Oswaldo Cabrera went back to Venezuela this offseason a conquering hero.
Will he return to the Yankees as their primary left fielder?
The do-everything utilityman, after a solid first 44 games of his major league career, went home to his native Venezuela and received the kind of welcome he never had before.
“It was really different. People started to know me more, and when I go to other places, people know me and that’s really fun,” Cabrera said Saturday at a “Pinstripe Pride” event at American Dream in East Rutherford, N.J., where Cabrera and many former Yankees, coaches and broadcasters signed autographs. “People recognize me, and that’s one thing that I love.”
Last season, Cabrera established himself as a roaming part of the Yankees’ position-player puzzle, predominantly playing right field, but also getting a good look in left field, while also logging time at shortstop, third base, second base and first base.
Cabrera said over the past few months he has been working out at every position, wanting to ensure he can perform wherever needed. But Cabrera figures to be part of a battle for the starting job in left field, a position at which the Yankees have not upgraded.
If Giancarlo Stanton is designated hitter, Aaron Judge is in right and Harrison Bader is in center field, that leaves Cabrera and Aaron Hicks competing for time in left field.
“I’m working for any opportunity,” said Cabrera, who mostly played left in the postseason. “I’m working at left field. I’m working at shortstop, third base, second base, right field, second base, wherever.
“I’m just working hard so the moment they give me an opportunity, just be in the shape to [run with] that opportunity.”
Thus far, the Yankees have left that opportunity up for grabs. Perhaps wary of the next level of the luxury tax, the Yankees have not made a run at a free agent, such as Jurickson Profar, who would offer a more proven bat in the outfield.
Cabrera’s bat is not proven, but it showed signs of life last season and his glove looked terrific. The minor league infielder was promoted for his major league debut in mid-August, moved around as few players in the game can and showed good pop, with six home runs and a .740 OPS in 171 plate appearances.
His first taste of postseason pitching, though, was sour. In eight games against the Guardians and Astros, Cabrera went 2-for-28 with one homer.
“My goal is to be consistent at the plate, be consistent on defense,” Cabrera said about the upcoming season. “Be me, have fun.”
His competition in left field also will have plenty to prove. The 33-year-old Hicks has faded the past two seasons, during which he has become a target of boos from The Bronx crowd and rarely has hit. Last season, Hicks batted just .216 in 130 games, and his defense became an issue by the end of the season, when his miscues got him pulled from games. Hicks’ season ended in Game 5 of the ALDS, when he injured his knee during an on-field collision with Cabrera.
Signed through at least 2025, Hicks likely will be the front-runner for the Opening Day left field job, but Cabrera (and perhaps long-shot Estevan Florial) can begin to make their claims during spring training in Tampa starting in a few weeks.
“My mentality this year is just trying to be better all the time at each position,” Cabrera said, “just keep grinding.”