Aaron Boone's first major test as manager may be figuring out how to juggle five outfielders with four full-time positions available.
With Jacoby Ellsbury seemingly steadfast in staying a Yankee -- courtesy of a no-trade clause he does not want to waive -- Boone will have to determine how the 34-year-old slots into the plans for the 2018 season.
Ellsbury is not as terrible as many make him out to be, but he has failed to live up to his astronomical $153 million price tag. And the annual cost certainly doesn't fit the role of bench player. That's the Yankees' fault and it's now haunting them beyond simple performance on the field. There are no two ways about it -- Ellsbury's presence on the roster is going to cause headaches for Boone.
For obvious reasons, Boone will not sit Aaron Judge or Giancarlo Stanton often. The notion that one of them will DH when the other is in right field is great, except for the fact that the Yankees will presumably want to DH Gary Sanchez on occasion to give him a rest from behind the plate, while keeping his potent bat in the lineup. A simple RF/DH rotation between Judge and Stanton is not in the cards.
Brett Gardner is going to receive the most time in left field and Aaron Hicks will slot in a majority of games in center field. That leaves Ellsbury with the shortest stick and deservedly so, but he will surely eat into Gardner's and Hicks' time before he would Judge's or Stanton's -- assuming healthy bodies all around.
Ellsbury would benefit in terms of playing time due to injury to any of the other four players, and there is enough injury history with Hicks and Stanton for the Yankees to believe that "things will work themselves out" as the proverbial baseball thought goes. In turn, Ellsbury is a walking DL stint, so he could be out of the picture through his own malady. However, waiting for either instance to come about will not be in Boone's best interests.
Despite Ellsbury's underwhelming overall statistics since 2014, in which he recorded a 111 OPS+ in his first season in pinstripes, he has manufactured spurts of solid production. Ellsbury displayed better speed in 2017 -- or was more inclined to use it -- swiping 22 bases in 25 attempts in just 112 games.
If there are injuries, Boone's job is easy because of the depth at his disposal. However, if everyone is healthy, the question for Boone becomes how long of a rope he will he allow Gardner or Hicks if they tumble into a skid. Is it 10 games? 15? More?
Gardner endures his share of slumps, while Hicks has yet to put together a season in which he eclipsed 400 plate appearances. In that regard, it would seem that Boone might allow Gardner a longer leash to work through issues than he would Hicks.
Further, with the switch-hitting Hicks being historically more productive from the right side, Boone would have the ability to "get him going" during a slump by using him against lefties alone for a period of time while slotting Ellsbury in against righties. Moreover, there is the potential that Boone will rest Hicks -- regardless of production -- against tough right-handers in an effort to keep the lefty-hitting Ellsbury as fresh as possible.
The idea that the Yankees will let Ellsbury rot on the bench in hopes that he finally requests a trade is rooted in blindness. The writing is on the wall where it concerns him and he is sticking to his guns. In a way, it is hard not to admire his desire to prove the Yankees wrong. And for as much upside as Hicks possesses, he has to take the next step in his progression as a player. If Hicks cannot demonstrate he is an everyday player, Ellsbury intends to jump at the opportunity.
Boone is equipped with multiple options in the outfield and DH, which would be the envy of opposing managers. However, it will be incumbent upon him to balance performance, egos and the ability to derive the most from each player straight from the moment the club arrives in Tampa for spring training. The remedy might fall in Boone's lap due to injury or poor performance, but he must be ready to think outside the box when all is going well in an effort to receive maximum performance value from each of the five outfielders.