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The New York Yankee Outfield Conundrum: Grisham or Verdugo?

The New York Yankees made their fan base have a holly, jolly Holidays when they made the blockbuster trade for outfielders Juan Soto and Trent Grisham, sending out Michael King and 3 other pitchers as well as catcher Kyle Higashioka. The deal made a whole lot of sense for the Yanks, as they needed outfield help and left-handed hitting, but I'd argue it forces their hand in other ways when it comes to their lineup construction.

Former Red Sox and Dodgers outfielder Alex Verdugo was also a recent acquisition, and while we'll get into the reasoning behind it, I think the slick-fielding Grisham in center, shifting Judge to right and Verdugo to a 4th outfielder role, is a far better fit than the reported Yankee outfield of Aaron Judge in center, Verdugo in left, and Soto in right.

I get it, the idea of having a middle-of-the-order with Soto, Judge, Stanton, Rizzo, and Rizzo is really fun, and the idea of subbing in a really below-average hitter like Grisham might make Yankees fans nauseous.

But bear with me for a minute.

The New York Yankees looked really old, and really behind the times last season. Their roster was fragile, right-handed-heavy, and slow. I mean slow as molasses.

Introducing Juan Soto, a guy who's... at least left-handed, and not quite as fragile as most of the other Yankee players. But they also received an elite defensive centerfielder and very above-average baserunner in centerfielder Trent Grisham.

But ,Grisham's got a disgustingly low wRC+ and Verdugo is projected to be above-average, right?

That's true, although Grisham is also projected to be above-average in wRC+ and both are left-handed, maintaining the Yankees' desire to keep lefties in the lineup to try their best to take advantage of the short porch in right. Verdugo is an above-average corner outfielder with a great arm, but Grisham is one of the better defensive centerfielders in baseball, with 7 outs above average, good for being amongst the top 8% for outfielders (and hey, he's even won a couple of Gold Gloves, not that an arbitrary award should influence the Yankees' decision-making).

More importantly, Grisham's playing center would allow star outfielder Aaron Judge to slide back to right and Soto to go back to left field where his limited athletic ability and range are a bit less important.

With Judge playing such a critical role in the Yankees' lineup (as last year showed), it'd be prudent to avoid putting him at even more of a risk of experiencing more injury at a high-demand position such as center field.

All of this to say, Grisham is the more logical and attractive option for the Yankees, in giving Aaron Judge a less demanding defensive position and improving their outfield defense and athletic ability throughout their lineup, all while keeping a lefty hitter in the lineup and not as big of a dropoff in offensive production as most Yankee fans might think. Verdugo is only projected by Fangraphs to be 3 percent better offensively in wRC+ despite what both players' surface metrics might suggest.

Is Stanton injury-prone enough to solve all of these problems?

Yes, he is. Stanton had a negative WAR last season and hasn't played over 140 games since 2018. His offensive production was abysmal last season, being 11 percent worse than league-average at the DH position while being a liability on the base paths.

Honestly, if he wasn't making so much money the Yankees would be well served to move on from the former MVP and allow Soto to DH and give the outfield more of a defensive look, with Verdugo in left, Judge in right, and Grisham in center.

But, since he's getting $25 million in AAV on his 13-year deal with 4 years left New York is forced to hold onto the veteran DH and trot out an inferior lineup both defensively (and seemingly offensively).

So unless Stanton goes against Yankee GM Brian Cashman's expectations of him inevitably missing time ("I’m not gonna tell you he’s gonna play every game next year, because he’s not"), this problem will solve itself and we'll see both Verdugo and Grisham roaming Yankee Stadium's outfield for an extended period at some point this season.

But until then, I'd recommend giving Trent Grisham a starting job as the Yankees center fielder.

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