Signs point to 2014 being Brett Gardner's last year with the Yankees

Jim McIsaac

Do the Yankees really want to pay Brett Gardner when they're already paying Jacoby Ellsbury?

Today, upon hearing that the Indians signed Michael Brantley to a four-year extension, I realized, for the first time, that this is the last year Brett Gardner will be a Yankee. Of course, I've been scared for years that the Yankees were going to trade him for some undeserving player, but now I see that there just isn't any place for him on the team anymore.

It would have been nice if the Yankees extended him after his breakout 2010 season, though, as our own Jesse Schindler comments, it would have made him more expensive. The value of Brett Gardner has long been held in his cheap contract and incredible defense, so it definitely makes sense for the Yankees to want to keep him at a cheap arbitration salary during his prime years.

Baseball minds say that it's smart business to lock up your young players to relatively cheap deals before they become too expensive, but Michael Brantley will receive $6.25 million a year now and, as Matt Provenzano describes him, he has Brett Gardner's bat without his defense. Gardner, the superior player, will make only $5.6 million in his last go-around in arbitration, so did it ever really make sense to extend him back then and thereby diminish some of his value?

As we all know, the Yankees have a no-extension policy that they have zero interest in eliminating, especially not for a player like Gardner. Chad Jennings of LoHud suggested that this season will allow them to evaluate the 30-year-old center fielder to determine whether or not they should re-sign him once he hits free agency. Unfortunately, I think the Yankees have already determined what they're going to do once that time has gone by, and that's to offer him a qualifying offer and let him go.

The signing of Jacoby Ellsbury to a massive contract shocked everyone, including Brett Gardner. It's clear that they don't trust their guy enough to give him the center field job, extend him, or even guarantee him a spot on the team. We've talked about how Ellsbury hasn't been much more than a slightly better, now much more expensive, Brett Gardner, but maybe the Yankees want that. They want the name recognition and reputation that comes with Ellsbury, whether it's justified or not. Gardner isn't much of a statement, even if he's the smarter investment.

My desire for a Brett Gardner extension stemmed from the idea that, though he would have been slightly more expensive, they would have had him for a few more years after 2014. If the Yankees have him for the next few years, maybe they're less inclined to sign Ellsbury for all that money so they can use it elsewhere, like the infield.

Now that Ellsbury is in center, Gardner could certainly be considered their left fielder, but would the Yankees want a powerless speedster, who could make as much as $15 million a year in 2015, patrolling a position that is usually filled by home run hitters? Of course, other than Josh Willingham, Michael Cuddyer, and maybe Torii Hunter, the market for power-hitting corner outfielders is rather thin in 2015. The Yankees might be better off with Gardner, at least in a bubble, but with the loss of Robinson Cano, are they really going to be ok with two outfielders with questionable power? I doubt it. There are also prospects like Tyler Austin, Slade Heathcott, and Ramon Flores to consider, but I wouldn't be making any decisions for their sake at this point.

Maybe it all depends on whether or not Ellsbury hits another 30 home runs in 2014, but would Gardner even want to come back to a place where he's less valued? When he hits the open market next year, someone is going to value him as an everyday center fielder and leadoff hitter. I think Gardner's shock was that he realized it's not going to be the Yankees' center fielder.

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