John Harper, SNY.tv | Twitter |
TAMPA, Fla. -- Clint Frazier admits it's awkward. He wants to let the world know the concussion stuff is behind him, that he's ready to make good on the top-prospect hype of a couple of years ago.
He doesn't want to sound like some cocky kid saying he's here to take job from the old man in left field, which is how some of Frazier's early comments this spring could be interpreted without context.
As a result, he made a point of going to Brett Gardner in Yankees camp on Thursday to explain himself.
"I pulled him aside today," Frazier said after Thursday's workout, "and just wanted to let him know that I'm not trying to make this about him and I. I'm trying to just answer the questions in a respectful manner and go out and play. I just want to be on the field and show everybody what I think I can do.
"It's a unique situation because you have so much respect for a guy who's been here so long. I want to sound confident in the answers that I give about winning the job, but I also want to make sure that I'm being as respectful as I can, because Gardy's done nothing but good things for me, and for everyone in this clubhouse."
On Thursday morning, Gardner had already said he had no issue with Frazier's earlier comments, because he remembered feeling the same way as a young player trying to beat out Johnny Damon and Melky Cabrera some 12 years ago.
"So I understand completely where he's at in his career," Gardner said, "and the frustration of what he went through last year, dealing with the concussion issues. That's how he should be thinking."
Nevertheless, seeking out Gardner was a thoughtful gesture from a player whose cockiness raised some eyebrows when he came over to the Yankees from the Indians' organization in 2016.
It may also be further indication that Frazier is ready to make good on the talent that had Brian Cashman gushing about the kid's "legendary bat speed" the day he traded Andrew Miller for him and Justus Sheffield.
On Thursday, in fact, Cashman said he sees the ceiling as being as high now as he did then, and made the point that it's vital to show patience with him.
"He's still Clint Frazier, just a year older," Cashman said. "Just because he was down with an injury last year, he wasn't robbed of his God-given talent. It's all still there.
"Being patient on waiting through injuries, or waiting on finishing off on the development stuff for young players, that's the key to real successful franchises -- or the failure of ones that don't have that type of patience to wait it out."
Cashman also made a point of saying that Gardner, too, still brings a lot of value. That's why he re-signed the 35-year old to a one-year, $7.5 million deal despite a forgettable finish to the season in which Gardner hit .209 in August and September, and went 0-for-12 in the ALDS against the Red Sox.
The GM believes the poor finish was the result of Gardner wearing down physically late in the season.
"He always wears down in the second half," Cashman said. "We think he's still a dynamic player, but maybe August and September he's not as good as he can be because he's been run out there so much.
"We always have a plan to protect him, but when injuries hit, Gardy is such a gamer, always stepping up, and especially in a pennant race those plans sometimes go out the window."
So what's it all mean?
Well, everybody loves Gardner. How could you not, as hard as he has played over 11 seasons with the Yankees, ever the epitome of a hustling style that has made him beloved in his own clubhouse.
As Frazier put it, "He sets the precedent to what a professional is like."
Yet, if the Yankees are going to win a championship in 2019, it feels like they're going to need Frazier to push Gardner into something of a part-time role in left field. This would be a way of making the team still a little younger and more dynamic offensively, while keeping their oldest position player as fresh as possible.
Not that Gardner himself buys in to any notion that he was worn down late last season.
"I felt good all year so I'm not going to sit here and make excuses," he said Thursday. "I can't really put my finger on it. I didn't have the second half or the season I wanted to, but I wouldn't be back here if I didn't think I was capable of turning it around."
Yep, Gardner is a proud Yankee, one who admitted "it's been too long" since this franchise last won a championship in 2009, his first full season in the big leagues.
He was 25 then, or the same age Frazier turns in September.
Awkward or not, it makes for a fascinating competition between the young gun and the old pro. The Yankees don't necessarily need one to win the job, but with Frazier's potential in mind, they'd sure prefer that neither loses it.