Squeezing four outfielders into three spots could lead to creative rotations



For all the talk about their shaky infield, the Yankees figure to boast one of the strongest outfield units in baseball this season. They have two legitimate starting caliber center fielders in Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury, as well as two veteran, middle of the order corner outfield bats in Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Beltran. Fitting all four guys into one lineup will take some creativity on Joe Girardi‘s part but nothing crazy.

Girardi confirmed earlier this week that Ellsbury will be his everyday center fielder because duh. They didn’t give the guy $153M not to play center field. Since the Ellsbury and Beltran signings, I think the general assumption has been that Gardner will move back to left field everyday while Soriano and Beltran split time between right and DH. Obviously you want Gardner in the field for his defense, and considering their ages, giving Soriano and Beltran regular turns at DH makes sense.

It’s a wonderful plan in theory, but it is a little more complicated than that. Soriano has never played right field in his entire professional career and neither he nor Beltran have spent much time at DH. In fact, they’ve combined to start only 36 games at DH since 2005. Aside from Soriano’s return to New York in the second half last year, both guys spent the entirety of that 2005-13 period in the National League, so when they were in the lineup, they played the field.

“I don’t know,’’ said Soriano to George King earlier this week when asked about his spot in the lineup. “They said something about DH and left field. I want to be in the lineup, it doesn’t matter where … If I am the DH I will have to make adjustments. When the team is playing defense I will have to find a way to keep my body warm and ready.’’

Being the DH is tough, especially for a veteran player used to playing the field everyday. Baseball players are creatures of habit, and when the routine they’ve spent years crafting has to change, it can be a tough adjustment to make. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible, but it is something to consider. For all we know, both guys could make that adjustment immediately and make this a non-issue.

The right field thing is a little different, particularly for Soriano. Like I said, he’s never played right field before, so if the Yankees do plan to use him and Beltran in what amounts to a right field/DH platoon, he’ll have to learn the position in Spring Training after spending most of his career in left. Again, it’s not impossible, but it is an adjustment that will have to be made by a veteran player with a routine already in place.

(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

It’s possible that Soriano will not have to make that adjustment, however. The Yankees could instead keep him in left field, where he’s comfortable, and put Gardner in right field. Gardner has never played right field in his career either, but his athleticism and relative youth should make the transition easier for him than it would be for Soriano. His speed would also allow him to simply outrun his mistakes. Gardner has a better arm than Soriano and that should be considered as well — runners are going to go first-to-third on singles all day, everyday against Soriano.

“I played [left field] for a couple of years a few years ago. I feel comfortable over there,” said Brett Gardner to Chad Jennings the other day when asked about moving out of center. “I told Joe I can play right too if he needs me to. I’ll do whatever I’m needed to do to help the team win. Wherever I’m playing out there, wherever I’m hitting in the lineup, whatever he needs me to do, I’ll be ready.”

Gardner has already broached the idea of playing right field, so I assume he is on board with the idea. Aside from learning the position, the issue here is that right field in Yankee Stadium is tiny and it would be a waste to stick such a good defender there. There’s more real estate to cover in left and that’s where you want the rangier outfielder. That’s not a deal-breaker but it is something to keep in mind.

If the Yankees want to keep Soriano comfortable and play him in left, the best solution might be a rotation based on whether the team is home or away. At home, Gardner could play left with Beltran in right. On the road, Soriano could play left while Gardner is in right. That way Gardner’s range is used in Yankee Stadium’s spacious left field and Soriano gets to play his usual position.

That arrangement does sound great in theory, but it is a little more complicated than it seems. How will Gardner handle shifting back and forth between positions? Most guys like to have one set position and know where they’re playing everyday. Long homestands and road trips will also throw a wrench into things, especially if the team wants make sure Soriano and Beltran get regular turns at DH to stay fresh.

The Yankees are all but guaranteed to have an excellent outfield defense because of Gardner and Ellsbury, but it will be interesting to see how they handle the right field/DH rotation with Soriano and Beltran. Someone is going to wind up playing out of position most days, it’s just a question of who.

Categories : Defense
  • BamBamMusings

    You could also say, they didn’t give Beltran $45 mil to be a rotating OF. Its all bad news for Ichiro. Hopefully we can trade him for a C prospect.

    • willie w

      why do we need a C prospect, we have too many already. how about SS or 2B or 3B prospect !

      • I’m One

        I believe he’s refering to a grade C prospect, not position C.

        • Jorge Steinbrenner

          If that’s what you’d get for Ichiro, I’d rather just keep him as fourth outfielder. There’s no real need to trade him.

          • jjyank

            Agreed. He still has some value as a defensive replacement, pinch runner, and insurance. Just keep him if he won’t bring back anything of real value, which he won’t.

          • And in merrie olde England

            Ichiro is currently the 5th outfielder and getting paid $6m?

          • Wolfgang’s Fault

            Ditto on Ichiro! He should be able to give them a solid veteran presence off the bench and his “D” is fine as a backup right/centerfielder. Unfortunately, the reality of Ellsbury’s signing makes Gardner expendable. Turn that unpleasantness into a positive by looking for an opportunity to acquire young left-side of infield prospects, particularly a can’t miss shortstop, and if and when that deal presents itself, the chips we have to deal are Gardner and/or John Ryan Murphy, Nunez, and/or a pitcher or two such as Warren/Prescott.

            If you make the multiple player deal w/Gardner, Murphy, and a pitcher or two, they have to get a can’t miss shortstop (prospect – no more than a year or so away) and one or two other quality big-league level contributors such as another quality arm AND someone who upgrades what they’ve got at 3b. Should be interesting to see who they take north when camp breaks, and what if anything they decide regarding Gardner and Murphy. Obviously, they shouldn’t deal them if they aren’t getting definite quality and upside back.

            They likewise need to keep an eye on Kuroda as the season wears on. It’s conceivable that his down August and September is an indicator he shot his load and is no longer the guy who was so solid the first half of last year. If so, they have to have an alternate option just in case. We’ll know with him come June at the latest.

        • The Great Gonzo

          The “C” in “C Prospect” actually stands for Courageous.

    • ALZ

      Don’t like the viewpoint that they didn’t pay him to be a dh. They made the investment, and have him for 3 years. If having him DH a ton this year is going to be what keeps him healthy in year 3 they should do it.

  • Eddard

    It’s a great problem to have. Last year we were stuck with Wells and Ichiro for much of the year and Hafner at DH. This will be an elite outfield. Rotate Soriano and Beltran at DH, give Jete a DH day every now and then and it’ll work perfectly. Ichiro doesn’t need to play at all except to PR.

    • Dalek Jeter

      I cannot believe I’m saying this, and it has to be the first time since he surfaced that I am saying it, but I completely 100% agree with Eddard. Furthermore, he may not be as athletic when he first broke into the league, but Soriano does have decent athleticism and what seems like a decent baseball IQ (high enough to transition from 2nd to a passable defensive LF’er according to Fangraphs) so if he put his mind to it, besides the arm strength issue I could see him being a passable RF’er.

      • Jorge Steinbrenner
        • jjyank

          Well played.

        • Wolfgang’s Fault

          Unless and until Soriano shows he can play right-field, it’s a moot point. I’d worry he’d hurt himself out there and YS3 right-field being even shallower than YS’s 1&2, it’s a difficult right-field to play well. I’d just rather leave him in left field and find a way to deal Gardner for another need such as 3b or a solid shortstop prospect who can be a legit long-term replacement for Jeter. Between Ichiro and Almonte, they’ll be covered defensively backing up our outfield, and who knows, maybe Austin moves quickly and he’s ready for the Bronx sometime this summer. The left-side of the infield is an immediate issue, & they need more upside pitching in the prospect pipeline. I’d really hate to deal Murphy if it’s avoidable as I think he’s going to be a good one. He should command a high price as there just aren’t that many quality catching prospects in the bigs and Murphy qualifies as one for sure. Once again, I think Romine is also a quality catcher, just a couple notches below Moiph, and if he can stay healthy and get some a/b’s at Scranton, he’s still a young enough guy he’s capable of becoming a quality big league receiver as well. Nice problem to have.

    • Wicomico Pinstripes

      Sure, Ichiro doesn’t need to do anything but PR, but realistically he’s going to get a decent amount of playing time at the plate and in the field. I’m not saying he’s going to get 300 PA’s. He might not even get 200, but he’s going to get more than he probably should. Let’s get used to the idea.

  • Jorge Steinbrenner

    Or, as I like to call it, arguably the biggest roster strength we’ve got.

    • jjyank

      I don’t think it’s even arguable, if we’re talking positional groupings.

      • Jorge Steinbrenner

        I was allowing for someone to be able to make the argument as to upside of starting pitching but, yeah, I agree.

        • jjyank

          Upside wise, maybe. But sure-thing wise, I’m taking the OF.

    • Wolfgang’s Fault

      Catcher gives it a run for the money. McCann, Cervelli, Murphy, Romine. Three of those guys could start for any big league team, and Cervelli is a capable backup guy. With Sanchez just a year or two away, and Torrens lower down in the bushes but highly touted, they’ve got some talent here. They need higher upside middle infielders and pitching in the pipeline.

  • Neil

    Earlier in the off-season we should have signed Drew over Beltran. Or it should have been a choice of Cano +Beltran or Ellsbury + Drew

    • jjyank

      Eh I dunno. Beltran’s bat will be better than Drew. I think I’d take the middle of the order bat and worry about the position later rather than the alternative.

      • Jorge Steinbrenner

        We should have signed Drew over Tanaka AND over building the new stadium.

        • Steve_Balboni

          Legitimately we should gave kept Cano and probably not signed Beltran. Once we had Ellsbury we had plenty of outfield. Cano >> Drew

          • jjyank

            Okay, but 3/45 is not the same as 10/240.

  • jjyank

    I’m not sure I like the idea of Gardner flipping back and forth between corners.

    If they go with Gardner in RF and Soriano in LF, why not just shade Ellsbury and Gardner toward left-center and right-center, respectively? That way Gardner’s defense isn’t as wasted in a small RF, Soriano is comfortable, and he won’t be responsible for as large of an area to cover.

    Just a thought. I realize this may lead to more base hits down the RF line, but I think it makes more sense than hoping Gardner can handle switching back and forth.

  • http://riveravenueblues mississippi doc

    I don’t think Ichiro is a waste. Somebody will get injured and Ichiro can still play a good defensive outfield, which makes him a good late inning replacement, and has speed. Given that we have him and nobody has made a reasonable offer for him, he can still be useful.

    • Wolfgang’s Fault

      Ditto, but he’s redundant if they keep Gardner. Gardner should be dealt for a quality arm or infield prospect.

  • Joe Blow

    Or you can make the logical move and trade Gardner now before we lose him to FA…

    • Need Pitching & Hitting

      If they are trying to win, the logical move probably isn’t to weaken the team.

      • Wolfgang’s Fault

        Sometimes less is more. They’ve committed to Ellsbury in CF & to leadoff, they’ve committed to Soriano and Beltran in LF & RF respectively, they can’t get anything of value dealing Ichiro & they’ve got Almonte ready to back up their outfielders, as well. Since they’ve actually got two other players in their system w/similar skill sets more or less to Gardner in Heatchcott and Williams, it just adds up that if they can get the right offer somewhere, you deal Gardner.

    • jjyank

      It’s only logical if he brings back something of equal or more value to the 2014 team than he represents himself.

      Let’s here some names. I liked the Bailey idea, but that’s probably off the table now that they extended him.

    • Jorge Steinbrenner

      Who do you suggest they trade him for?

      • TWTR

        I would take a ML reader infielder with upside potential, but I’m not sure you can get one.

        • Jorge Steinbrenner

          So would I, but that’s the point. We’d trade him for that hypothetical that either doesn’t exist or can’t be pried loose for Ichiro.

          I was completely into the idea of using Ichiro to get either Ackley or Franklin under the guise of Ichiro being worth more to Seattle than any other team (for obvious reasons) but, for some strange reason, neither the Yanks OR Mariners shared my enthusiasm.

          • jjyank

            “So would I, but that’s the point. We’d trade him for that hypothetical that either doesn’t exist or can’t be pried loose for Ichiro.”

            Bingo. You can’t say (as the original poster said) that the “logical” move is to trade Gardner before he’s a free agent when there doesn’t appear to be a player that’s worth trading for. If there is an infielder or a pitcher that makes sense and provides equal or greater value than Gardner does for the 2014 team, I’d pull the trigger too. But you can’t make that statement with nothing to back it up.

            • TWTR

              I would even be willing to accept less value in 2014 if it means a high probability of upside thereafter.

              • Jorge Steinbrenner

                Oh, sure. I’d go a AA or High-A kid with strong upside. I just don’t know if we’d get even him.

                • Jorge Steinbrenner

                  ….and, until we’ve got a name attached to that kid, we’re still talking hypotheticals.

                • jjyank

                  A high A kid with upside? Don’t we already have those?

                  The Yankees are trying to win now. Give me at least a stud in AA or AAA, or an MLB player. And no, I don’t think we’re getting that guy for Gardner straight up. And you’re right about the hypothetical thing. You can’t really make this argument without a name attached.

                  • Wolfgang’s Fault

                    They’re always trying to win now. W/Ellsbury aboard, Gardner’s surplus & if he can’t be used to make this years team better, you deal him to make next year’s team better. Now that Jeter’s announced he’s definitely done after ’14, they’ve gotta be smart and find someone either capable of growing into their next starting shortstop or find a player out there w/the kind of upside arm or bat that makes them better come 2015+. There’ll be teams looking for a quality CF and leadoff hitter & if the matchup is right and the return can fill a need, either now or in ’15, they’ve gotta name that tune.

  • Bats

    Lead to creative rotations? Duh….have we forgot who the Yankee Manager is? He’s practically “Mr-Rotate-Everything.” (lol)

  • TWTR

    As long as Ellsbury, Beltran, and Gardner remain healthy, which is far from certain, they’re probably golden, which will definitely offer flexibility.

    Under no circumstances would I put Soriano in LF over Gardner.

  • Get Phelps Up

    Having one of the best outfields and catchers in baseball will be a welcome sight, even with only an average infield.

    • jjyank

      Indeed. I can’t wait to watch it in action.

  • 461deep

    Gardner is not & never has been a RF. His arm is below average and with him in left they have 2/3 terrific OF. Shifting around weakens the entire OF. Yes there is a dilemma here but leave Brett & Jacoby alone & solve it another way. Beltran can play left, DH & spell Tex at 1B. Maybe Tex can play a few games at 3B. Derek will need a few games at DH as well. Soriano will need to accept RF & DH. This is a mix-match puzzle for sure.

    • jjyank

      I don’t really disagree with the start of your comment. A couple things though:

      Beltran won’t be playing LF. I’m going to assume that this is just a typo and you meant RF.

      Tex will not be playing any games at 3B. Just not going to happen, ever.

      • 461deep

        Thanks jj. Yes I did mean RF. You are probably correct on Tex never playing 3rd but he does have some experience there I think. My hazy thought was that to balance the DH roles a
        10-15 games with Tex at 3rd would not hurt. He has the quick reflexes, sure hands, good lateral movement & accurate arm to play some 3rd. This is a team with only catcher & 3rd covered by players under 30. This will necessitate creative line-up altering.

  • W.B. Mason Williams

    Gardner plays center-left and Ellsbury center-right.

    5 infielders.

    Hitters constantly try to dunk balls into the corners, resulting in more fouls.

    K’s go up.

    I’ll take my money in cash.

  • peter g.

    Alfonso Soriano has played RF before… Game 5 of the 2003 World Series vs Marlins.

  • CONservative governMENt

    If Gardner gets moved to RF then the team is spineless. One benefit to Jeter retiring is that we’ll no longer have go make non-optimal positional and lineup decisions while worrying about people feeling slighted.

    • Jorge Steinbrenner

      Spineless? Give me a break. We’re talking shifting from one OF corner position to another. Not great, but nothing I haven’t seen teams do a thousand times before for reasons other than what works out best.

      • jjyank

        Any team that shifts a player to a slightly different position is spineless, Fish Fingers. Everyone knows this. Common knowledge. Get out of your mom’s basement.

        • Jorge Steinbrenner

          But it’s so nice and comfy and the pizza’s free.

      • W.B. Mason Williams

        In other news it has been reported that Pat Venditte, in addition to being an ambidextrous pitcher, is the league’s first invertebrate one. #invertebreakingball #nosegregation #mlbclubunderthesea

        • Jorge Steinbrenner

          How does he hold himself upright during his motion?

      • CONservative governMENt

        Knowingly making your team worse to avoid making Soriano uncomfortable is spineless.

        Does listing countless examples of teams being spineless somehow negate the spinelessness of the decision? That seems to be flawed logic.

        • Jorge Steinbrenner

          Read the a post above again, as well as the part about Gardner potentially being on board with the idea.

          80% of this is Mike speculating and laying out how some of this is more complicated than you’d think. You think it’s less complicated. I’ll go with the guy with blog on this one.

  • CONservative governMENt

    Would love to see where you got that 80% number from. Without any data your just making stuff up at this point.