Let me start by saying that I like Brett Gardner. He plays hard, is an excellent defender, is a likable guy in the club house and is a solid all around player. However, all the being said, I pose this question: should the Yankees consider trading Brett Gardner this offseason?
With the Yankees being in transition, largely due to the fact that they are an older team with many of their veterans entering free agency this year and next (except the worst contracts on the books), the Yankees need to explore all options to becoming a better team now and future forth. In that regard, could trading Brett Gardner be a move that actually helps the team at least big picture if not immediately?
By the end of 2014, the Yankees will have zero proven outfielders under contract as all of the veteran outfielders will be free agents (unless Curtis Granderson or someone else is signed this offseason to a multi-year deal), including Brett Gardner. Accordingly, the Yankees will have no choice but to look at a number of changes on the team. From a positional standpoint, the only potential bats to be excited about being available are on the left side of the infield. Chase Headley, Pablo Sandoval, Hanley Ramirez, Jed Lowrie and Asdrubal Cabrera will all be free agents. Meanwhile, the best outfielders that could be available are on the wrong side of 35, let alone the wrong side of 30. Even in the infielders mentioned are not exactly surefire additions. Headley has really only has one star season to date. Sandoval has been okay but nothing special the last two years. Ramirez' defense is bad as is his attitude and he has been injured for 2 out of the past 3 years with mixed results. Lowrie just played his first full season at 29 and while solid, he has never been anything awesome. Cabrera's defense has largely been criticized and while he hit very well in 2011 his stats have declined two years straight. As such, there are no slam dunk signings from a positional standpoint after the 2014 season, but at least the infield has a couple guys in or around their primes of possible value. The outfield cannot say that. Which brings about the multiple reasons that the Yankees should consider trading Gardner now.
As stated, as of now, Gardner is due to be among the free agent crop. By that juncture, he will be 31 years old. He is a singles hitter who largely has bat in the .270s over the course of his career, while playing stellar defense. He is probably most comparable to Michael Bourn who in his recent walk year, got a 4 year $48 m contract with a vesting option. Based on the same, it is fair to assume that Gardner's next contract would pay him somewhere in the neighborhood of $12 m a year, plus or minus a couple million. Notably, as a singles hitter reliant on his legs for value, that could be a risky re-sign for the Yankees. Specifically, as speed players reach their 30s, they tend to get slower and steal less bases. (Gardner's steals were down this year but it is too soon to assume anything.) They also tend to diminish as hitters just like other players. Additionally, once the legs slow, so does the players' ability on defense. Conversely, with one year left on his contract and the paucity of quality outfield options next season, Gardner's value could quite high in the trade market, though not as much as it would have been a year earlier. While no one could say what his trade value actually is, a deal for prospects or a package including him that could bring the Yankees an upgrade now or future forth would at least be worthy of thought. A player traded while in his prime could be of more value than a contract for a singles hitter out of his prime.
Notwithstanding the aforesaid, there are some major concerns with trading Gardner. First, as stated, their is a paucity of outfield options that will be available in free agency. With 3 potential vacancies in their outfield, the lack of options on the open market (regardless of who might be available internationally) makes it very unlikely that the Yankees could replace everyone with solid options unless the Yankees prospects take major steps forward. Unfortunately, none of the Yankees outfield prospects showed anything that gives the Yankees reason to be exciting about promotions after next season, though it is possible that someone like Austin could make the roster. Even if some prospects accelerate their development, it is unlikely that all will or that the Yankees would have an outfield comprised of rookies. For said reasons, Gardner would seem to be the best option for at least 2015 and possibly longer. Knowing that to be a likelihood, even if Gardner does decline over the course of the deal and considering that his contract while expensive, would not be anywhere near as cumbersome as Cano's when he goes out of his prime, is extending or re-signing Gardner a bad investment?
While arguments can be made in both directions, I think the lack of options moving forward and lack of major league ready or worthy outfield prospects makes keeping Gardner smarter than trading him unless either Gardner could be used in a trade package that would yield the Yankees a better option than Gardner or the Yankees end 2014 with two solid outfielders under contract who are not currently under contract or who prove themselves as a starter (e.g., Zoilo Almonte), though I think the latter is unlikely.
What do you think?