With the start of Spring Training approaching, anticipation is building for the 2019 season. MLB.com is going around the horn to break down each area of the Yankees' roster, concluding this week with the outfield and designated hitter.• Around the Horn:Rotation | Bullpen | InfieldIt was the first day of
With the start of Spring Training approaching, anticipation is building for the 2019 season. MLB.com is going around the horn to break down each area of the Yankees' roster, concluding this week with the outfield and designated hitter.
• Around the Horn:Rotation | Bullpen | Infield
It was the first day of the Winter Meetings in December, and general manager Brian Cashman was entertaining visitors in a 35th-floor suite of the posh Delano hotel in Las Vegas. One asked, half-joking, when the Yankees' meeting with free-agent outfielder Bryce Harper would take place.
Seemingly baffled by the inquiry, Cashman rattled off the names of six outfielders already under contract: Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Jacoby Ellsbury, Brett Gardner, Clint Frazier and Aaron Hicks. His message was clear: in terms of the Yankees' priorities, the outfield was already considered to be set.
"We don't have an infinite amount of dollars to be playing with in any marketplace," Cashman said then. "I've always said, 'follow what I say.' At no time all winter have I said that I'm looking for an outfielder. The Harper stuff, I'm surprised you're still asking."
Fast-forward to present day, and Harper remains a free agent. It was during that Vegas visit that Cashman referred to his front office as a "fully functional Death Star," and more recently, managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner has advised fans that the roster is never complete until Opening Day.
As currently constituted, New York projects to have Gardner in left field, Hicks in center field, Judge in right field and Stanton as the regular designated hitter. Even without adding another player, the Yankees believe their stacked alignment is already capable of great things in 2019.
• Predicting the Yankees' Opening Day roster
Another year at DH for Giancarlo?
In his first season with New York, Stanton played 36 games in left field and 37 in right field, serving as the DH in 86 games. A similar breakdown this season appears likely; Cashman recently said that he has "Stanton, who's athletic as hell but is forced to DH because Judge is in right and I've got Gardner in left."
Stanton seemed to accept the DH role, which kept him in the lineup through lingering left hamstring tightness while Judge, Gary Sánchez and Didi Gregorius were all nursing injuries. As a DH, Stanton hit .284/.368/.574 with 24 homers and 60 RBIs last year, compared with .245/.314/.434 with 14 homers and 40 RBIs as an outfielder.
"I think he worked really hard to get settled in to endear himself to his new teammates," manager Aaron Boone said. "The work ethic he showed day in and day out, the consistent person he was through all the ups and downs of the season -- when you look back on it, he turned in a really productive year."
Where does Jacoby fit?
Ellsbury has not appeared in a Major League game since the eighth inning of Game 4 of the 2017 American League Championship Series, when he pinch-ran for Chase Headley and scored the deciding run of that contest against the Astros. Numerous injuries cost Ellsbury the entire '18 season, concluding with an August procedure to repair a torn labrum in his left hip.
The 35-year-old Ellsbury is said to be healthy and he projects to enter Spring Training much the way he did last year, when Boone viewed him as a potential reserve in left field and center field. Ellsbury's left-handed bat could provide balance to a roster that has grown increasingly right-handed, and he ran better than most on the club prior to the hip injury.
"He had a significant surgery that addressed a significant problem," Cashman said. "We're hoping that we get the player that he's capable of being as soon as possible."
The Yankees fielded proposals for Ellsbury during the winter, though Cashman referred to them as "money laundering" -- a bad contract for a worse one. Ellsbury is owed approximately $42.285 million over the next two years, plus a $5 million buyout for 2021. He also has a full no-trade clause, though any promise of regular playing time could reduce its importance.
Is left a lock?
The Yankees moved quickly to re-sign Gardner following their exit in the AL Division Series, agreeing to a one-year, $7.5 million pact that keeps the longest-tenured Bomber in pinstripes. Cashman believes that Gardner's performance will improve with additional rest; due in part to Judge's injury, Gardner was forced to play more than anticipated down the stretch last year.
"One thing you can count on, because there's three positions out there, injuries are going to continue to happen," Cashman said. "Judge, Frazier, Ellsbury and Stanton's hamstring maintenance during the season created a situation where we had to lean on Gardy more than we wanted."
Even so, Frazier showed up in camp more than a week ahead of the mandatory report date for outfielders, intent to prove himself after losing most of 2018 to post-concussion symptoms. Frazier said that it is his mission to take over regular duty in left field from Gardner.
"Gardy has done such a good job of making me feel comfortable out there, because everyone is coming for someone else's job," Frazier said. "He's made it easier on the younger guys, really just taking time to get to know me. That's helped. I'm trying to be as respectful as I can to him and take the pressure off myself because in the end, it's a game."
Current projected outfielders/DH (2018 stats)
LF Brett Gardner (.236/.322/.368, 12 HR, 45 RBIs, 86 OPS+ in 140 G)
CF Aaron Hicks (.248/.366/.467, 27 HR, 79 RBIs, 123 OPS+ in 137 G)
RF Aaron Judge (.278/.392/.528, 27 HR, 67 RBIs, 145 OPS+ in 112 G)
DH Giancarlo Stanton (.266/.343/.509, 38 HR, 100 RBIs, 126 OPS+ in 158 G)
Who else is in the pipeline? (MLB Pipeline rankings in Yankees system)
No. 1 OF Estevan Florial (age: 21, highest level: Class A Advanced)
No. 13 OF Everson Pereira (age: 17, highest level: Rookie)
No. 16 OF Ryder Green (age: 18, highest level: Rookie)
No. 23 OF Josh Stowers (age: 21, highest level: Class A)
No. 25 OF Isiah Gilliam (age: 22, highest level: Class A Advanced)
No. 27 OF Antonio Cabello (age: 18, highest level: Rookie)
Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and on Facebook.