There’s a decent chance the Yankees will be without Brett Gardner for the rest of the season, but that’s not the only reason they should be keeping an eye on the outfield trade market. Nick Swisher will be a free agent after the season and Curtis Granderson will be after next season, right before the 2014 payroll plan takes effect. Add in Robinson Cano’s impending free agency (after 2013), and suddenly a cheap outfielder looks like something that should be near the top of the priority list.
On the other end of the baseball world — seriously, NL West baseball is like an alternate universe compared to the AL East — a young and cheap outfielder expressed some displeasure with his reduced role. Nate Schierholtz, 28, of the Giants has been relegated to spot start and pinch-hitting duties this season because the starting trio of Melky Cabrera, Angel Pagan, and Gregor Blanco have been so good. Manager Bruce Bochy simply can’t take them out of the lineup. As you’d expect, Schierholtz would prefer to be somewhere with more opportunity.
“There’s not one thing I can’t say I love about this place,” he said yesterday, “but I think I’ve come to the realization that maybe I’m not their guy. I’m not in the cards having a future here … I came in with the expectation to play maybe a little bit more than we’ve seen. A week-long slump kept me back on the bench for a couple more months … It’s a tough hole to dig myself out of and leaves me wondering if they don’t have a future for me here.”
Schierholtz has not and contractually can not request a trade, so he’s just voicing his frustrating. The Giants have no obligation to move him and there’s no indication that they’re even open to the idea, but usually when a player goes public about wanting to play somewhere with more opportunity, it’s only a matter of time before he winds up in a different uniform. That’s where the Yankees potentially fit in. Here’s a breakdown of the San Francisco outfielder…
- A left-handed swinger, Schierholtz has tagged right-handers for a .287/.358/.454 batting line (122 wRC+) this year and .268/.330/.434 (107 wRC+) since the start of 2010. His .166 ISO against righties during that time would surely be better if AT&T Park didn’t have one of the biggest right fields in baseball (89 HR Park Factor for LHB per FanGraphs, 82 per StatCorner).
- Schierholtz puts the ball in play, striking out in a below-average 16.8% of his career plate appearances. Over the last three seasons it’s 15.9% against righties. As you can see from his spray chart, he does quite a bit of damage back up the middle and into the gap the other way.
- Pick any defensive metric — UZR (+17.2), DRS (+7), Total Zone (+1), FRAA (+1.2), or ADR (+11) — and it’ll say Schierholtz is at least an average defender in the corner outfield if not better. He’s a true right fielder with a strong and very accurate arm, one of the better outfield arms in the game.
- He’s cheap and still under team control for a while. Schierholtz will earn $1.3M total this season before being arbitration-eligible for the second time this offseason and the third time next offseason. He’ll be eligible for free agency after 2014.
- Schierholtz is a platoon player. His career .292/.326/.408 line (95 wRC+) against southpaws doesn’t look awful, but it’s a .125/.167/.219 line (-4 wRC+) this year and .231/.275/.286 (52 wRC+) since the start of 2010. He did most of his damage against lefties years ago.
- If he doesn’t get a hit, he’s probably not going to reach base. Schierholtz’s career walk rate is a miniscule 5.9% and he’s swung at 35.8% of the pitches he’s seen out of the strike zone. That’s astronomical. He’s lucky he can make contact well.
- You’re not getting much speed. He’s only 19-for-33 in stolen base attempts in his big league career, a 58% success rate. Down in the minors it was a 68% success rate in twice the attempts. It’s just not his game.
- Schierholtz has been on the DL twice in the last four years, the first time for a groin strain in 2009. Last summer he fouled a ball off his right foot and suffered a hairline fracture, missing a month. I have a hard time counting a fluke injury like that against him, however.
- Schierholtz is out of minor league options, meaning he can’t be sent to Triple-A without first passing through waivers. He also hasn’t played an inning in center field in his professional career. That really limits flexibility.
If the Yankees do let Swisher walk after the season, one of the most cost effective ways to replace him would be with a platoon. I don’t love the idea of using two roster spots to fill one position, but platoons can be very productive as we’ve seen this season in left field following Gardner’s injury. Andruw Jones is an obvious fit for the right-handed half of the Swisher-replacing platoon and a guy like Schierholtz makes an awful lot of sense for the left-handed half. Young-ish, cheap-ish, can hit righties and play strong defense. Lots to like.
At same time, the Yankees are a club that places a lot of value on power and patience. Perhaps the short right field porch would help get Schierholtz over the 20-homer plateau, but he’s not a guy who will work the count and draw walks. It’s just not who he is. He’s going to go up to the plate and swing the bat whether he gets a pitch to hit or not. Robinson Cano is the same way and it works for him, but Schierholtz isn’t that caliber of hitter. The limitations against southpaws and the lack of plate discipline are real knocks against him.
As I said, there is no indication that the Giants are looking to move Schierholtz right now even though he’s unhappy with his role. They’re reportedly looking for a right-handed outfield bat and (like everyone else) bullpen help leading up to the trade deadline, two things the Yankees really don’t have to offer. Since the two clubs don’t match up well in a trade — and the fact that replacing Dewayne Wise with Schierholtz would leave the Yankees without a real backup center fielder — this would probably be a deal best explored in the offseason. I do like him as a player though and think there’s a chance he’ll be surprisingly productive in the friendlier offensive environment.