Just over a month into the season, the New York Yankees' outfield depth chart continues to morph, albeit perhaps not for the reasons they would prefer. The Yankees optioned Franchy Cordero to the minors following Friday's loss to the Texas Rangers, clearing a pathway for a likely Jake Bauers promotion. Those moves come as the Yankees await the results of Aaron Judge's hip MRI. .
New York entered Saturday ranked 27th this season in both left- and right-field production, as determined by OPS. Giancarlo Stanton scuffled prior to suffering a strained hamstring, and Harrison Bader's own injury-related absence forced Judge back to center field. The Yankees tried to extract some offense in the corners from a combination that included Oswaldo Cabrera, Aaron Hicks, and the aforementioned Cordero. It didn't work.
Where does all the shuffling and struggling leave the Yankees outfield? Let's touch on three things you need to know about the situation, including reason for optimism about Bauers' impending arrival, and other options the Yankees could turn to (both internal and external) should the need arise.
1. Bauers has earned opportunity
We know, we know. Bauers does not appear to be worth much of a look based on his big-league history. In more than 300 contests split across three seasons (most recently 2021), he's hit to the tune of a 78 OPS+. That's not what you want from someone who is best served defensively in a corner position.
You always have to leave open the possibility that a player figured something out -- especially one who was well-regarded during their prospect days. Bauers was never viewed as an elite youngster, but he made Baseball America's top-100 list twice, topping out at No. 45 prior to the 2018 campaign.
Bauers, 27, may prove in time to be unworthy of future consideration, but he's done everything in his power to give himself this chance. Indeed, he batted .304/.448/.797 with nine home runs and more walks than strikeouts in 21 Triple-A games so far this season. His ball-tracking data was overwhelmingly positive, too. He led Triple-A batters in barrel rate -- the percentage of batted balls that met optimal launch-angle and exit-velocity parameters -- by more than six percentage points. He also ranked third in average exit velocity (93.8 mph) and fifth in percentage of batted balls hit 95 mph or harder (55.1%).
Will any of that success port to the majors? Who knows. It doesn't have to transfer in whole for Bauers to be an upgrade over New York's current options.
2. Few other internal options
The Yankees need Bauers to produce and Judge to avoid the shelf because they lack compelling internal candidates to take their roster spots. Bader is expected to return soon, and that should be a positive development. Beyond that?
New York's Triple-A roster includes familiar names like Billy McKinney, Michael Hermosillo, and Estevan Florial. McKinney and Hermosillo, thought to be intriguing options earlier in their careers, have struggled this year. Florial has been an above-average contributor so far, yet the Yankees chose Cordero over him in the spring. Florial then passed through waivers unclaimed, suggesting they aren't the only ones with reservations about his game.
The Yankees recently signed veteran Kole Calhoun to a minor-league contract. He's spent the entirety of his time with the organization assigned to one of their complex affiliates, undoubtedly working on his swing so as to get more from the impressive exit velocities he's posted in recent years.
For those wondering, top prospect Jasson Dominguez is not a realistic option at this point in his development. The 20-year-old remains in Double-A, where he's batted .130/.359/.348 in 15 games this season.
That's it for inside the organization -- what about outside?
3. External options about to shake loose
While it's still too early for the trade market to get moving, the Yankees could have a few new free-agent options to consider in the coming days.
May 1 happens to be the second opt-out opportunity for big-league free-agents who signed minor-league pacts over the winter -- you may have seen this group of players referred to previously as Article XX(B) free agents. There are a handful of veteran outfielders who could, in theory, hit the open market if their current employers do not place them on the active roster: Ben Gamel, Billy Hamilton, Tyler Naquin, and Rafael Ortega. In our estimation, Gamel and Naquin stand out as the most intriguing options.
Both are in their early 30s and have had some decent seasons in the majors when they've been platooned aggressively. Gamel has posted an OPS above .750 versus right-handers in each of the past two years. Naquin, for his part, has a career .794 OPS against righties and even launched 18 home runs against them during the 2021 season. They're not going to replace Stanton's production or anything, but they could represent an improvement over what Hicks and Cabrera have given the Yankees so far this season.
Right now, though, the Yankees need all the marginal upgrades they can fetch.