Anthony McCarron, SNY.tv | Twitter |
Bang your bat on the dugout ceiling if you want Brett Gardner to return to the Yankees in 2020.
That thumping you hear? Might be GM Brian Cashman or manager Aaron Boone whaling away with a Louisville Slugger.
And why not? The Yankees could use Gardner for a 13th season in pinstripes. And not just because Aaron Hicks recently had Tommy John surgery and figures to be out for at least eight months
There are several good reasons why Gardner, who is coming off the best offensive season of his career at age 36, should be brought back. There is a path for the Yankees to move on, too.
Let's take a look at the Yanks' options regarding their longest-tenured player, who they drafted in the third round in 2005 and watched bloom into a major contributor.
Should they re-sign the free agent veteran or let him walk?
It's clear from Cashman's postseason press conference that he still believes Gardner can perform. Let him tell it:
"I don't think there's any question about what his capabilities are," Cashman said. "He had a tremendous season, both sides of the ball offensively and defensively, including playing centerfield. Obviously he's a free agent. I guess the main question is can he handle planning centerfield 2020, both offensively and defensively? I don't think there's any question."
Gardner, who turns 37 next August, had career bests in OPS (.829), homers (28), RBI (74) and slugging (.503) in 2019 and he was such an integral part of the Yanks offense that Boone slotted him third in the lineup at times in the playoffs.
He was supposed to be a fourth outfielder in 2019, but ended up playing 141 games because of all those Yankee injuries. Only DJ LeMahieu and Gleyber Torres played more. Gardner's been accused of running out of steam late in the season before, but he had a better OPS in the second half and hit 10 homers in September.
Gardner can also be an annoying at-bat. Among active players with at least 3,000 plate appearances, he's third in pitches seen per plate appearance (4.25), behind only Matt Carpenter (4.27) and Mike Trout (4.26). He gives the Yankees a lefty presence, too, something their overwhelmingly-righty lacks.
Gardner also offers speed and smarts on the bases. FanGraphs rated him the seventh-most valuable baserunner in the American League last season.
The Yanks could use Gardner in center field while Hicks heals or even as the left fielder or fourth outfielder if they think the club is better with Gardner as a part-timer. Mike Tauchman, the darling of defensive metrics, is certainly skilled enough to play center. Perhaps Tauchman becomes the regular there while Gardner sees action as a defensive replacement or in a platoon with Clint Frazier or Giancarlo Stanton.
Re-signing Gardner probably makes more sense than trolling the free agent market, which is not exactly awash in every day center fielders. Even if it were, Hicks is signed for six more seasons.
One last point in his favor: Gardner, the Yanks' last link to the 2009 championship and to the old Yankee Stadium, is often credited with bringing leadership to the Yanks' clubhouse. They already took a hit in that department this offseason when CC Sabathia's retired.
Even with Hicks out for months, the Yanks have a lot of potential outfielders. And one of their best prospects, Estevan Florial, is an outfielder, though he's young and has lost development time to injury, which could mean he's not quite ready.
Perhaps the Yanks believe Tauchman is their regular center fielder until Hicks is healthy and Frazier and Stanton see time in left. It might be easier to use Stanton as the full-time DH, though, and Frazier seems like perennial trade bait.
Maybe a healthy Miguel Andújar or Gio Urshela or another infielder learns the outfield to get more at-bats?
There's also the strange case of Jacoby Ellsbury, who is still Yankees property though he has not appeared in a big-league game since 2017. Cashman was not optimistic Ellsbury would be a contributor in the final year of that fateful $153-million contract.
"It's hard to say, based on how things are played out," Cashman said at his wrapup presser. "Right now, he's not someone that's in a position, health-wise, for me to be answering in the affirmative at this time."
Gardner made $7.5 million last season and maybe the Yankees feel like they can cover the outfield without a similar expenditure in 2020. After all, they probably need to add a big-ticket starting pitcher and could divert savings there.
Perhaps they believe Gardner will have a 2020 regression - few saw his big 2019 coming after a down 2018 season. He did hit only .176 in the Postseason, though he did hit one homer.
Gardner told reporters after the season that he still wants to play. The only question is if it's in the Bronx again.