Yankees pass on lefty-swinging outfielder with clear bounce-back potential on cheap deal

Texas Rangers v Seattle Mariners
Texas Rangers v Seattle Mariners / Steph Chambers/GettyImages

For the low price of a minor-league deal with an invite to big-league spring training (the Ol' Derek Dietrich), the New York Yankees could've added a second lefty-swinging outfielder named Calhoun to their muddled left field mix.

Unlike Willie, the former top prospect Calhoun without much of an MLB resumé, Kole Calhoun has an extended track record and an encouraging Yankee Stadium heat map, even though he was quite clearly awful in 2022 with the Texas Rangers.

Often a target of Yankees trade rumors over the past few years, considering he fills a theoretical need that's persisted since 2017, Calhoun instead signed with the Seattle Mariners on Thursday on a minor-league pact. That's a roster with a far less obvious path to playing time, but one run by a GM who clearly understands there's no such thing as a bad minor-league deal.

Worst-case, Calhoun mashes in Tacoma. Best-case, he helps the Mariners with defensive depth and uncorks a few sweet-spot dingers. But it's worth noting that his "best-case" in the Bronx probably would've been better than his ideal outcome with the Ms.

Couldn't Yankees have offered Kole Calhoun a minor-league deal?

There's no pretending Calhoun was anything other than a net-negative player in 2022 on production alone; he subtracted a remarkable 1.5 WAR in just 388 at-bats. But due to park factor and his 2022 profile, it's not unreasonable to believe he was better suited to be a Yankee than a Ranger last year.

Calhoun's Gold Glove defense appears to have eroded last year, placing solidly on the low end of every metric from sprint speed to outfield jump. But despite bottom-tier offensive production, he still hit the ball quite hard, ranking in the 82nd percentile for average exit velocity and 89th for hard-hit percentage.

As Yankee fans saw first-hand last year, sometimes the aging curve hits quickly, sapping Josh Donaldson of any exit velocity-based reasons to believe by taking away his quickness and reaction time. Calhoun is 35 years old -- but, again, minor-league deal. If it doesn't work out, it doesn't work out, but it's surprising the Yankees didn't want to figure it out with some first-hand experience.

Plus, there's the Yankee Stadium of it all. As Pinstripe Alley helpfully laid out, Calhoun would've seen between 6-10 outs and 3-5 doubles turn into homers if he'd played every game at Yankee Stadium, based on launch angle and batted ball data (the ranges take into account the actual heights these batted balls reached). Now, no Yankee plays all 162 games in a season in the Bronx, as nice as that would be. This isn't a simple A-to-B, but it does prove the porch would aid Calhoun in home games.

So would the newest batch of rule changes, which would open up a hole in the shift for Calhoun's hotshots, an issue that affected him more than most.

"Among the 593 players with at least 50 plate appearances in 2022, Calhoun was the fifth-most shifted against; according to Baseball Savant, he faced a shift in 93.4 percent of his trips to the plate. Among the remaining free agents, only Rougned Odor (a second baseman) faced a higher percentage, and by a mere 0.4 percent at that."

Alex Eisert, Pinstripe Alley

Would Calhoun have returned to star status in the Bronx? Probably not. But if a bounce-back was this obvious to layman and bloggers, you'd think the Yankees would've at least taken a flyer.