If this represented a last-ditch effort to prove he belongs on a team chasing the playoffs, Jake Bauers did not want to think about it.
The Yankees will have to decide if they need another outfielder — either as an everyday player or a platoon bat — by Tuesday’s trade deadline.
In the two days leading into decision day, Bauers performed while focusing on the process and not the stakes.
Bauers smacked his second home run in as many days during the Yankees’ 5-1 loss to the Rays in The Bronx on Monday night, a rare bright spot on another dark night.
Maybe it served as a reminder to his club that his bat, on the other side of a shoulder injury that cost him two and a half weeks in July, still is potent against righty pitchers.
Maybe a strong showing could convince his club that he can be the starting left fielder in a playoff game.
But Bauers, a 27-year-old who debuted in 2018 and has fought to remain in the majors through parts of four seasons, did not want to look that far ahead.
“Trying not to,” Bauers said before he went 1-for-3 with a second-inning homer that accounted for the only Yankees run. “Every day I feel like is an opportunity at this point, and I think that’s how I’ve kind of approached everything this year so far.
“I think if you have that mindset, there’s nothing that really can shake that.”
The Yankees have needed a left fielder since they did not bring back Brett Gardner after the 2021 season, though Bauers has shown hints his bat can fill the void.
The lefty upped his OPS to .811 with nine home runs in 54 games, which is a 27-homer pace for a full season.
With a new mentality and a revamped swing — he “cleaned up some of the mechanics that were causing me problems in the past,” Bauers said — he has been a solid bat, but one with holes.
Bauers does not have a history of hitting lefty pitchers, and his outfield defense — from a player who came up in the minor leagues as a first baseman — has been spotty.
The Yankees have often turned to Isiah Kiner-Falefa and Oswaldo Cabrera against opposing lefties, and it is possible they upgrade Bauers’ platoon partner — or just add a left fielder who plays every day.
As of Monday night, the Yankees had not pounced as outfield options were thinning.
Already traded were righty-hitting Randal Grichuk (to the Angels) and Mark Canha (to the Brewers), while the Cubs have opted to keep Cody Bellinger.
Among the options still on the table were Washington’s Lane Thomas, St. Louis’ Tyler O’Neill and Dylan Carlson and the Mets’ Tommy Pham.
In the past, Bauers said, he might have been monitoring the market and worrying about his job.
“The trade deadline, I think it gets crazy for all 30 teams, and so the more you think about it … you just gotta cancel out everything,” Bauers said. “Just go try and help the team win.”