Offseason questions: Who’s in right?

For a team that feels as though it could be about to undergo some big changes, the Yankees have surprisingly few holes in their projected lineup for 2013. Six regular position and four pitchers who made multiple big league starts remain under team control, and you’ll probably see some of the team’s own free agents return to fill a few of those spots. So, “blow it up!” media histrionics aside, why is there a distinct feeling that things are going to be different in The Bronx when pitchers and catchers report in four long months?

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The right field situation is a prime example. In most circumstances, there wouldn’t even be a right field question. Nick Swisher has manned the position for the past four seasons, and to say he’s done so admirably would be an understatement. During his time in pinstripes, Swisher has hit .268/.367/.483 and averaged 3.75 fWAR per season. He hit .272/.364/.473 in 2012, good for a wRC+ of 128 and the second best on base percentage on the team. In 2011, he actually led the Yankees in OBP. In other words, Swisher has been a very important cog in the Yankee machine over the past four seasons, and we wouldn’t expect his return to be in much doubt most of the time.

But the news of the Yankees’ impending plan to get below the luxury tax threshold has made Swisher’s departure a foregone conclusion, and indeed we heard last week that the Yankees have no intention to offer him anything more than the qualifying offer they have to make in order to get a draft pick when Swisher signs elsewhere. It’s a fairly absurd state of reality, but it’s also the way things are likely to be for at least the next two seasons, so now there’s uncertainty as to who will replace Swisher in the outfield.

One somewhat shocking possibility is that the Yankees bring Ichiro Suzuki back to the team and shift him back to his natural right field. That would have seemed like crazy talk when the Yankees acquired a seemingly fading Ichiro from the Mariners three months ago, but he hit a robust .322/.340..454 in 240 plate appearances for the Yankees, and certainly showed that he was still an asset in the field and on the bases. On the other hand, his lack of production during his final 1,000 plate appearances in Seattle can’t just be ignored, and I wouldn’t bank on the Yankees being willing to carry two corner outfielders with little power in Ichiro and Brett Gardner.

Then again, barring a trade, the alternatives don’t look so hot either. On the 40 man roster, Melky Mesa and Zoilo Almonte aren’t ready for the big leagues, and may well never be, and Chris Dickerson is nothing more than a fourth outfielder. A relatively barren free agent market actually has some intriguing outfielders available, but Cody Ross and Ryan Ludwick are likely to get multi-year deals on the back of strong seasons, and both are a somewhat dubious fit for the Yankees anyway. Melky Cabrera would be perhaps the best fit if he’s amenable to a one year make-good deal following his suspension for failing a drug test, but I doubt the Yankees have much interest in a rematch with the guy they basically ran out of town for being fat and drunk.

All in all, my strong guess is that the Yankees will have Ichiro starting in right field when Opening Day rolls around, probably playing on a contract that will pay him somewhere in the $6-8 million range. That wouldn’t be my preference, but in the Yankees’ new financial reality, it’s probably better than any of the viable alternatives at least.



About Brien Jackson

Born in Southwestern Ohio and currently residing on the Chesapeake Bay, Brien is a former editor-in-chief of IIATMS who now spends most of his time sitting on his deck watching his tomatoes ripen and consuming far more MLB Network programming than is safe for one's health or sanity.

17 thoughts on “Offseason questions: Who’s in right?

  1. Brien, I couldn't agree more with your last paragraph. I think Ichiro and the Yankees and Yankee Stadium are a natural fit for the 2013 season. I do think $8MM for the season is probably closer to the number for his potential 2013 salary. It's not a bad deal at all. And let's keep in mind he did hit 5 HR's and 13 Doubles in 227 AB's for the Yankees. Translate that over the course of a full season of say 600 plus AB's and they are not bad numbers at all.
    BTW, if you do translate those numbers over the course of a full season with the Yankees and Yankee Stadium you pretty much get what Jeter did in 2012. Is there any Yankees fan that wouldn't take those numbers. And Ichiro is a base stealing threat which Jeter really isn't.

    • Agreed. "Once more into the breach" for Ichiro's final MLB season and then figure out the in-house minor leaguers, trades, or free agents.

  2. I get not wanting two punch and judy outfielders starting everyday, but maybe Ichiro can provide more power than we might expect. A .454 slugging is only slightly less power than the right fielder that he would be replacing and with the short porch in Yankee Stadium he could very well hit 15 home runs next year. If we got a year out of Ichiro that ended with an .800 OPS combined with good defense in right and speed on the basepaths it would sure help me get over the loss of Swisher.

  3. It appears that you are saying the Yankees will not spend money to bring in players. If that is the case then I think they will be damaging their unique "product" and why would anyone do that while the bucks keep pouring in?

    • It's that the Yankee owner have declared that they for ONE year will creep under the luxury-tax bar to reset the "repeat offender" status.
      2014 is said to be the crunch year. After that the penalty for going over will be less severe.

    • Chas, the way the new MLB CBA works the Yankees can reset the luxury tax clock so to speak by getting under the Luxury Tax Threshold in 2014 however to stop the revenue sharing piece for other large market teams teams I believe the they have to be under the threshold for 2 consecutive years. In this case 2014 and 2015. If the Yankees so chose they could exceed the threshold limit with minimal expense to them starting again in 2016. And as we all should know the current CBA expires after the 2016 season. Who knows what the new agreement for 2017 and beyond will be or the penalties. Personally, I think after the 2015 season it will be spending as usual for the Yankees. But no one knows for sure either way.

      • The luxury tax penalties aren't going to get any less severe in the future, especially if the Yankees and Red Sox plan to abide by it now.

        • The severity technically may not be be any less but it is possible the threshold may go up in the future just as it will in 2014 from it's current level of $178MM to $189MM.
          BTW, the Red Sox have never really gone over it by very much. And unless I'm mistaken since the luxury tax went into effect the Red Sox have only exceed it 2 or 3 times and never 3 years in a row.

  4. On the trade front, what might it take to get justin upton out of arizona? A package centered around nunez seems to make sense for both teams, unless the dbacks LOVE pennington at short.

  5. Depends on what the Diamondbacks want. With Banuelos off the table I can't imagine the Yankees having enough to land him, but then I couldn't see them trading Chris Young to get Heath Bell before they did that either.

  6. I like Ichiro and for the right price it wouldn't be a bad signing. But with Ichiro, A-Rod, and Jeter you have a 39-year-old, 37-year-old, and 38-year old occupying three of your nine starting positions. I would be surprised if one or two of them didn't miss substantial playing time over the course of a season. And doesn't having an all lefty-hitting outfield leave them a little vulnerable to lefty pitching?

    • JEP, not really. Ichiro's splits against Lefties and Righies is remarkably similar. For Example, against Lefties his BA is .284 against Righties it's .283

    • I said this months ago on this website, and I still believe that when you are talking about old all time players the only way to evaluate is on a case by case basis because the statistical evidence is so bereft of statistical significance and also wildey variable. How does Ichiro feel? I certainly don't know.

  7. Correct me if I am wrong, but the Yankees don't necessarily need a cheap option in right field so much as a cheaper than Swisher option. Swish wants Werth money; the Yanks cannot afford that. But could they swing, say, Swisher's current salary ($10.5M) over a three or four year period? I imagine that B.J. Upton will command fewer dollars and years than Swisher will. Maybe sign him and have the best defensive outfield in MLB? Hell, keep Ichiro as an awesome fourth outfielder. After all the Yanks can still blow the bank for one more year.