Sunday, February 28, 2021

The issues surrounding Brett Gardner’s debatable Yankees future

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It’s February, and the Yankees have completed their major chores in preparation for the 2021 season.

All that’s left to do is a little Gardner-ing.

(Sorry. I’ll show myself out.)

Brett Gardner, drafted by the Yankees in 2005 — a few weeks after Deivi Garcia turned 6 years old — remains an unsigned free agent. The Yankees’ 40-man roster currently stands at the maximum 40, with an upcoming move required to make room for recently signed veteran reliever Darren O’Day. They have approximately $9 million to spend before hitting the $210-million luxury-tax threshold.

You can make a strong case for why and how Gardner should be retained for a 14th big league season, and I’m on record as advocating for that.

Lefty hitting

You know how dramatically the Yankees’ position-playing corps has tilted to right-handedness at the plate, and the Yankees re-signed their best hitter, the righty-swinging DJ LeMahieu, this winter.

In last year’s COVID-shortened campaign, the Yankees’ lefty batsmen totaled a .739 OPS against righty pitchers, placing them seventh in the American League. Gardner led the club in homers (five) and slugging percentage (.431) by lefty hitters against righty hurlers. He ranked third in on-base percentage (.370) behind Mike Tauchman (.389) and switch-hitting Aaron Hicks (.382).

Brett GardnerCorey Sipkin

It also should be mentioned that no AL group of righty hitters better handled righty pitchers than the Yankees, and their .842 OPS not only topped that AL subset but also easily outperformed the best lefty-hitting unit against righty pitchers, Boston’s .814.

It also should be mentioned that no AL group of righty hitters better handled righty pitchers than the Yankees, and their .842 OPS not only topped that AL subset but also easily outperformed the best lefty-hitting unit against righty pitchers, Boston’s .814.

Without Gardner, to obtain some lefty offense, the Yankees would count on a bounce-back year from Tauchman, who underwhelmed overall with a .242/.342/.305; more development from Tyler Wade; and perhaps some help from recently acquired switch-hitter Greg Allen as well as Hicks being Hicks.

2.

Hicks’ injury history screams for the Yankees to feature a quality backup center fielder on their roster. Tauchman has graded adequately in small samples there his first two Yankees seasons. Gardner’s metrics have swayed up and down over the same time period. Allen has scored below average in less than a season’s work there.

3. Durability

This must be Gardner’s greatest selling point to a club with two starting outfielders (Hicks and Aaron Judge) as well as a primary designated hitter (Giancarlo Stanton) who have proven to be extremely injury-prone. Gardner, 37, might have phased out or moved on already if not for his remarkable ability to stay on the field and his teammates’ inability to do so.

Over the prior eight seasons, Gardner’s 1,073 games played ties him for 14th place — alongside a guy named Mike Trout — in the entire industry. He’s second among outfielders behind another free agent, Nick Markakis (1,104). The highest current Yankee on that list is LeMahieu, in 27th place with 1,032.

Over the prior eight seasons, Gardner’s 1,073 games played ties him for 14th place — alongside a guy named Mike Trout — in the entire industry.

The highest current Yankee on that list is LeMahieu, in 27th place with 1,032.

4. The luxury tax.

Put aside the matter of whether teams place too much of an emphasis on staying under the threshold (they do, especially with the Basic Agreement expiring after this campaign). How much leeway must a team afford itself for in-season upgrades?

see also

The Yankees argument for bringing back Brett Gardner

CLEVELAND — In the movie “Cocktail,” which I’ve never seen,…

We’ve recently witnessed three big-market teams, regulars visitors to the Major League Baseball tax receiver’s office, purposely get under the threshold to reset their tax rates: The 2018 Yankees and Dodgers and the 2017 Red Sox. The former two clubs gave themselves cushions of about $15 million, and the ‘17 Bosox kicked off about $10 million shy of the tragic number. The Yankees currently reside closer to the ‘17 Sawx.

A thought: LeMahieu stretched out his $90 million jackpot over six years to help the Yankees’ luxury-tax interests. Is there a similarly creative deal, albeit much smaller, to be made for Gardner? Something like $6 million over two or even three years?

I’ll wager $6 million over three years that the Yankees and Gardner find a way to reunite.

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