Welcome to part two in this series examining the potential outfield vacancies of the New York Yankees coming at the end of the 2012 season. In case you missed it, here is the first part where we identified the potential free agents the Yanks could be looking at acquiring this upcoming offseason. Now, let’s dive into the second part where we’ll figure out if there are any potential outfield prospects who could take over, if just signing Nick Swisher is the best plan, and if signing both Curtis Granderson and Swisher will fit under the $189M budget the Steinbrenners want to achieve for 2014.
Go With a Farmhand
In a perfect world, there’s always a prospect ready to take over for a veteran. It’s the baseball circle of life. However, rarely does that occur exactly when a team needs it or the young player wants/deserves it. More often than not, a team is forced to sign a stop-gap player to allow the prospect more time to season in the minors or the young player prematurely graduates to the show with a sink or swim mentality from the ball club.
Currently, there are only two outfield “prospects” on the 40-man roster, Zoilo Almonte and Melky Mesa, both of whom are playing for the Trenton Thunder (AA). Almonte is a 23-year-old switch hitter, who owns a .264/.329/.420 career batting line. The knock on Almonte is he never took that next step, which is evident by his poor strikeout rate (26.7% in 2012 so far, not far from his career numbers) and even worse walk rate (5.4% this season, down two percentage points off his career numbers). Also, for an outfielder, he doesn’t possess much power (~.150 ISO) and since he doesn’t steal bags at a great clip he doesn’t have a complete, or even one dominate, tool set required for the position.
As for Mesa, he’s showing a few more signs of life as a prospect, however, being age 25 and stuck in AA ball, shows how much faith the front office has in him going forward. Throughout his career he’s been a high strikeout, low walk, little power-type player. In many ways, he’s exactly like Almonte, both of which will probably peak at the AAA level, but never have enough to make it over the top as a everyday starter in the Bronx.
There are a few others who have caught the eyes of scouts, Yankees brass, and fans alike. Mason Williams is one such player. He definitely has the tools to become an centerpiece of the Yankee outfield for years to come with the only thing holding him back is seasoning. Last season (age 19), he put up some monster numbers (.349/.395/.468) while playing centerfield for the Staten Island Yankees. This season, at Charleston (A ball), he’s hitting .295/.348/.445 with a good 114 wRC+ (100 is average). He’s a Bernie Williams-type who could potentially be a 20-home run, 20-steal player (maybe more). By the looks of it, he won’t be seeing the Bronx until the end of 2014 or start of 2015, which doesn’t help the big ball club now.
Swisher entered his fourth season with the Yankees in 2012 and has hit .265/.362/.485 with 91 home runs and 295 RBI. Overall, the guy can straight mash (at least .223 ISO in three of his Yankee years) and he’s not too much of a liability, for the most part, in the field (-1.4 UZR/150). Overall, he’s been an absolute steal of a trade. The foreseeable issue with Swisher as he ages, as with every player, is he won’t be able to catch up to a fastball, which will force him to cheat and lose the great eye he possesses at the plate. As you can see, he can become a liability at the plate after spending upwards to $13-14M per year on him, which isn’t ideal. Andre Ethier‘s new contract, six-year, $85M, really handcuffed the Yankees at the bargaining table. Brian Cashman was undoubtedly ready to reference Michael Cuddyer‘s three-year, $31.50M contract as comparable compensation for Swisher’s declining years.
As the sub-title says, signing both Swisher and Granderson might be in the Yankees’ plans. However, if they go that route, they will either skimp on pitching (Cole Hamels and Zack Grienke are FAs after 2012) or they will need to over shoot the 2014 $189M budget and pay a huge luxury tax penalty. This doesn’t seem like the best course of action, especially with the huge contracts already being paid out to the likes of Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, CC Sabathia, and Mark Teixeira. If Phil Hughes continues pitching well, he’ll be due a raise through arbitration, as will Robinson Cano. A messy situation just keeps getting messier.
Sign Granderson, Let Swisher Walk
Here is what I believe to be in the works. Granderson will see a new contract after next season (he’ll turn age 32 before the start of 2013), and will likely be moved to a corner outfield position, where conceivably he’ll give way to Brett Gardner in center field, and the Yankees will likely go cheap in the opposite outfield spot as Granderson, and sign a stop-gap scrapheap-type.
If the Yankees want to stay under the budget, sacrifices need to be made. It’s a new concept for Yankees fans to think about and what many fans of other teams experience each offseason. We shouldn’t put it past the club to just go out and pay for a player if he became available, rendering them over-budget. However, that player would need to be a game-changer, such as Matt Kemp or Ryan Braun, both of whom are not coming to the Bronx any time soon.
It’s always sad and awkward watching a beloved player potentially make his last swings in the good guys’ uniform, but with Swisher, we might just be seeing that. The only conceivable way Swisher doesn’t get his payday is if he gets hurt or hits .188 the rest of the way, and none of us want to see that! So sit back, relax, and enjoy watching him play while he’s here, because after this season the Yankees outfield is going to look much different in 2013.