Yankees' most important lingering spring training question that needs to be answered

Championship Series - Houston Astros v New York Yankees - Game Three
Championship Series - Houston Astros v New York Yankees - Game Three / Elsa/GettyImages

The New York Yankees have an overarching problem with their 2023 roster that goes beyond one hole or one injury: a distinct lack of left-handed hitters.

The last time this was the case, Brian Cashman overhauled things at the trade deadline, surrendering assets for Anthony Rizzo (win, though you might want to ignore how good Kevin Alcantara looks in Chicago) and Joey Gallo (massive, unyielding loss the size of a black hole enveloping the universe and life as we know it).

This time around, there's a vacancy in the lineup, presenting a clear opportunity to alter its complexion with someone who can balance things from a different side of the plate.

There's also a beloved second-year player waiting for an opportunity, who remains an imperfect fit at the team's current position of need, but who must be used -- in some capacity -- as much as possible.

That means the Yankees' biggest lingering question entering spring training has multiple parts: Who's playing left field? And, if it's not Oswaldo Cabrera, how does the team maximize his role anyway?

Yankees biggest question entering Spring Training 2023

The 23-year-old Cabrera certainly checks a lot of boxes. The biggest downside? Playing him in left field wasn't even a consideration as he zipped through the minors at shortstop and second base.

Cabrera found himself in the outfield last summer with the big-league Yankees out of necessity, but he was learning the intricacies of the position on the fly. He made a number of spectacular catches in right field, but recorded up just eight games in left and had a few adventurous experiences tracking popups in the postseason (and injured incumbent Aaron Hicks with a headlong sprint in ALDS Game 5).

Cabrera racked up 1.9 bWAR in just two months last season and showed off his extreme versatility, all while slamming six tape-measure blasts and hitting .247. His best asset is his ability to play multiple positions, and most of his experience doing so has come in the middle infield. Do the Yankees really want to neuter that advantage by making him their starting left fielder, something that would've been unfathomable entering 2022?

Then again ... what choice do they have? With David Peralta off the board and Jurickson Profar impossible without moving Isiah Kiner-Falefa's money, it seems the left field race will come down to Hicks (uninteresting), Cabrera (imperfect) and non-roster invitees like Rafael Ortega and Willie Calhoun.

The Yankees have clearly planned to address their lineup's balance issue again at the deadline, a dubious strategy at best (why plan to have a problem?). With mere days to go before the spring officially kicks off, the question that still lingers involves whether it's wise to fill a hole with an ill-suited (but excellent) player, and whether shoving Cabrera into left is worth losing him as an infield caddy, the role he was born to play (and something that could help kick Josh Donaldson to the curb)?

The answer? It involves a Kiner-Falefa trade, which broadens Cabrera's role in the infield and clears the money for the team to sign Profar, all in one fell swoop.