Brett Gardner is the longest-tenured Yankee, and if it's up to him, that streak will continue next season. Currently in his 12th season in pinstripes, Gardner is one of just two players on the active roster who played on the 2009 World Series champion Yankees. The other, CC Sabathia, is ready to hang up his spikes after this season. That doesn't mean that Gardner will follow him into retirement.
"At this point in the season, I expect to be playing next year. Hopefully it's here," Gardner said on Wednesday. "I feel like I'm definitely still capable."
Gardner is still capable. He is hitting for the highest OPS of his career (.818), is fifth on the team in home runs (17) and is on pace to top his career-best home run mark of 21. He's spent a big chunk of the season filling in the middle of the order while the Yankees' top home run hitters have been injured, and Gardner has helped fill the power void.
However, he doesn't get too analytic when discussing his new approach.
"As you get older, you learn to do different things and make different adjustments," Gardner said.
And that's not even mentioning Gardner's defense. Forced at age 35 into playing more center field than he has in several years, Gardner has been up to the challenge. He hasn't lost a step - in fact, his sprint speed of 29 feet per second is faster than all but 46 other big leaguers, faster than his career average and the fastest of any 35-year-old in baseball.
WAR is not always the best way to measure player value, but Gardner is second on the team in WAR according to both Baseball Reference (3.4) and FanGraphs (2.5). When you factor in how he helps the Yankees in all facets of the game, along with his role as the unofficial captain of the team, it's hard to find reasons not to bring him back.
All of this has come after the worst season of Gardner's career in 2018, a year that forced him into taking a pay cut and a role reduction. Instead, he's been one of the most productive Yankees despite playing more than originally anticipated.
"[I was] not really sure how [I] fit in at the time, Gardner said. "I just knew that it was going to be a special group of guys and I wanted to be back here. I knew that things would, I don't want to say, 'work out for the best' because I don't want somebody else to obviously get injured, but yeah, I probably wasn't expecting to play as often or as frequently as I have."
Although Sabathia, his friend and teammate since 2009, declared this season his last before Spring Training and has received various commemorations, none of that interests Gardner, at least not right now. Four years younger than Sabathia and with a much shorter injury history, Gardner is still physically able to play the game he loves. The question is, do the Yankees have room to bring him back?
The Yankees' outfield is definitely crowded. Aaron Judge, Aaron Hicks and Giancarlo Stanton are regulars. Mike Tauchman has earned a deeper look next season. Clint Frazier is still around, at least for now. Cameron Maybin has revitalized his MLB career with the Yankees. Still, if this year has taught the Yankees anything, it's that more depth is never a bad thing. With all the injuries the Yankees have had, it might be worth keeping Gardner in tow.
Gardner has been through a lot as a Yankee, and now looks poised to play an unexpectedly large role on a team slated for a deep postseason run. Gardner called this season "the most exciting, fun year of [his] career," and has no plans of retiring anytime soon.
As long as he's hitting like he's been lately, there's no reason he shouldn't come back to the only city he's ever known for a 13th year.