Yankees likely to hang on to Brett Gardner

Brett Gardner doesn’t pitch, catch or play shortstop, so when the list of areas in which the Yankees require help are mentioned, the veteran outfielder’s name doesn’t surface.

The 37-year-old Gardner, however, still might figure in the Yankees’ plans for 2020. He is certainly deep into the backstretch of his career, but his value, especially to the Yankees, is high because he can play both left field and center field.

Last week, the Yankees declined to exercise a $10 million option on Gardner, who then picked up a $2.5 million buyout. Now, the longest tenured Yankee waits to see what type of interest the team shows.

Clint Frazier put together a solid 2020 season, hitting .267 with eight homers, 26 RBIs and a .905 OPS. Frazier also made so much improvement defensively while subbing for the injured Aaron Judge that he was one of three finalists for the AL Gold Glove (the award-winners were announced Tuesday evening) in right field.

In 2021, Frazier figures to get increased playing time in left. And should Judge get injured again, necessitating a Frazier shift to right, Gardner can handle left.

Would there be enough playing time for Gardner, who appeared in 49 games of this past season’s 60 regular-season games and all of seven (including five starts) in the postseason?

Considering how injuries have affected center fielder Aaron Hicks and Judge in recent seasons, the answer is: yes. Gardner is more than capable of playing center in place of Hicks and is solid in left.

Brett Gardner
Brett GardnerAnthony J. Causi

When Gardner was hitting .165 with a .293 on-base percentage, a .299 slugging percentage and a .590 OPS on Sept. 9, it wasn’t easy to see him returning in 2021.

“There are going to be opportunities down the stretch. A lot can change between now and next week, three weeks from now. He is a very important player for us and I expect that to continue,’’ manager Aaron Boone said of Gardner on Sept. 16, when Judge returned from the injured list and Frazier was moved to left field.

Boone was onto something, because from Sept. 11 until the end of the regular season, Gardner batted .394 (13-for-33) with a .540 on-base percentage, a .667 slugging percentage and a 1.190 OPS in 13 games. He followed that by hitting .368 (7-for-19) with a .500 on-base percentage, .579 slugging percentage and a 1.079 OPS against the Indians and Rays in the postseason.

The strong finish and the fact he is highly respected by teammates for being a leader strengthens Gardner’s chance to return, even after he hit a career-low .223, but balanced that with a .354 on-base percentage, which was 11 points higher than his career mark of .343.

So, what would the price be for a player like Gardner? Teams lost oceans of money this past COVID-impacted season. Would a one-year deal for $5 million (plus the $2.5 million from the buyout), plus incentives, work for each side?

If the Yankees use the same game plan they did last offseason with Gardner, he will likely have to wait to see how things go with DJ LeMahieu and Masahiro Tanaka. The Yankees agreed to a nine-year deal with Gerrit Cole during last year’s Winter Meetings and a one-year deal with Gardner on the last day in San Diego.

Due to COVID-19, this year’s Winter Meetings in Dallas were canceled and the Yankees aren’t chasing a big-ticket item in Cole’s category from outside of the organization. That doesn’t necessarily mean Gardner won’t have to wait for the end result, which should return him to The Bronx.

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