With the start of Spring Training approaching, anticipation is building for the 2018 season. MLB.com is going around the horn to break down each area of the Yankees' roster, continuing in this installment with the outfield and designated hitter spots.
Around the horn:Catcher | Corner infield | Middle infield
Aaron Boone was walking the hallways of Yankee Stadium this past December, preparing to interview a potential member of his coaching staff, when general manager Brian Cashman summoned the rookie manager to his office. The latest gossip was too juicy not to share.
"'I think we might be getting Giancarlo. Something came together overnight,'" Boone recalled Cashman saying. "You add the National League MVP to what we feel like is already a very strong lineup, the possibilities start to run through your head of what that could look like."
Of course, Boone was referring to Giancarlo Stanton, who paced the Majors with 59 home runs, 132 RBIs and a .632 slugging percentage last season. Though Stanton never experienced a winning season with the Marlins, the 28-year-old slugger understands he now will be measured by his ability to lead the Yankees to a championship.
"This has been quite the experience, quite the road to get here," Stanton said. "I'm very excited to be here and to be a part of the Yankees, and I'm just looking forward to stepping up and being with this winning environment and winning culture."
A power-hitting right fielder was not on Cashman's wish list at the opening of the offseason, not with unanimous American League Rookie of the Year Award winner Aaron Judge in place there, but the organization pivoted once Japanese superstar Shohei Ohtani ruled out nearly every club east of the Mississippi River.
Stanton's addition created the dilemma of how best to utilize the two leading home run hitters in the Majors last season, and Boone is not complaining. The 25-year-old Judge led the AL in runs (128), homers (52) and walks (127), while pacing the Majors with 8.2 WAR.
"It's a really good problem that we have," Boone said. "I think the one thing that makes it workable is both Giancarlo and Aaron are great people, and I think are open to doing what we need to do to make this the best we can."
Both Judge and Stanton are expected to see time in left field this spring, allowing Boone and coach Reggie Willits to gauge their respective comfort levels. Boone also has discussed rotating his DH spot between Judge, Stanton and catcher Gary Sanchez during the season, so as to keep the trio fresh.
Cashman has suggested that though the Yankees might use Judge or Stanton in left field to counter a tough left-hander such as Chris Sale of the Red Sox, 34-year-old Brett Gardner remains the starter. The longest-tenured Yankee, Gardner hit .264/.350/.428 with a career-high 21 homers and 23 steals in 2017.
Aaron Hicks is projected as the starting center fielder, having garnered the starting nod in each of the Yanks' 13 postseason games last year. Hicks hit .266/.372/.475 last year, setting career highs in runs (54), doubles (18), homers (15), RBIs (52) and walks (51) despite two stints on the DL.
Jacoby Ellsbury will report to camp looking to reclaim his starting job. Slowed by a May 24 concussion, Ellsbury returned to form as one of the Yanks' hottest hitters in September. Cashman shopped Ellsbury over the winter, but found no takers, as the veteran is owed $68.5 million over the next three years and has a full no-trade clause.
"We look at Ells as a valuable player still," Cashman said. "He has a chance to be impactful for us. He has an interest, as the competitor that he is, in taking that job back from Hicks."
With first baseman/outfielder Christopher Austin and utilityman Tyler Wade also solid candidates to make the Opening Day roster, New York's crowded outfield mix could mean that promising 23-year-old Clint Frazier is among those who will begin the season in the Minors.
"The one thing that we're thankful for is we have a lot of choices," Cashman said.