The Yankees just got the player who best represents today’s style of baseball. He is Joey Gallo, and when he comes to bat, the fielders might as well take a bathroom break.
Gallo, whom the Yankees acquired in a trade with the Texas Rangers on Thursday, has walked, struck out or homered — the sport’s so-called three true outcomes — in 57.7 percent of his plate appearances this season. His career batting average is .211, the lowest in the majors since his 2015 debut among players with as many turns at bat.
The Yankees, of course, do not concern themselves with the entertainment value of a sport running low on action. Gallo excels at the qualities that matter most to the Yankees, who trail in the American League East and wild-card standings. Besides, they believe Gallo brings much more than strikeouts, walks and homers.
“I’m not concerned that we’re adding a guy that gets on 38 percent of the time this year and hits the ball over the fence,” Manager Aaron Boone said, dryly, before Thursday’s matinee in St. Petersburg, Fla., a 14-0 rout by the Tampa Bay Rays to avoid a sweep.
“We’ve seen over the last month or two a guy that’s really starting to take off again. He’s a great player; sign me up for the guy that’s on base almost 40 percent of the time and has that kind of power and provides that kind of potential balance for our lineup, and on top of it is a two-way player. This is a guy that really defends and can run and do all those things.”
The Yankees traded four prospects — the Class AAA right-handed starter Glenn Otto and three Class A infielders — to the Rangers for Gallo and Joely Rodriguez, a left-handed reliever. Gallo, who earlier this month made his second American League All-Star team, is hitting .223 with 25 homers, 125 strikeouts and a major league-best 74 walks. No current Yankee has a better on-base percentage than Gallo’s .379.
The team was not done. Less than nine hours after formally announcing the Gallo trade, the Yankees announced that they had also acquired Anthony Rizzo, a slugging first baseman from the Chicago Cubs.
Gallo, who cannot be a free agent until after next season, and Rizzo who is in his walk year, will give the Yankees the left-handed sluggers they desperately needed. They figure to slot into the lineup on either two other sluggers, the right-handers Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton.
They will strike out often, to be sure. But at their best, they will wear down pitchers and punish mistakes.
“With Judge and Joey, they’re probably not going to chase a ton — they’re going to make you get in the zone, and that’s where the damage gets done,” said the former left-handed pitcher C.J. Nitkowski, a Rangers TV analyst. “And Joey has never hit in front of anybody as good as Stanton in his career. I can see why they would try to project a higher upside based on where he fits in that lineup.”
There is more to like about Gallo, a Las Vegas native who honed his swing as an amateur with help from the former Yankee Jason Giambi, who ran a hitting facility that employed Gallo’s father as an instructor. Gallo almost never grounds into double plays (just nine in more than 2,100 career plate appearances), and leads all left-handed hitters in homers off lefty pitchers since 2017, with 44.
Gallo is also huge (6-foot-5, 250 pounds) but his size obscures his dexterity in the field. He won a Gold Glove in right field last season and has made at least 30 career starts in left, center and both corner infield spots. This is his seventh season in the majors but is only 27 years old.
“I knew his reputation as an athlete and a defender, but seeing him in Texas when we went there for that four-game series, to see him run, to see him move in the outfield, to see him throw, you really took notice of it,” Boone said. “He really jumps off the screen at you with how physically impressive he is with his athleticism.”
Gallo leads A.L. right fielders in putouts and ranks second in outfield assists, with nine. With Judge in right field for the Yankees, Gallo could play center or left and take some of the burden off the veteran Brett Gardner, who has been pressed into an everyday role because of injuries to Aaron Hicks and others.
Gardner, who turns 38 next month, made a costly two-base error with the bases loaded on Thursday. Boone has not said how he plans to use Gallo, but he will have options.
“He’s gotten into his natural habitat in right; I guess the Yankees will play him more in left, because there’s more room out there and he can cover it,” Nitkowski said. “But the thing that’s interesting about him in center is that there’s not very many center fielders that have good arms — a lot of guys can run but can’t throw — and you just didn’t see guys go first to third on him very often at all. I’m surprised he has as many assists as he does this year and guys are still taking that chance.”
The Yankees have tweaked their bullpen this week, too, acquiring the right-hander Clay Holmes from Pittsburgh for two minor league infielders, sending Luis Cessa and Justin Wilson to Cincinnati for a player to be named later and bringing in Rodriguez, who has held lefties to a .176 average this season (6 for 34) with no home runs.
But their main objective was improving a flawed lineup — and they did that with Gallo, an imperfect player who does a few important things very well.
“No player’s perfect,” Boone said. “But it’s hard to argue we’re not a lot better team adding Joey Gallo.”