New York Yankees

Brett Gardner decision will say a lot about Yankees free agency plans

The Yankees have less than three days to decide whether or not to exercise Brett Gardner’s option. It’s a very interesting decision for Brian Cashman.

Brett Gardner only knows what it’s like to play for the New York Yankees. The organization that drafted him now faces a big choice on whether or not to allow the versatile outfielder to continue his career in the Bronx.

The clock on the team’s ability to pick up Gardner’s $12.5 million option started ticking as soon as the Red Sox finished off their World Series title. Brian Cashman and company have 72 hours following the end of the season to choose whether to retain Gardner or allow him to hit free agency. If they choose the latter, they’ll owe him a $2.5 parting gift.

It may be the Yankees first concrete move of the offseason, but it’s going to tell us a lot about what Cashman and company have planned. Letting him go would obviously create an open spot in the Yankees outfield and some additional payroll flexibility.

Then again, it would also leave the organization short of quality options in center field. Aaron Hicks will almost certainly begin 2019 as Aaron Boone’s starter, but Gardner was his primary backup last season. Unless the Yankees are willing to rely on Jacoby Ellsbury to make a full recovery from his myriad of injuries, they’ll still need to acquire another player capable of filling in for Hicks from time to time.

Of course, Bryce Harper has been known to play center field upon occasion. If the Yankees do elect to let Gardner walk, it may be a sign they are going to jump into the race for the 26-year-old outfielder. Early reports claim that the Yankees aren’t overly interested in giving Harper a massive contract, but that could be a smokescreen by the organization to make sure his asking price doesn’t get out of hand.

In addition to being the backup in center field, Gardner is also the team’s most established option in left field on the current roster. The organization would like Clint Frazier to absorb some of those at bats in 2019, but his concussion issues make him a difficult player to rely on.

That means the Yankees would need to sign a new starting left fielder if they let Gardner walk. That could be Harper, but it could also be any number of other players. Michael Brantley would be the other prominent free agent who could be in the team’s crosshairs. Of course, a number of trade targets could also be in play.

Next: 5 crazy trades the Yankees can make this winter

The truth is the hot stove is just starting to warm up for the Yankees. Big changes are coming from Cashman and company this offseason. The choice of whether or not to keep Gardner will set the tone for the rest of the winter. It will also have far-reaching implications for the way the team treats free agency moving forward.

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