While a changing of the guard could be in store for the Yankees in left field in 2019, the duo of Brett Gardner and Clint Frazier provides value beyond their battle to hold down one position.
Not all teams have the benefit of a long-tenured player's time seemingly coming to an end while a replacement appears ready to slide into the role. At best, if the Yankees have played their cards right and Gardner's fade as a full-time player is real, Frazier will be right there to seamlessly fill the gap. At worst, the Yankees appear to have versatility assurances in the outfield with Gardner and Frazier on the roster.
The Yankees might have some uncertainty about the immediate situation -- is Gardner in full decline and is Frazier completely over his concussion issues? But they are banking that at least one of the players pans out this season.
The Yankees obviously believe the 35-year-old Gardner has enough value to pay him $7.5 million in 2019, even if it means his time becomes minimized as the season progresses. Gardner remains an elite defensive outfielder and his steady pitch-taking approach at the plate has not wavered. His offensive production took a severe downturn in 2018 (86 OPS+), but he's just one year removed from a 20-homer, 20-steal season.
Meanwhile, Frazier's once highly-touted prospect stock might have taken a hit due to the downtime in 2018, but naysayers might be too quick to write off the 24-year-old. When Frazier was able to play without feeling the effects of the concussion, he put up some stellar numbers at Triple-A in 2018, hitting .311/.389/.574 with 14 doubles, three triples and 10 homers in 216 plate appearances.
How would a transition from Gardner to Frazier transpire assuming good health among the other two outfielders -- Aaron Hicks and Aaron Judge -- and outfielder/DH Giancarlo Stanton?
The Yankees seem content to leave Stanton as the DH for a better part of his playing time, so he doesn't appear to be a big factor in holding back any transition. With still-injured Jacoby Ellsbury out of the picture for the foreseeable future, the team has space on the 25-man roster for Gardner and Frazier to share time in left field early on.
This timeshare could begin as a strict platoon with the veteran left-handed hitting Gardner getting an abundance of the at-bats and Frazier receiving work against left-handed pitching, providing each with a solid advantage at the plate. If Gardner is unable to regain his overall offensive abilities when provided the best opportunities against right-handers and Frazier is mashing lefties, then the Yankees could begin to shift reps to the youngster.
Alternatively, if Gardner does flourish and Frazier has a tough time ramping up to speed, the Yankees could decide to limit starts for the latter. Even then, at a minimum, Frazier would start to understand what being a major leaguer is all about and can utilize the experience to grow as a player. The entire process would allow the Yankees to focus on 2019 while gaining knowledge of what the future holds.
These days, players appearing in 162 games in a season is a rare occurrence, so Hicks and Judge will likely be handed rest days as the season progresses. It is doubtful Stanton will be pushed into the field in these instances as he continues to normalize as a full-time DH. As such, the Yanks will benefit from both Gardner and Frazier being versatile outfielders as both can play center and Frazier can play in right.
If all goes well, the Yankees will receive solid results from the Gardner/Frazier tandem, with Frazier displaying the readiness to either claim the full-time role now or be cast as the starter in 2020. The potential that neither player pans out seems small, but if that occurs the Yanks have the ability and means to shift gears either midseason or in the offseason, making the overall strategy a fairly sound one.