The Yankees had two primary center fielders entering last season: Aaron Hicks and Brett Gardner.
Now, Gardner is a free agent whose future with the Yankees is in doubt, with general manager Brian Cashman saying last week Gardner’s agents have said the 38-year-old intends to play again next season.
Hicks, meanwhile, is scheduled to start playing winter ball in the Dominican Republic next week.
“We’re looking forward to him knocking some rust off and being ready to go come spring training,’’ Cashman said.
But he also acknowledged the fact Hicks has been mostly unable to stay healthy throughout his time in The Bronx, which is why Cashman is at least looking at the market for a new center fielder.
“I think I need to explore center field as a possibility, as well,’’ Cashman said. “If there’s things that make sense there for us because, obviously, Aaron has had the last number of years [a history] of injury.”
Most recently, he was limited to just 32 games last season before he underwent surgery to repair a torn sheath in his left wrist. It’s an injury Hicks said had bothered him for some time, which may have led to his struggles at the plate, where he had just a .627 OPS in 126 plate appearances prior to being shut down.
“I know what type of player Aaron is capable of being when he’s healthy and on the field,” Cashman said. “He just hasn’t been able to stay on the field for us. So we’ll see.’’
Cashman left open the possibility of Hicks remaining the regular center fielder going forward.
“It doesn’t mean he’s not going to be manning the position for us,’’ Cashman said. “But I’m going to be looking at all opportunities to see if anything makes sense.”
The Yankees’ primary focus this offseason will be finding a new shortstop, but there are other issues on the roster.
They were interested in Justin Verlander before the right-hander resigned with the Astros, and Cashman didn’t rule out the possibility of still adding to their rotation — something they likely have to do even with the return of Luis Severino.
And though Gary Sanchez and Kyle Higashioka are penciled in as catchers, neither is guaranteed to return for 2022, but outside options are limited.
At first base, Luke Voit remains on the roster — with Chris Gittens also on the 40-man roster — but the Yankees seem almost certain to bring someone else in, whether by signing Anthony Rizzo to a new contract or attempting to trade for Oakland’s Matt Olson.
Their overall outfield depth is fine — with Hicks, Aaron Judge and Joey Gallo, as well as Giancarlo Stanton having proven he can at least occasionally play defense.
However, they don’t have an ideal option for center, which is why they’re at least intrigued by Starling Marte.
Marte, though, is a popular free-agent target after the 33-year-old had an excellent season split between Miami and Oakland.
It remains to be seen if the Yankees are willing to get into a bidding war for a center fielder, especially when there are so many big-ticket shortstops available.
“Our biggest focus is gonna be shortstop,’’ Cashman said. “But we’ll be talking catcher, first base and center field.”