It’s highly unlikely Brett Gardner will give the Yankees $9.5 million worth of production in 2019, but it’s still a good signing for the team.
Major League Baseball has become obsessed with analytics, and the New York Yankees are no exception. That’s why some people are surprised that Brian Cashman elected to bring Brett Gardner back on a one-year deal that will pay him $9.5 million. The simple truth is Gardner is more important to the organization than just dollars and cents.
The organization had just 72 hours after the conclusion of the World Series to determine whether or not to exercise a $12.5 million option in Gardner’s contract. The team’s move to secure his services for $3 million less represents a solid compromise. Gardner gets to stay with the only team he’s ever known and Aaron Boone gets to keep a versatile veteran in his clubhouse.
Gardner clearly isn’t the same player he was back in his younger days. He lost his starting position in left field last season after the acquisition of Andrew McCutchen due to his inability to hit. Slashing a line of .236/.322/.368 isn’t nearly good enough for a starting corner outfielder for a team with World Series aspirations. At 35 years of age, it’s highly unlikely his performance is going to jump up in 2019. If you look at this deal strictly in terms of what Gardner is likely to produce on the field, it’s almost certainly going to be an inefficient signing by the Yankees.
Some people will scoff at the notion that there’s emotional value in this deal, but those people don’t understand anything about Yankees culture. This is an organization that prides itself on taking care of their homegrown talent. The idea of keeping Gardner with the Yankees for his entire career means something to Yankees fans.
Even if you don’t buy into that sort of argument, bringing Gardner back into the fold buys Boone and company a lot of insurance. We don’t think he’s being brought back to play everyday in left field. The organization definitely wants to field a more productive player at that position. In terms of internal options, the most likely player to win the everyday job is Clint Frazier. His issues with concussions make it imprudent to rely on him to play everyday at any position.
Jacoby Ellsbury’s injury issues also leave the Yankees without a credible backup to Aaron Hicks in center field. No rationale member of the organization can rely on Ellsbury to play a significant role in the Bronx next year. Bringing Gardner back on a reasonable deal gives the team another quality option to deploy in center occasionally.
Some fans will criticize Cashman for overpaying Gardner, but this is exactly the sort of luxury move a team with the financial power of the Yankees can afford to make. Fans should relax and trust Cashman to make big money moves later in free agency. Re-signing Gardner is the beginning of his plans, it certainly isn’t the biggest move the Yankees will make this winter.