Neither Brian Cashman nor Aaron Boone can give you a precise estimate of how many games Giancarlo Stanton will serve at designated hitter or how often Aaron Judge will be in left field. They really don’t know.
But that’s a good thing.
What they do know is that their frontline outfielders — for now, Jacoby Ellsbury is not in that group, as the fifth guy on the offseason depth chart — are pliable and willing to do whatever they ask and can play multiple positions. Brett Gardner can play all three outfield spots, and so can Aaron Hicks. Judge played a better-than-average right field last season, with speed that is surprising for the biggest position player in baseball history, and though he could play left field on some days, he’s also an option in center field, a spot he manned extensively in college and occasionally in the minor leagues.
The lineup will be dictated by the needs of each day. It’s possible that the Opening Day lineup could be Gardner, Hicks and Judge in the outfield, left to right, with Stanton in the role of DH. But if Gardner is dealing with a minor nagging injury, Judge could play left and Stanton could be in right. Judge is coming back from shoulder surgery, and if he requires additional days off early, then Ellsbury could play center, with Stanton or Hicks in right field.
There’s also the possibility that Stanton won’t take to the DH role and might prefer to play in the outfield most days — and that would not be unusual. Even in the late stages of Albert Pujols’ career, there is a belief that he is more comfortable in his at-bats if he’s playing first base. Some players feel more into the flow of the game if they can focus on defense between their plate appearances, rather than waiting 45 minutes to an hour in the dugout or the clubhouse for each at-bat.
It could be that Stanton will love the DH role and perhaps prefer it. He has started 13 games in his career at that spot, and in that small sample of games, he has batted .333 with an OPS of 1.019. Even so, it probably wouldn’t be in the Yankees’ long-term interest to have the 28-year-old Stanton settle in as a full-time DH with 10 years remaining on his contract. For almost all teams, the DH has become a useful spot to park a player for semi-rest. Last year, 17 position players had plate appearances as the DH for the Yankees.
How Boone arranges his outfield in his first season as the Yankees’ manager will mostly be a feel thing, which is why in January, when snow covers the Yankee Stadium outfield, he can’t tell you if Stanton will play 20 games in right field or 120. The Yankees will all report to Tampa and figure it out together.
Because of that uncertainty, we’ll list both Judge and Stanton in our ranking of the Top 10 right fielders, which was compiled with the input of evaluators from both leagues and with the aid of ESPN researchers Sarah Langs, Paul Hembekides and Mark Simon.