The New York Yankees Outfield: Old and Improved by Howard Bender February 20, 2014 Love ’em or hate ’em, they are the New York Yankees and they are still the face of American baseball. They are about winning, they are about hardware (or bling if that’s the word you prefer) and they are all about the big market spending. But we’re not here to judge right now. Whether you think this year’s plundering of the free agent market was more Brittney Spears “Oops, I did it again,” or more Urkel “Did I do that?”, it doesn’t matter, because this is the fantasy baseball section of FanGraphs and that’s what we’re talking here. Our assignment is to tell you who is in this team’s outfield and what that means to fantasy owners, so let’s bypass the small-market, crybaby tantrums and let’s talk game. Over in right field, the Yankees brought in former Cardinals (and Royals and Astros and Mets and Giants) right fielder Carlos Beltran on a three-year, $45M deal. The well-traveled, soon-to-be 37-year-old outfielder is coming off yet another solid season for the Redbirds in which he smacked 24 home runs with 84 RBI while posting a .296/.339/.491 slash line. It wasn’t his most impressive season that we’ve seen, but it seems to be right in the range of what we can expect from him as he moves into the twilight years of his career. No one seems to be expecting huge things from him, as many expect his age to catch up to him sooner or later, but for now, he’s got three-straight years of playing at least 142 games with no fewer than 22 home runs and 84 RBI in a given season and he’s moving to the second-best home run park for left-handers. Survey says….! Ding! Ding! Ding! Draft with confidence. I even wrote about how I would happily scoop him up in fantasy drafts back in December if we were to don the pinstripes and now that he has, that’s just what I’m doing. His current NFBC ADP is at 96.85 and that seems to be about right in other mock drafts I’ve done recently. Giddy up! In center field, the Yankees made an even bigger splash…a cannonball, if you will…in the free agent pool this winter with a seven-year, $153M deal for former Red Sox staple Jacoby Ellsbury. As expected, he’ll patrol center and bat leadoff this season and the expectations seem to be incredibly high. While everyone seems to expect another 50-plus stolen base year for the 30-year-old, they are also clamoring for a power display like the one he gave in 2011 thanks to a move to a very short porch in right field. Personally, I don’t see it all happening and given the fact that expectations are running so high, I am avoiding him in fantasy this year because I am not spending a first or second-round pick on him. For me, the risk is too great. Yes, I think the short porch in right will help add to his home run total, but I see a much more realistic 15 homers than I do something in the 25-30 range. I also see 30-40 stolen bases than I do 50-plus. Why? Because I’m still not convinceD that he’ll make it the full season. I’ve thrown the dreaded ‘injury-prone’ tag onto Ellsbury before and the debates have gone on and on. I cite games played since 2010 and immediately Ellsbury Nation comes back at me with the whole ‘fluke injury’ argument. Back and forth and back and forth we go and the argument gets tired. But since this is my article and my soapbox, I’ll just say this… He is injury-prone. Why? Because injuries have been a constant with him and the style of game he plays makes him more susceptible to them. He’s a dirt-dog, and while we continuously laud players for that style and mentality, it does put them further into harm’s way. Is Ellsbury not going to go crashing into the center field wall a dozen times this year? Yes he is. Is he not going to lay himself out and make a ton of acrobatic, diving catches out there? Yes he is. Is he not going to slide head first into second, third or even home plate? Yes he is. Will he try to take out the second baseman and break up the double play? Of course he will. That’s the game he plays and that’s why we as baseball fans love him. But it’s that style of play that leaves him wide open for these “fluke injuries” and he hasn’t exactly proven himself to be that tough, little piece of iron that Rocky Balboa was when he faced Ivan Drago in everyone’s favorite fourth installment. He’s also proven to be a bit of a slow-healer to boot. And he’s 30! Did I mention that? We’re not talking about some 22-year old kid laying his body on the line here. So while the baseball fan in me can appreciate a guy like Ellsbury, the fantasy GM in me says that I can get my stolen bases for much cheaper further down in the draft by a guy who takes much fewer risks with his body. You can invest the high pick all you want. I won’t and I won’t recommend it. No hate. No snark. No animosity. Just good old-fashioned fantasy-sense. Now you may proceed to roast me in the comments section while I move on to left field. With the addition of Ellbury, the Yankees have shifted Brett Gardner over to left field and pushed him down to the bottom of the order once again. He’s also 30-years old, but far less accomplished than Ellsbury which is why is was so easy to bump him. His power is single-digit at best, his batting average is mediocre and while he’s capable of swiping 40 or more bags in a season, last year’s total of 24 was a major disappointment. Still though, with steals down across the board last year, he was able to post a positive return-value to his fantasy owners. While his value this season will start out on the lower end because of where he hits in the lineup, he should prove himself a worthy fantasy pick in the end. His 173.99 ADP puts him somewhere around the 14th or 15th round in 12-team leagues and in the 11th or 12th in a 15-teamer. That’s not too bad, value-wise, especially if he can hit above .270 for the year and swipe roughly 30 bases. The fourth outfielder job is definitely an interesting one for the Yankees. The DH slot allows them to take Alfonso Soriano out of the outfield logjam and find a way to keep his still-potent bat in the lineup. That leaves the 40-year old Ichiro Suzuki as the primary outfield reserve. They searched for a trade during the offseason but to no avail, so it’s going to be up to them to find a way to keep him involved and, hopefully, happy. After all, his presence is going to be an important factor in helping Masahiro Tanaka adjust to the major league lifestyle in New York, so a happy Ichiro is a helpful Ichiro. His role on the team has yet to be officially defined, but given the players currently occupying the starting positions, it seems his role will be to fill-in every so often, pinch hit when needed and act as a defensive replacement. It’s not the stuff upon which fantasy dreams are built, but should anyone in the outfield get hurt….and I’m not naming and names here…then he’ll see some extra work and maybe help out with some stolen bases. The rest of him is in obvious decline, so relying on him for much more than that would be silly. Waiting in the wings, we’ve got guys like Zoilo Almonte and maybe Slade Heathcott, but for fantasy purposes, that’s really all we need to do is give them a mention.