Yankees' bold 2024 strategy of actually acquiring a left fielder is paying off

Genius!
New York Yankees v Los Angeles Angels
New York Yankees v Los Angeles Angels / Harry How/GettyImages
facebooktwitterreddit

As expected, former Yankees outfielder Willie Calhoun has lingered like a specter over this whole Angels series. With a one-run lead in Game 1, there he was to lead off the eighth with a knock/bang to get LAA's rally started. With first and second and nobody out against Clay Holmes in the ninth on Wednesday -- again, one-run lead -- he loomed in the box like a final boss; the Yankees were only allowed to win once he was vanquished on a double play.

Last year, he haunted not only one series, but collections of months at a time. It wasn't Calhoun's fault -- or Billy McKinney's, or Jake Bauers', or Isiah Kiner-Falefa's. All these men knew only how to do their job to the best of their abilities, and each one maxed out their level of contributions over the course of 2023. But not one of them was suited to play left field on an everyday basis for a team with the expectations of the Yankees, and most weren't suited for the outfield at all. They each wound up roaming the grass on something between a whim and a desperation heave. Each was the response to the Yankees' unfortunate prompt of, "Oh God, oh God, Aaron Hicks is so bad, think, THINK!" None of them were set up for success or acquired with any intentionality.

But in the offseason preceding the 2024 campaign, the Yankees approached a blank white board featuring only one question: "Should we acquire one starter for each of the nine positions featured in a traditional baseball game?" Unlike the previous winter, their answer this time around was, "Yes! At least!"

And so the Alex Verdugo trade was born. It wasn't everyone's favorite. Verdugo's history with the Red Sox left a bad taste in most local mouths. Considering the maneuver was completed before the ink dried on a Juan Soto pact, it felt, briefly, like the Yankees were again stepping on their own toes and pre-blocking true greatness.

But Soto materialized, and Verdugo arrived concurrently to put his own stamp on a position that had essentially gone unoccupied the previous year. Thus far, the Yankees' left fielder has his teammates barking like dogs, delivered the difference-making run on Wednesday with an emphatic home run/bat drop combination lefty-on-lefty, and made a diving snag to help Luis Gil in the eighth inning, helping to run his league-leading Defensive Runs Saved total up to eight.

Verdict? Having a left fielder is so smart.

Yankees acquiring Alex Verdugo is paying offensive, defensive dividends (and he makes more sense out there than Willie Calhoun!)

So is employing lefty hitters at Yankee Stadium. It all ... makes sense now.

The best of the Yankees' also-ran outfielders last year might've been Kiner-Falefa, who's been getting rave reviews as a "baseball player" in Toronto this season. No members of that motley Yankees crew deserve scorn for their efforts. Each one was stuck performing side quests last summer on a team stuck in quicksand. When Bauers injured his knee sprinting towards the left field corner in Texas in his very first defensive inning last season, the roster felt cursed. In reality, that was just Bauers' body rejecting the objectively incorrect assignment.

Kiner-Falefa has flourished as a utility man in Toronto. Bauers has been a league-average hitter on a first-place team in Milwaukee, playing first base routinely. McKinney and Calhoun sit roughly between Triple-A and the bigs for the Pirates and Angels, respectively, which feels like a better fit for their careers, at the moment.

Verdugo? He's owned left field in the Bronx and owned the moment far more often than he's shied away from it, and the purposeful nature of his acquisition has already paid off. If only every Yankees problem were this simple to solve.

manual