Leadoff hitters are typically a key to a team's success. In the Yankees' case, they've jumped out to an 11-7 record despite left fielder Brett Gardner's incredibly poor start at the plate. Is it too early to look at the future without the Yankees' home grown outfielder and is it too late to receive a good return in a trade?
Gardner is hitting .182 with a .318 on-base percentage, .236 slugging percentage and a 68 wRC+ (runs created per plate appearance where 100 is average) in 66 plate appearances on the young season. However, Gardner's troubles go all the way back to the second half of the 2015 season.
The moment Gardner returned from his first All-Star game, he began to backpedal offensively. Gardner has stood at the plate 993 times since July 17, 2015. During the span, Gardner sports a .240 batting average, .334 on-base percentage, .333 slugging percentage and an 86 wRC+. Gardner, once prolific on the bases, has swiped a mere 26 bases (caught six times) in the stretch, though he has five this season. Gardner has managed just three months (out of nine, including this month) with a wRC+ above 100 since August 2015. These are not small samples.
Ever since Gardner signed what was considered an economically sound deal before the 2015, his name perpetually surfaced in the rumor mill in July and in the offseason. This past winter it seemed the Yankees were shopping Gardner versus accepting phone calls about him. To this point, the Yankees have been underwhelmed by offers from other teams, feeling that they would be better off with Gardner on their roster versus the package they would receive in a trade.
If Gardner continues to fade away at the dish, it is easy to envision the Yankees putting the 33-year-old back on the block. At the moment, center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury is putting up much better numbers (71 PA, .333/.380/.455, 6 SB and a 141 wRC+) and he is going nowhere because of the size of his contract.
Further, the club is finally receiving the production they believed they would get from Aaron Hicks (44 PA, .303/.455/.727, 4 HR, 9 RBI and a 224 wRC+) in a part-time role. It is conceivable that the Yanks might want to see what Hicks can provide with full time at-bats.
It doesn't seem that No. 2 prospect Clint Frazier is going to push the envelope just yet as he is struggling at Triple-A, but if he turns things around by the end of July, he could see some time in the Bronx before the season ends. The Yankees also have players like Mason Williams, Dustin Fowler and Tyler Wade at Triple-A who could fill the fourth outfielder role.
Gardner could certainly turn things around and enjoy an extended stretch of high quality offensive production, while maintaining above-average defense in left field. This of course would do nothing to cement Gardner in New York. In fact, it is better for the Yankees if Gardner shows he's not in a severe decline. The Yankees might have overvalued Gardner in past trade negotiations, but if his stock regains value by July and they have determined it is time to move on, rest assured the organization will not do so again.
Gardner has contributed several fine seasons to the Yankees, including the 2009 World Series title campaign. However, Gardner is being significantly outplayed by each outfielder on the current roster and there are bench options in Triple-A that might be ready by the trade deadline to take on a major league role.
This summer could finally be the time the Yankees pull the trigger on a Gardner deal. The uncertainty revolves around the type of package he will return and whether the organization will be left to wonder if they waited too long to part ways.
Statistics provided by FanGraphs.