The Yankees have eight guys who can play the outfield, but only four to five spots available. The only guarantees to make it are Johnny Damon, Xavier Nady, Nick Swisher and Hideki Matsui - who will be used mainly as a DH this year. This leaves Melky Cabrera, Brett Gardner, Austin Jackson and I think Shelley Duncan fighting for essentially one spot in the outfield.
The "Melk Man" leads all four candidates in experience by a wide margin. However, his numbers have been declining each year. He struggled mightily last season (.249/.301/.341). Melky isn't having a great spring, but he still has a strong case for the center field job. He spent most of the 2007 season batting ninth and had 73 RBIs - a solid season in my eyes.
Gardner's great Grapefruit League performance so far should not be overlooked by Joe Girardi, considering he is batting .379 along with three homers and three steals. However, spring training numbers can be deceiving. If you don't believe me, check out this post from Bronx Baseball Daily. When you compare Gardner to Melky, you have to point out that Gardner has superior speed and defense, as well as the potential to become a strong leadoff hitter in the big show. The problem is that Gardner has not proven himself at the Major League level yet - except for his ability to steal bases. Gardner failed to slug .300 last year, which is beyond abysmal and tough to ignore.
He has no Major League experience, but has a lot of potential for an outfielder. He possesses the coveted combination of speed and power and is one of our top hitting prospects. With Gardner and Melky vying for the last spot in the outfield, it is highly unlikely he will open the season in the majors. However, if he is tearing it up in triple-A, the Yankees might be forced to call him up.
Shelley always seems to dominate in spring training, but struggles to translate his success to the majors. Although, he is a nice guy to have in the dugout because of his enthusiastic attitude. He's definitely a good guy to have in the organization, but he might not get a chance to help the Yankees this season with all of the other outfielders.
The Yanks need to figure out who is going to get that fourth or fifth spot in the outfield, and I believe it will be determined by the rest of the games this spring. It's most likely going to be a two-man battle between Melky and Gardner, but a longshot opportunity for Jackson. If the season were to start tomorrow, I'd have Gardner starting center field. But Gardner has to keep his numbers up for the rest of the spring if he's going to hold his starting job in my opinion. If he doesn't, Melky's experience should earn him the nod.
As for Jackson and Duncan, both should start the season in Scranton. Jackson has a good chance of coming up at least once this season, while Duncan needs to continue to hit well in triple-A.
I would definitely support trading Melky or Duncan along with another minor leaguer for a good prospect. I would not want to let go of Gardner or Jackson though; they have too much potential and they are both so young.