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Need a right-handed outfielder? Yankees have been here before

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The Yankees have hole at designated hitter and nothing but backups behind the plate, but general manager Brian Cashman has left no doubt that his current priority is finding a right-handed outfielder. Just this week he told Anthony McCarron that a right-handed outfielder is the “most important thing” [3] on the radar.

“Obviously, we need a right-hander because we have all these outfielders who are left-handed,” Cashman said. “You can get them through trades and free agency, but it’s a limited market and it might not define itself anytime soon.”

Not that this should come as a surprise. Exactly two years ago, [4]I wrote about the Yankees search for a right-handed outfielder to come off the bench and bring some balance. “They just need a guy who can hit left-handed pitching and play the corners reasonably well,” I wrote that day. “Even with those limited expectations, the list of free agent candidates is a short one.”

Might as well say the exact same thing today, because the Yankees find themselves in the exact same situation — though it might be a little more important now that they’ve replaced a switch-hitting right fielder with a left-handed right fielder — and once again, the list of free agent candidates is fairly limited.

Obviously the Yankees could also explore the trade market, but that’s a little harder to pin down. These are the free agents who might fit (some clearly fit a little better than others).

[5]Jeff Baker
Why he fits: Because he’s hit .296/.344/.498 against lefties in his career, and even though he’s coming off a down year, he was still awfully good against lefties in 2011 and 2010. Plus he can play second and third if necessary.
Why he doesn’t fit: Three different teams tried him last year and Baker hit just .240/.277/.388 against lefties.

Lance Berkman
Why he fits: Because he’s a switch hitter and in 2011 he proved he could play the outfield again after not doing it for more than three years.
Why he doesn’t fit: Because he got hurt again last year, there’s no guarantee he can still move well enough for the outfield, and he’s always been a better left-handed hitter than right-handed hitter.

Mark DeRosa
Why he fits: Because he can play all over the field and he’s a career .294/.368/.475 hitter against lefties.
Why he doesn’t fit: Because his career might be over after hitting just .220/.309/.269 and dealing with injuries the past three seasons.

Ben Francisco
Why he fits: Because he can run a little bit, he still fairly young at 31, and during his best years he’s hit left-handers pretty well (.284/.344/.557 against them in 2010).
Why he doesn’t fit: Because he’s not a prototypical platoon power bat, he’s more of a prototypical fifth outfielder who does a little bit of everything but not a lot of anything. In his career he’s an underwhelming .252/.329/.414 hitter against lefties.

Scott Hairston
Why he fits: Because he finished with a career-best .504 slugging percentage last season, and most of that damage came because of his .286/.317/.550 slash line against lefties. Granted, the Mets are different from the Yankees, but the fact he knows New York and has had success here might mean something.
Why he doesn’t fit: Because with Cody Ross signed, Hairston is probably the top right-handed outfielder on the market and he’s reportedly looking for a two-year deal. Might have priced himself beyond what the Yankees want to pay.

[6]Austin Kearns
Why he fits: Because Joe Girardi could use the name “Kearnsy” again. Also because he’s a veteran who’s used to play a part-time role. But mostly because of the “Kearnsy” thing.
Why he doesn’t fit: Because he has odd splits in his career, with better power numbers against right-handers and a better on-base percentage against lefties. He’s a career .253/.372/.394 hitter against left-handers, and last year he hit just .196/.304/.299 against them (.340/.476/.500 against righties).

Carlos Lee
Why he fits: Because he was once a legitimately feared right-handed power hitter and as recently as 2011 he hit .348/.413/.615 against lefties.
Why he doesn’t fit: Because there’s absolutely no indication that he can still play the outfield, his numbers have dipped drastically in recent years, and last season he hit just last year he slugged — slugged! — .298 against lefties. That’s only 10 points higher than Ramiro Pena’s career slugging percentage.

Ryan Raburn
Why he fits: Because he’s still just 31 and is actually a career .256/.324/.472 hitter against lefties. As an added bonus, he can play pretty much anywhere except shortstop.
Why he doesn’t fit: Because my goodness, he was horrible last year. Raburn hit just .171/.226/.254 last season, his numbers against lefties were worse than his numbers against righties. He hit lefties well in 2011, but last year was brutal.

Juan Rivera
Why he fits: Because he could come full circle, having been originally signed by the Yankees before really establishing himself with the Angels. Despite declining production, he still hit .260/.312/.433 against lefties last season. He’s a career .285/.332/.488 hitter against them.
Why he doesn’t fit: Because the Dodgers primarily used him at first base last season, and his slugging percentage has been slipping significantly every year since 2009.

Delmon Young
Why he fits: Because he’s still just 27 years old, finished Top 10 in MVP voting just two years ago and has a career slash line of .307/.341/.483 against lefties. Still some outside chance that he’ll live up to his enormous prospect hype.
Why he doesn’t fit: Because he’s a terrible defensive player and has enough off-the-field issues to raise numerous red flags. The Yankees are reportedly not interested.

Associated Press photos