Blue Jays vs. Yankees: Who has the upper hand in a position-by-position breakdown?

New York Yankees v Toronto Blue Jays
New York Yankees v Toronto Blue Jays / Vaughn Ridley/GettyImages
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Left field

The Yankees’ youth movement gets another representative in left field, where Oswaldo Cabrera will get the chance to win the full-time job in 2023. Cabrera will be just 24 on Opening Day and didn’t make his MLB debut until last August.

Cabrera has plenty of power, especially in hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium. It took him 23 games to hit his first home run in the big leagues, but he followed that drought with six homers over his last 21 games, a more than 40-homer pace in a full season. He’s an extreme fly ball hitter, ranking 18th out of 417 players with at least 150 at-bats in percentage of balls hit in the air.

Both of the Blue Jays’ regular left-fielders from 2022, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Raimel Tapia, are now gone. The position was a weak spot in their lineup last season; Blue Jays’ left-fielders combined for just 12 home runs, the fourth-fewest in the league. That won’t be a problem this year with the arrival of Daulton Varsho in a trade from the Arizona Diamondbacks.

The 26-year-old Varsho played his first full season in the big leagues last season and hit 27 home runs while playing in Chase Field, rated as the hardest park to hit homers in. He was the most prolific pull hitter in the league, hitting more than 54 percent of his batted balls to the right side of the field. With the shift now banned going forward, Varsho’s .235 average should rise dramatically with the Blue Jays.

Varsho is also an elite defender. He led all outfielders in Outs Above Average last season and is sixth over the past three seasons.

Advantage: Blue Jays

Center field

Centre field for both teams is manned by two elite defenders who are just getting settled in to their new home.

Harrison Bader was traded to the Yankees from the St. Louis Cardinals last August but didn’t make his Yankees debut until September while battling a knee injury. He became a favorite in the Bronx after hitting five home runs during their postseason run after none in his 14 appearances with the club in the regular season.

Bader has speed, stealing 17 bases last season with both the Cardinals and Yankees. He’s also a Gold Glove outfielder, with the fourth-highest OAA among centre fielders over the last two seasons.

George Springer has been the Blue Jays’ regular centre fielder since signing his massive free agent deal before the 2021 season, but he’ll likely move over to right field in 2023 with the arrival of Kevin Kiermaier. The Blue Jays know what they’re getting with Kiermaier after years of witnessing him torment the club while he was with the Tampa Bay Rays.

Kiermaier is one of the premier defensive outfielders of his generation. A three-time Gold Glove winner, Kiermaier ranks second in Defensive Runs Saved among centre fielders over the past five seasons. 

He won’t be a big contributor at the plate; Kiermaier had just a .649 OPS last season before hip surgery prematurely ended his season. But his defense makes up for any offensive deficiencies and, partnering with Varsho, gives the Blue Jays a formidable outfield combo. Kiermaier says he’s fully recovered from the hip surgery and is ready to be a “game changer” for the Blue Jays in 2023.

Advantage: Yankees

Right field

George Springer is a four-time All-Star, World Series MVP, and coming off a season in which he hit 25 home runs while batting leadoff for the playoff-bound Blue Jays. But even that can’t compare with the goliath standing out in right field wearing Yankee pinstripes.

Aaron Judge had a season for the ages in 2022. He broke Roger Maris’ American League record with 62 home runs, vanquishing the ghosts of the Steroid Era. He led the league in homers by 22, the first player to do that since Babe Ruth. His OPS was 92 points higher than the next closest player.

The season was when Judge, at 6-foot-7 both literally and figuratively towering over the sport, became the face of baseball. He was an overwhelming choice for AL MVP, a testament to his history-making season.

The Yankees had a scare this offseason when Judge, a native of Linden, California, appeared ready to head home and sign with the San Francisco Giants. Seemingly overnight, the Yankees front office snatched him away and signed him to a nine-year, $360M contract that will keep him in a Yankees uniform for the rest of his career. He was also named the first team captain since Derek Jeter retired in 2014.

When Judge is on the field, he reigns over the league. No one—not Springer or anyone else the Blue Jays put in their lineup—can compare with what he did in 2022. The Yankees hope he can do it again.

Advantage: Yankees

Designated Hitter

Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge would be the modern-day version of the “Bash Brothers” if not for one fact: Stanton can’t stay on the field.

Stanton hasn’t played more than 140 games in a season since 2018. He missed 52 games in 2022 but still hit 31 home runs and was third in the league in most batted balls with an exit velocity of at least 110 mph, behind only Judge and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. If he and Judge remain healthy, then the Yankees have the most powerful duo in the league.

The Blue Jays used 10 different designated hitters in 2022, often using the position to give Alejandro Kirk, George Springer, or Vladimir Guerrero Jr. a day off from playing in the field. With the signing of Brandon Belt, that could change in 2023.

Belt battled a knee injury throughout the 2022 season before eventually opting for season-ending surgery. But in his last full season in 2021, he set a career-high with 29 homers. In the two seasons between 2020-21, he had a higher OPS than Guerrero or Judge. Belt will turn 35 early this season and, coming off a season ruined by knee problems, shouldn’t be expected to play the field that often. That makes him an ideal regular DH for the club, a powerful, left-handed bat that the Blue Jays lacked last season.

Advantage: Yankees

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