Ranking the AL East outfielders:
1. Brett Gardner, Yankees
2. Andrew Benintendi, Red Sox
3. Hyun Soo Kim, Orioles
4. Colby Rasmus (injured)/Mallex Smith, Rays
5. Ezequiel Carrera, Blue Jays
For years, Gardner has quietly been the straw that stirs the drink for the Yankees, setting the table atop the order for the bigger names in the lineup. At age 33, he’s no longer the burner he once was — his 16 steals last year were the fewest he’s ever had in a full season — but he still provides quality defense and on-base skills. By the end of this season, he could be passed atop the rankings by Boston’s 22-year-old Benintendi, who is widely regarded as the No. 1 prospect in baseball.
Kim, after a shaky beginning with the Orioles in 2016, emerged from exile to hit .302 with a team-leading .382 OBP in 95 games. He’ll need to continue being an on-base machine to atone for his lack of defensive range. He’ll likely have Joey Rickard and/or Craig Gentry as a platoon partner and defensive replacement.
The Rays may divvy left field starts between newcomers Rasmus (slowly recovering from October hip surgery) and Smith, which sounds like an Odd Couple promo. “One is a power-hitting veteran. The other is a fresh-faced speedster. Can they share playing time without driving each other crazy? Mondays on CBS!” Meanwhile, the Blue Jays will give the journeyman Carrera a shot at starting duty, but he might not have the bat for it. Melvin Upton Jr. could get some starts as well, which doesn’t make things any better.