(1, or the number of wins these two have been worth this season. Courtesy of Getty Images)
There was no shortage of heartbreaking, soul crushing, or facepalming plays in yesterday's 2-1 loss to the Giants. Pick just about anything the Yankees did from the bottom of the 7th on and you're bound to come up with something that killed their chances to win what should have been an easy-to-win game on Mo Day. The worst of the worst came when the Yanks were at the plate, which hardly comes as a surprise after 156 team games that have resulted in a .245/.309/.380 team batting line (.304 wOBA, 87 wRC+).
Vernon Wells and Ichiro Suzuki striking out with 2 men on and 1 out in the bottom of the 7th, while not the worst, was certainly on the medal stand of piss poor offensive moments yesterday. To not even make contact in those at-bats and put the ball in play was the latest slap in the face example of how poorly the front office's plans for cutting payroll and remaining competitive were conceived. Wells and Ichiro haven't just been bad at the plate this year, they've been terrible. They're both coming back next year, as part of an outfield that could be even worse than the 2013 edition.
The best thing that can be said about the 2014 outfield situation is at least there are enough warm bodies to fill the 3 spots. Ichiro and Wells are 2 of those bodies, the least productive of the lot. The Yanks will also have Brett Gardner back in his final year of team control, Alfonso Soriano back in the final year of his contract, and Zoilo Almonte on the fringe as the 5th outfielder/1st injury replacement. The simplest assumption to make for alignment next year would be Soriano in left, Gardner in center, and an Ichiro/Wells platoon in right.
The problem with that plan is the expected production of that RF platoon. Now well settled into their decline years, Wells and Ichiro have become frighteningly similar offensive players: low average guys with little to no power who don't walk or strike out much. Their season batting lines are very similar - Ichiro at .260/.297/.343, Wells at .241/.289/.361 - and that similar hitting makeup leaves no reason to expect any kind of bounce back. It's not like either has developed some hitch in his swing or dramatic loss in bat speed that's causing them to strike out more. They just aren't good hitters anymore and don't do anything of value with the contact they make. They're straight up noodle bat hitters soaking up a lot of at-bats, and those are the worst type of hitters to have in a lineup.
Even in a platoon setting, there isn't much to be gained from these guys. Wells is sporting a serious platoon split this year, with a .732 OPS against LHP that was almost 150 points higher than his output against righties. That OPS is nothing to write home about, however, and it still works out to a hitter who doesn't get on base a lot or hit for much power. Ichiro actually has a major reverse platoon split, with a .759 OPS against lefties and a horrible .588 OPS in almost twice as many PA against righties. Him taking the right-handed portion of the platoon would be pointless, as would Wells giving up the left-handed portion of the platoon. Trying to build a productive platoon from these 2 guys should result in an overall batting line similar to what each player has done individually this season.
The simple solution is to cut Wells at the first sign of him being washed up, which could happen as early as late April or early May of next year. That still leaves the Yankees with Ichiro getting at-bats every day, something that can no longer be considered a viable option, or the unproven Zoilo taking on the role. There's also the concerns about the other 2 returning guys to consider. Gardner once again finished a season on the DL after taking his share of bumps and bruises during the season. Even if he stays healthy next season, and chances are he won't, his offensive output isn't enough to make up for the black holes that Ichiro and Wells are in right. And if you're counting on Soriano to maintain his .368 wOBA pace since being traded over a full season next year, you're probably going to be disappointed. A tripleslash somewhere in line with what he did in his last 2-3 years as a Cub is much more likely.
That uninspiring collection of players makes a qualifying offer to Curtis Granderson in the offseason very likely. There's no guarantee that's enough to entice Curtis to stay though, and after Zoilo there aren't any outfielders in the farm system who will be ready to come up and make an impact as an everyday Major Leaguer next season. The Yankees have painted themselves into a corner with respect to their outfield, and they did it willingly by taking on or offering multiple multiple-year contracts for aging, below-average players. As bad as Wells and Ichiro have been this season, there's no reason they should even be given guaranteed Major League contracts next year. And yet there they will be next spring, back in their Yankee gear and back in the lineup, a cruel reminder of how bad 2013 was, both on and off the field. What a mess.