Not sure if you've heard, but the New York Yankees have, uh, some outfield vacancies entering the 2024 season. Brian Cashman and Hal Steinbrenner would like you to believe that this is the first year they've ever had outfield vacancies. Pay no attention to the franchise's embarrassingly empty recent history in left field.
The Yankees believed, for a brief period in September, that Jasson Dominguez would lock down their center field opening for 2024 and beyond. Unfortunately, he tore his UCL (with no inciting incident). He'll be back in the early portion of the summer. He might need some more seasoning at Triple-A. He's not ready yet.
That means there are now two -- count 'em, TWO -- opportunities for the Yankees to put left-handed batters in the outfield to Aaron Judge's right-hand side. The center field fill-in could easily be Kevin Kiermaier, if he's willing to take a one-year deal. It could also be a higher-profile name like Cody Bellinger, the low-exit-velocity king who bounced back and regained his form with the 2023 Chicago Cubs.
Purportedly, the Yankees will be "in" the Bellinger race 'til the very end (presumably as they chase Juan Soto and suss out the Padres' ambitions). The San Francisco Giants are also dedicated to exploring Bellinger's market after missing out on several centerpiece stars last offseason.
And -- would you look at that! -- those same two teams are reportedly chasing lefty-swinging Korean outfielder Jung-Hoo Lee, son of fellow star Lee Jong-beom and dubbed "Grandson of the Wind" because of his lineage. One year after the Yankees (probably foolishly?) passed on Masataka Yoshida, they have a chance to rectify their gaffe with a similar contact-first player with better foot speed -- so long as they don't "win" the Bellinger sweepstakes.
Yankees, Giants to battle for Korean outfielder Jung-Hoo Lee?
Lee -- stop me if you've heard this one -- had his walk year significantly impacted by ankle surgery, which makes him (hold for applause) a perfect fit for the current Yankees.
In reality, he'll make one-third of what Bellinger ultimately settles on, and he possesses the type of offensive profile veteran Yankee fans have long yearned for. He posted a .349/.421/.575 line to win KBO MVP honors in 2022, but is someone who prizes hitting to all fields rather than selling out for power (though, again, as a potent lefty bat at Yankee Stadium, sometimes the power materializes anyway). As Jon Morosi noted in the video above, Lee wears No. 51 for good reason, and often emulates the rangy one-of-a-kind Japanese weapon who roamed right field at Yankee Stadium for a time last decade.
Committing $200 million to Bellinger is a risky proposition, especially with Dominguez returning. It might behoove the Yankees instead to put all their energy into the Soto (trade AND extension) basket while pivoting to Lee, right before the Giants' eyes.