet” proclamation better be true in a significant way, or once again the Yankees will fall short in the playoffs. How do you expect this to play out Chris? — A.B.

I agree. This lineup is still the exact same one that flamed out in the playoffs. I think it’s too optimistic to think several of the players they’re currently relying on will all suddenly have much better years than what they showed this past season. Some good news is the Yankees believe LeMahieu will not need surgery on his right toe, according to manager Aaron Boone. But LeMahieu, who turns 35 this season, hasn’t been available in back-to-back seasons at the end of the year and there should at least be a bit of reluctance in counting on him to stay fresh for the entirety of the coming year.

A move that very much makes sense is trading for Pittsburgh’s Bryan Reynolds. He is a left-handed presence at the top of the order that the Yankees need and is a good fielder. The price to land him could end up being high; however, it’s the kind of move that would provide balance to their lineup. I think the Yankees need someone like Reynolds to improve their chances of getting by the Astros, but how desperate they will be in a trade remains to be seen. Acquiring Reynolds will likely cost the Yankees two of their top five prospects.

Unless it’s a trade for Reynolds, I don’t see any other major moves on the horizon. Maybe the Yankees check in with the Diamondbacks to see if they’d be willing to deal Lourdes Gurriel Jr. or Jake McCarthy, but neither of them is on the same level as Reynolds and not as “significant” as you suggest, A.B. Maybe the Cubs decide to trade Ian Happ — which we’ll get to below — and I do think that would be a good addition.

I know you’re probably looking for more concrete answers, but we’re in wait-and-see mode. It’s possible the Yankees run it back with a similar lineup to this past season and hope they get better production, but I don’t think that’s a good idea.

Who is the most likely left-field option for the Yankees? As much as we all love Oswaldo Cabrera, I don’t think we want him as the starting opening day left fielder. Is it Jurickson Profar? Is a trade for Reynolds still not dead? — Matthew K.

As of now, the likeliest left fielders for the Yankees are Hicks and Cabrera. It’s probably not the answer fans want to hear but that’s the realistic scenario heading into spring training. Unless the Pirates lower their asking price of a “(Juan) Soto-type package” for Reynolds, I would say it’s not happening. Reynolds publicly requested a trade earlier this offseason, hoping that would push the Pirates into giving in to his demands but the ball club has, so far, dug its heels in by saying they are not trading the outfielder who’s under team control until 2026.

If not Reynolds, the outside left-field options aren’t very appealing. Profar is the best available option; he’s coming off the best all-around season of his career and he was only a slightly above-average hitter (111 OPS+) for the Padres. Minnesota’s Max Kepler is available; he’s a very good fielder but has posted back-to-back subpar seasons at the plate and hasn’t come close to the production he posted in 2019 when he hit 36 home runs. The Padres are open to discussing trades for two-time Gold Glove winner Trent Grisham, who’s coming off a season in which he hit .184 and finished with an 83 OPS+.

The Yankees may just be better off with Hicks and Cabrera going into the season and reevaluating their options at the deadline instead of throwing resources at non-Reynolds options.

What do the Yankees have to give up in a trade with the Pirates for Reynolds and David Bednar? Is Jasson Domínguez, Domingo Germán or Clarke Schmidt, Hicks (pay half of his salary), Greg Weissert and a few other prospects enough? — Joseph P.

Well, it depends on who the “few other prospects” are because we’re talking about trading for two of Pittsburgh’s best players in Reynolds and righty reliever Bednar. If the Yankees wanted both players, the asking price likely starts with top prospects Oswald Peraza, the favorite to be the team’s starting shortstop this season, and Domínguez. The Pirates reportedly are looking for starting pitching in any Reynolds trades, which hurts the Yankees’ chances of landing him because their depth in that area was depleted after a few trades the Yankees made at the deadline last season. The best the Yankees can do when it comes to trading away starting pitching is either Frankie Montas or Schmidt, and alone, neither comes close to the value of Reynolds (and even Bednar).

In this hypothetical scenario of acquiring both Reynolds and Bednar, the price would likely have to be Domínguez, Peraza, Schmidt, Gleyber Torres and starting pitching prospect Clayton Beeter. It’s a haul but that would likely get them into a conversation with the Pirates.

Recent history suggests Brian Cashman is reluctant to trade top prospects for all-star caliber veterans (see Andújar, Frazier, Nunez, Sanchez, etc.) Do you think Bryan Reynolds, with three years of control, is worth trading Anthony Volpe/Peraza and The Martian for, or do you trust Oswaldo Cabrera as your opening day left fielder? — Derek G.

For a team that has World Series aspirations, I would not trust Cabrera and/or Hicks to be the starting left fielder come opening day. The Yankees would be at their best if Cabrera was a super utilityman playing everywhere and Hicks was a deep bench option if they can’t trade him.

I cannot see the Yankees trading Volpe for Reynolds; that would be stunning and highly unlikely. I do think a Peraza-Domínguez package for Reynolds is feasible and a possibility. If I were the GM of the Yankees, I would strongly consider making that move.

We’ve already talked enough about the lineup problems for the Yankees. They need to be better and it would be surprising if the Yankees rolled into the playoffs with Cabrera and/or Hicks as their starting left fielder. They may not address left field before the start of the season but they have to figure it out by the deadline.

Who’s going to play left field and why would the Yankees not sign Benintendi over issues about one more year and slightly more money? — Sam W.

A team source told me the Yankees pulled out of the Benintendi sweepstakes after they signed Rodón. Benintendi eventually signed with the White Sox for five years and $75 million. Even if the Yankees didn’t sign Rodón, they didn’t have much interest in reaching the five years he received from the White Sox.

Benintendi was on his way to being in the batting title race when he was acquired by the Yankees at the deadline from Kansas City. But for almost the entirety of his short stint with New York, he mostly made soft contact — his BABIP went from .366 with the Royals to .303 with the Yankees. Benintendi looked like he was getting comfortable at the plate with the Yankees near the end of his time before breaking his hamate bone in September, but a five-year commitment for him is rich.

With that being said, it’s still a blow for the Yankees to not have him back because they currently only have two leadoff hitter options on the team in LeMahieu and Judge. The Yankees had Judge lead off often down the stretch but that was partly fueled by getting him the most at-bats possible in his home run chase. LeMahieu likely projects as the leadoff hitter if he’s fully healthy, but not having Benintendi, a much-needed left-handed presence, certainly hurts.

What is stopping Cashman from getting Ian Happ?? — Chris D.

The Cubs likely want to see how their team looks after making a few big moves in free agency before deciding if trading Happ makes sense for them. This is Happ’s final year of arbitration, so if he and the Cubs can’t agree to a long-term extension or if Chicago is awful and becomes a seller at the deadline, perhaps then the Yankees could inquire about his availability. It just seems unlikely he’s dealt before the season with how aggressive the Cubs have been this offseason to improve their roster. I do think Happ makes a whole lot of sense for the Yankees if the Cubs do decide to move him.

Is Kepler a reasonable enough upgrade in left? — Jasmyne E.

No, I don’t think he makes the Yankees better. They might as well go into the season with a Cabrera-Hicks-Florial platoon and see if Hicks’ trade value rises now that shift restrictions are in place. The Yankees need good contact hitters and Kepler isn’t that. If anything, he would likely add to the Yankees’ problems as another player who doesn’t get on base enough and whose value is too tied to home runs that haven’t come in bunches like they did for him in 2019.

What do you think of signing Trey Mancini to play some left field? Him and Cabrera? — John M.

Mancini prefers to play first base, his natural position, so I don’t think he’s a viable option for the Yankees.

Do you see Harrison Bader as a leadoff batter? If not, then who else? — Bob B.

I do not think Bader is a good leadoff hitter option. He was obviously scorching hot in the playoffs and one of the only hitters who did much of anything in both series, but it would be unwise to think that level of production can be sustained throughout a full season. He has a .317 on-base percentage for his career and doesn’t walk much. The Yankees did not trade for him because he’s some feared hitter like he was in the playoffs; they got him because he’s one of the best center fielders defensively.

Why did the Yanks trade Lucas Luetge? He had two solid seasons with them. He’s a left-hander. They got back two pretty ordinary, low-level minor leaguers. — Vincent L.

For those who missed this trade over the holidays, the Yankees traded Luetge to the Braves for minor league right-handed reliever Indigo Diaz and minor league infielder Caleb Durbin. Luetge was a 40-man roster crunch casualty. The Yankees needed to create space to formally announce the Tommy Kahnle signing.

The reason why Luetge was traded is simple: He was never going to be in the team’s plans for 2023 and beyond. Luetge did his job well with the Yankees over the past two seasons, finishing with a 2.71 ERA over 120 innings. Most of Luetge’s appearances were low leverage, and he did not appear in any postseason games.

Losing Luetge means the Yankees currently only have one left-handed reliever projected on the 26-man roster in Wandy Peralta. I don’t view this as that big of a deal right now because Kahnle, Michael King and Ron Marinaccio all excel in getting left-handed hitters out. Plus, Weissert, if he ends up having a bigger role in the bullpen this season, had success versus lefties.

The return for Luetge is actually quite solid considering the Yankees were ready to DFA him. Diaz, 24, was Atlanta’s No. 23 prospect, per MLB Pipeline, finished this season with a 3.08 ERA with four saves and 63 strikeouts in 49.2 innings. He’ll likely begin this season with Triple-A Scranton. Durbin, 22, was not ranked in the Braves’ system and is more of a long-term project. He’s hit .244/.351/.363 with eight home runs, 68 RBI and 43 steals in 122 career games in the minor leagues.

I think that the SS position should be between Volpe, Peraza and Isiah Kiner-Falefa BUT this team still needs a contact hitter to get on base with DJ in order to WIN the World Series. The free-agent pool looks depleted. Are any trades being discussed? — Joe T.

The Yankees feel very comfortable with their internal shortstop options, which is why they were never serious contenders for any of the big-name players who were free agents this winter: Trea Turner, Carlos Correa, Xander Bogaerts and Dansby Swanson. That’s why they stayed out of the shortstop race last winter, too. I also don’t see them trading for a shortstop. The Fernando Tatis Jr. buzz that percolated on Twitter for a few days last month was always weird and made very little sense considering his contract.

As of now, I’m expecting the starting shortstop competition to be between Peraza and Kiner-Falefa. Unless something drastic happens before the start of the season, I’m projecting Volpe will not be on the Yankees’ opening day roster. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him with the team at some point in 2023, but it’s a little farfetched right now to think it’s happening for Game 1.

Why wouldn’t the Yankees go after Correa? — Scott G.

Because of what I just said in my previous answer. They think highly of Volpe and Peraza. With that being said, there’s immense pressure on both of them — mainly Volpe with how much the Yankees have hyped him behind the scenes — to pan out. The Yankees will receive significant criticism if both Peraza and Volpe turn out to be just ordinary players because of all the options that were available to them in free agency that they passed on because of their belief in them.

(Photo: Jamie Squire / Getty Images)

https://theathletic.com/4051027/2023/01/03/yankees-offense-bryan-reynolds-left-field-options/ Yankees mailbag: Offense concerns, Bryan Reynolds and other left-field options

Russell Falcon

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