Judge would be Yankees' Opening Day CF if season started tomorrow, says GM Cashman
After the New York Yankees completed a trade with the San Diego Padres to acquire superstar outfielder Juan Soto, general manager Brian Cashman said Thursday that Aaron Judge would be the Yankees' Opening Day centre fielder if the season started tomorrow.
Judge, 31, has made 120 appearances in centre field in his 835 career MLB games, including 18 of his 67 appearances in the field last season.
The Yankees have moved on from Harrison Bader and Isiah Kiner-Falefa, who combined to start 95 games in centre field last season, after waiving Bader in August and allowing Kiner-Falefa to enter free agency.
While the Soto trade was made primarily to bolster an offence that finished 29th in MLB in batting average and 25th in runs scored, they also acquired two-time Gold Glove winner CF Trent Grisham in the deal.
Grisham hit just .198 last season though, which makes it difficult to justify giving him regular playing time in centre.
Two concerns arise over the reshaping of the Yankees' outfield from a defensive angle: How much ground can the trio of Alex Verdugo, who was acquired via trade from the Boston Red Sox earlier this week and is likely to play in left field, Judge and Soto cover in Yankee Stadium? And secondly: Will Judge's injury history become a problem with more innings at the demanding position of centre field?
Per Statcast, Judge earned an outs above average rating in centre field of one in each of the past three seasons. Per Baseball Savant, Judge's top sprint speed of 26.6 miles per hour ranks in the 33rd percentile among MLB players, and is likely to get slower as he enters his age-32 season. By comparison, Bader held an OAA rating of nine last season. Verdugo (-4) and Soto (-9) each produced negative OAA ratings.
Judge also suffered a turf toe injury playing centre field last season that cost him more than 50 games, and outside of a pair of healthy seasons in 2021 and 22, Judge has missed over a quarter of games every year since 2018.
Cashman indicated that Judge's toe injury is a "resolved issue," and that the team thinks it is "behind him."
MLB.com's Bryan Hoch reports that Cashman and the Yankees feel their outfield is set with Verdugo, Judge and Soto as the regulars and Grisham as the fourth option on the bench, and that the team is primarily focused on improving their pitching moving forward in the off-season.