Yankees can fix their lineup issues with these two solutions

Feb 20, 2018; Tampa, FL, USA; New York Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez (24) hits during batting practice as right fielder Giancarlo Stanton (27) looks on at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 20, 2018; Tampa, FL, USA; New York Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez (24) hits during batting practice as right fielder Giancarlo Stanton (27) looks on at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

Given the appalling play of the Yankees during the last few weeks and how much the team has lost ground to their rivals in the highly competitive AL East Division, it’s time for manager Aaron Boone to make some changes to the club’s lineup.

Any alterations must address at least two glaring weaknesses of the present cast of characters — run production and defense — if the Yanks hope to improve their record and reach the playoffs (maybe as a wild card team at this point).

Boone can significantly bolster the current lineup by playing Giancarlo Stanton in the outfield, particularly when Gerrit Cole pitches since we know Kyle Higashioka will be behind the plate for those affairs. But this can apply to any game Higgy is catching.

Until now, the Yankees skipper has completely benched Gary Sanchez whenever Higgy catches games, thereby removing a potent bat from the lineup. At the same time, Stanton has remained a permanent fixture as the designated hitter, which has hampered the team’s flexibility. That simply needs to come to an end. It cannot continue for another seven years. Don’t even get us started on Stanton not playing against National League teams on the road. That simply cannot be.

The Yanks benefit from Higgy’s superb defensive abilities behind the plate compared to Sanchez. His framing, pitch calling, ability to block balls in the dirt, and game management are solid. While Higgy doesn’t have Sanchez’s arm and power as a batter, he’s more likely to save runs and better guide the starting pitcher.

At this point, the Bombers have 78 games left in the season. Cole will likely have about 17-18 starts during this time and Kluber can get another 5-6 if he’s able to return by Sept. 1. The Yanks also will have eight games against National League opponents on the road. Let’s also include a few other occasions where Higgy will catch, like during doubleheaders or during day games that follow night games.

Specifically, this means that Sanchez can be in the lineup about 25 times more if these tweaks are made. Similarly, Stanton can be in the lineup for eight additional games if he plays outfield in National League parks instead of warming the bench. First up are three games against the Miami Marlins at the end of this month.

Altogether, the Yanks can have two of their best sluggers in up to 30 or more games during the remainder of the season instead of dropped from the lineup under current practices. Having the bats of these two sluggers included in that many more games could significantly increase the Yanks’ chances of winning and making the playoffs.

Is Giancarlo Stanton ready to play the outfield for the Yankees?

At the beginning of Spring Training, Stanton worked out in right field. At the time, Boone said that Stanton was still capable of playing the outfield despite his injury history. It was expected Stanton would see some outfield reps during the spring and as early as April. That never happened.

Then Stanton’s quad injury in May set him back and prevented him from playing the outfield during the Philadelphia Phillies series. However, since June, he has been training to play the outfield.

Here’s what Boone said recently about Stanton and the outfield:

"“I don’t plan on using him in the outfield yet. Conversations started to happen with him even a little bit before he went on the IL, and then that kind of obviously put that on the back-burner a little bit. But it is something that as the summer unfolds, and hopefully, I’m still very open to that being in play. He is starting to work out in the outfield again.”"

Stanton has said that he would like to play outfield again. He is aware of his defensive limitations, and he has been working hard to overcome them. Well, it’s now July. The clock is ticking. It’s been ticking. Now is the time.

Is it better for the Yankees if Stanton plays left or right field?

Although Boone has not addressed, at least publicly, whether Stanton would play right or left field, the slugger has been working out in right field since Spring Training. If that’s the case, then where will Judge play?

Judge has already played center field several times this season. His athleticism is perfect for the challenging position. As we know, however, he is injury prone, and center field is a physically demanding defensive assignment. The Yanks would be taking a significant risk by placing him there regularly. Judge’s natural position is right field, and he is one of the two best right fielders (along with Mookie Betts) in MLB.

In particular, Judge has a cannon for an arm, and his throws from right field reach the infield and home on a clothesline, seldom on a bounce. Runners always think twice before deciding to stretch a single into a double. And opposing players run at their peril trying to go from second to third base. He has the speed and range of a graceful antelope and often surprises everyone when he runs down fly balls that most thought are out of reach.

Though Stanton is no Judge, he was a fine right fielder when he played for the Florida/Miami Marlins. In 8,616 innings, he made only 44 errors and had a .980 fielding percentage.

Yet, he has only played left field for the Yanks up until now. In 386 innings, he had no errors and had an impressive 1.000 fielding percentage. Thus, he could play left field, leaving Judge in right field with Boone platooning lefty Brett Gardner and righty Tim Locastro in center field.

There are no recent definitive comments by Boone about whether he plans to have Stanton play one corner of the outfield or the other. His preference in February appeared to have been playing Stanton in right field with Aaron Hicks in center and Clint Frazier in left. That would’ve left Judge to DH while giving him considerable rest.

Given that both former starters Hicks and Frazier are now on the IL, it’s not clear what Boone will do. But it’ll come down to three factors:

  • How important is it to leave Judge in right field since he already is an All-Star there?
  • How critical is it to have Judge’s superior arm in right field to deter runners from advancing to distant third base and home?
  • Can Stanton play left field well even though he spent most of his career playing right field?

All anybody knows is that the Yankees cannot continue to be held back by lineup construction. There already are far too many limitations. Stanton playing the outfield a couple nights a week really isn’t a big ask, and it could change the complexion of the offense a considerably percentage during the second half.