With the arrival of Carlos Beltran and Jacoby Ellsbury, Brett Gardner has apparently become expendable. With the amount of holes the New York Yankees have, it would seem logical for them to trade the scrappy outfielder, as he’s one of their most valuable assets and can help them find a replacement for Robinson Cano or much-needed pitching.
There have already been rumors of Gardner going elsewhere. New York recently rejected a trade offer from the Cincinnati Reds for 2B Brandon Phillips. Second base is obviously a huge need with Robinson Cano gone. But the 32 year-old Phillips is owed $50 million over the next four years, and his numbers are declining (96 OPS+ last two years, don’t let the RBIs fool you).
But is trading Gardner really the best option for the Yankees? Maybe not. There are actually quite a few reasons why they should hold onto him for next season.
1. He’s very productive and cheap.
Gardner he is a very undervalued player. In his last three healthy seasons, he’s been worth 15.6 WAR. He’s put up a slash line of .270/.358/.389/.747 with a 102 OPS+ since 2010. He’s stolen 148 bases since 2009, among the game’s leaders (if not the highest amount). He’s done all this by making no more than $3 million a year. He’s going into his final season of arbitration, possibly becoming a free agent next winter. With the Yankees trying to avoid going over the luxury tax, trading Gardner wouldn’t make much sense.
2. He is perfect as a third or fourth outfielder.
Currently the starting outfield for the New York Yankees in 2014 is Alfonso Soriano in left, Jacoby Ellsbury in center, and Carlos Beltran in right. Ellsbury has a long injury history with the Red Sox and may end up missing his fair share of games next year. Soriano and Beltran are both 37 and can’t play the outfield every single day, especially together. If the Yankees trade Gardner, they will need to find a reliable fourth outfielder (because Vernon Wells and Ichiro ain’t cutting it) to play a significant amount of playing time.
Gardner has a career 23.0 UZR/150, playing left and center very well enough to win two Fielding Bible Awards in 2010 and 2011. Keeping him as a full-time player will limit the amount of time Beltran and Soriano will be in the outfield together, allowing either to settle into a DH role and be fresh for most of the season. If Ellsbury gets hurt, you still have a centerfielder in Brett the Jet.
3. He will form a dynamic 1-2 punch with Ellsbury
General manager Brian Cashman admits that Ellsbury and Gardner are very similar players. As a matter of fact, they are, just Ellsbury is just better. It’s highly likely with Derek Jeter staying in the top of the order, Gardner will be moved down to #9 in the lineup. That’s ok, actually. Perfect table setting for the heart of the order would be for both to get on and wreck total havoc on the base-paths. It will be much easier for the Yankees to score runs this year compared to last.
Let’s not also forget having both Brett and Jacoby, both all-world centerfielders, in the outfield. How many balls are going to go into the gap for extra bases? Not many. Keep Gardner in left, as it’s much deeper than right at Yankee Stadium. That’s really going to help a questionable pitching staff.
4. He’s one of the youngest (and healthiest) players on the Yankees
The Yankees’ kryptonite, even still, is their age and health. It all went to Hell in 2013, with several regular players missing significant playing time as the Yankees missed the postseason for only the second time in 19 seasons. Everyone missed time except for Robinson Cano and Brett Gardner. Gardner in fact has been relatively healthy in his career minus a freak wrist injury in 2012. They’ll need him, with the injury risk coming with Ellsbury and Beltran. Just 30 years old, he’s still one of the youngest players left on a very old team.