Brett Gardner is the last man standing from what is now a relic of the past – a Yankees World Title. With time as the enemy, #11 sees only now.
Brett Gardner, himself, is a relic. He’s a throwback to the days when 5’11” 165 lb. ballplayers were the norm in manufacturing a thirteen-year career – all with the same team.
For Brett Gardner, the 2020 season has been a time that called for gut-wrenching reflection. With $82 million collected from the Yankees, and a pandemic looming, would there even be a final season played on the field for Gardner – or would an opt-out be a better choice for his family?
Would 2021 be too much to ask and hope for after two years of last-minute signings by Brian Cashman and the Yankees?
Were the baseball skills that once so easy to execute slipping away as many seemed to suggest, or were they merely dormant and coveted for use at a later time?
Brett Gardner: Saving The Best For Last
As it turned out, there is still something of value left in Brett Gardner’s tank. At the half-way point in the shortened season, he struggled to keep his batting average above the .200 mark.
The power he had resurrected the year before was all but gone, and even Gardner’s trademark on-base percentage had dwindled to .314.
Still, Yankees manager Aaron Boone knew what he had in Brett Gardner, and despite the rise of Clint Frazier, Boone kept running Gardner out there for the stretch drive that would carry the team to the playoffs.
It wasn’t much, but Gardner delivered, batting .288 and getting on-base forty-percent of his at-bats.
Brett Gardner is and always has been the engine that makes the Yankees go. A classic overachiever and very much like Derek Jeter, he’s ever smacked in the middle of anything good that happens with the Yankees.
You knew he would be there, and sure enough, Brett Gardner saw the Indians coming, and he didn’t flinch, collecting three hits in eight tries with two walks, a home run, and three RBI as the Yankees completed a two-game sweep to move on the ALDS.
Yankees Control Whether Or Not #11 Will Play #14
As things stand, the Yankees have a team-held $10 million option or a $2.5 million buy-out on Gardner for next year.
In the final analysis, and with the team not yet knowing that Clint Frazier was ready to grow up to be a New York Yankee this year, the decisions came easy.
Next year, maybe not so much. There will be the usual clamoring among Yankees fans who have united with Brett Gardner as one of their favorites, but as always, the team’s decision will be one based on a single question.
Are the Yankees a better team with Brett Gardner – or not?
Brett Gardner: A Two-Dimension Yankee
And once again, that question needs to be divided into two parts – Gardner on the field and the man in the clubhouse.
As the player occupying the coveted locker space last held by Jeter and then CC Sabathia, every Yankee who enters the clubhouse passes by Gardner.
A pat on the butt, a let’s go get ’em today means everything to the team’s continuity and cohesiveness, suggesting to each player and especially the rookies – “We’re okay, Brett’s here to play”.
If the Yankees retain Brett Gardner for 2021, and it wouldn’t surprise to this writer if he is, it will not be as the Yankees regular left-fielder.
Assuming his outfielders remain healthy, Aaron Boone will not make the big announcement, but Clint Frazier will play the bulk of games for the Yankees in left-field next year.
And Brett Gardner will do what he always does. He’ll report to camp in excellent shape both physically and mentally, he’ll continue to mentor Frazier, and he’ll be ready to play whenever Boone calls on him.
For thirteen seasons, it’s always been that way with Brett Gardner. The consummate pro whose uniform is rarely dirt-free, and above all else, who knows what he can and can’t do on a major league ballfield will trot out to left field Monday night for what may or may not be his final days wearing the pinstripes.
Tomorrow Never Knows
The war of words, spurred on by local media, is ongoing among the Tampa Bay Rays and Yankees. The Rays chief and self-appointed antagonist, Kevin Kiermaier, tried to up the ante on Friday when he said: “I’ve said it many times. They don’t like us, and we don’t like them.”
True to form, Brett Gardner, as the media’s go-to guy for comments, wasted only eight words replying: “I think the feeling is probably mutual.”
Time, like words, is a precious commodity for Brett Gardner these days. Though like always, it’s an excellent bet to know he sees a door opening rather than closing.