Everyone likes Brett Gardner . His hard-nosed brand of baseball is a relic of the past. He’s been born and bred as a Yankee. But the Yankees need to quickly decide if he’s worth $12.5 million for next season…
Brett Gardner has owned left field for the Yankees since his rookie season in 2009. His workmanlike demeanor on a ballfield has endeared him to teammates and fans alike. At the age of 35, no one can deny Gardner’s prime years are behind him. The Yankees can write him a check today for $2 million, and per his contract, he will become another player in the free agent market looking to find a job for the 2019 season.
Or, the Yankees can re-hire Brett Gardner to play for the Yankees again, one last time, for $12.5 million, if the team decides to pick up the option they hold per the same contract.
This is probably not the way the Yankees and Brian Cashman prefer to begin an offseason that is likely to bring a series of changes to the Yankees roster as we know it today. This one decision holds a domino effect on the team’s composition and therefore needs to be moved to the forefront.
Anyone looking at Brett Gardner’s numbers can see there has been a steady, though not rapid, decline. His batting average was thirty points under his lifetime average in 2018, and his speed on the bases diminished to only half (16) the stolen bases he previously generated for the Yankees.
The choice facing the Yankees regarding Brett Gardner is directly tied to another Yankee with similar circumstances, CC Sabathia. Both players engineer the Yankees clubhouse and maintain a profound and positive impact on the (still) younger players who seek models for what it a takes to be a successful player in the 21st Century major leagues.
But at some point, the strings will be cut. The question is – do it now or go one more season? Who holds the mantle in the absence of Gardner and Sabathia? We know that sooner or later Aaron Judge, Gleyber Torres, Didi Gregorius (no, not Giancarlo Stanton) are all up to the challenge. But are they ready now?
The other side of the question is equally compelling, though. And that is can Gardner and Sabathia help the Yankees in 2019, and if they can what is the point of going any further? Sign both and move on – now.
Brett Gardner had 609 plate appearances for the Yankees last year, and that is nothing to sneeze at for an “old man.” Likewise, Sabathia made 29 starts for the Yankees, complementing a somewhat beleaguered pitching staff. Those contributions will not be easily replaced, should the Yankees decide to move on from both players now.
Somewhere in Brian Cashman’s office, there’s a big whiteboard with the Yankees offseason planned out. And somewhere on that board are the names Gardner and Sabathia with a tier assigned to their future. Gotta have ’em, hope to have ’em, don’t need ’em – only Brian Cashman is privy to those deductions for all Yankee players.
Last year, Cashman pushed the envelope with Sabathia, waiting until the Blue Jays entered the picture before signing the big lefty to a one-year deal. Cashman was helped by Sabathia openly wanting to return to the Yankees. This year, the Eastern Seaboard is wide open for Sabathia, who lives in New Jersey, a stone’s throw away from Philadelphia and Baltimore, for example.
As for Gardner, the Yankees will surely be waiting for the latest results on the health of Clint Frazier. If ready to go, Frazier will get a long look in Spring Training, with the Yankees hopeful he’s their man in left field.
Adding fuel to the fire, Miguel Andujar, despite the remarkable numbers he posted offensively, has still not gained the confidence of the Yankees for his play at third base. Meaning, if he is not traded during the offseason (hope not, could happen though), the Yankees could slot him in left field to keep his bat in the lineup.
Did you find any answers here? Not likely, but don’t feel cheated, because it’s not likely the Yankees have many answers at this point either.