One of the topics of conversation regarding the New York Yankees roster that might be “solved” without a transaction of note is the center field position. Starling Marte was the only viable option on the market and he was signed by the Mets.
It seems the Yankees understood they missed out in free agency and will have to pay a premium on the trade market, which is why they signed former Atlanta Braves star Ender Inciarte to a minor-league contract last week.
Couple that with the expected return of Aaron Hicks, and it seems as if general manager Brian Cashman is preparing for a platoon situation in center field come 2022. Don’t like it? Well, there aren’t many other solutions at the moment.
We’d much rather prefer a platoon of Hicks and Joey Gallo in center with a Giancarlo Stanton sprinkle in left field when the time is right, but it’s clear Gallo will be entrenched in left based on evidence from last season when he logged zero innings in CF when the Yankees were shuffling between Brett Gardner, Tyler Wade, Estevan Florial and Greg Allen.
Inciarte isn’t totally a shoo-in to make the Opening Day roster, but he’s damn close. A lefty bat and former Gold Glover who can cover a ton of ground at one of the most important positions and provide formidable help in the nine-hole when Hicks is injured/needs rest?
While the veteran did have a couple of rough seasons on the Braves, he was beyond serviceable as early as 2018. Injuries derailed his 2019; the shortened 2020 was a wash for everyone pretty much; and subpar play plus a COVID absence sealed his fate in 2021.
Yankees could be preparing for an Aaron Hicks/Ender Inciarte CF platoon.
Here are his last three full (and best) seasons as a major leaguer:
- 2016 – .291/.351/.381 with 85 runs scored, 3 HRs, 29 RBI, 16 stolen bases, Gold Glove winner, 13 Defensive Runs Saved
- 2017 – .304/.350/.409 with 93 runs scored, 11 HRs, 57 RBI, 22 stolen bases, Gold Glove winner, All-Star, 4 Defensive Runs Saved
- 2018 – .265/.325/.380 with 83 runs scored, 10 HRs, 61 RBI, 28 stolen bases, Gold Glove winner, 16 Defensive Runs Saved
If Inciarte proves he can still play above-average defense, steal bases and make contact, he’ll almost be guaranteed a roster spot. Hicks would no doubt be the “starter,” but Inciarte’s spot on the bench will have a clear label on it.
And in the case of Hicks, he won’t be easy to trade, if that’s even still on your mind. He’s owed a total of $42.16 million over the next four seasons. The Yankees would probably have to eat at least a third of that to make him a viable trade candidate, and we know this new penny-pinching version of the organization is not going to sell off a depreciating asset if it means they’ll have to pay anything.
Is this the worst thing in the world? Not at all. If both of these guys can be the slightly above average versions of themselves, it’s a win. Remember, the Yankees do not need the best players in baseball at every position. It’s a fairy tale these last few generations of fans grew up with because of the late-90s dynasty and final days of George Steinbrenner’s spending, but the game has changed. The Yankees have enough talent to contend; they just need to plug the remaining holes with players who aren’t detrimental on either side of the ball.
Plus, if this is the solution for center field so there can be larger expenditures at shortstop, first base and in the rotation, you have to call that a win.