I'm a big Brett Gardner supporter. I was arguing in favor of the speedster last October, and I thought he'd be a tremendous player if Joe Girardi game him a chance.
He had an incredible 2010 season. He hit lefties as well as he hit righties. He stole the 9th most bases by a Yankee in a single season in team history, and the most single Rickey Henderson went nuts and stole 93 bases in 1988 (for perspective, Rickey played only 140 games that year and he recorded multiple stolen bases in 24 games- in 2010, Derek Jeter came in second on the Yanks in stolen bases, with 18). GGBG led the team in OBP and finished 8th in the league.
Using Fangraph's Wins Above Replacement, which tries to account for offense and defense, Gardner measured the 9th most valuable player in the American League- ahead of guys like Ichiro, Joe Mauer and Arod.
Did I mention Gardner is making the league minimum?
Which is why I'm open to trading him.
I'm not worried about the cost- a 40 SB slap hitter with a keen batting eye will never make as much in arbitration as a 25 home run hitter who can't take a walk (see Lind, Adam).
But Brett Gardner turned 27 in August. He's at his peak- there's no more power coming, and while a batting eye last forever, speed erodes quickly.
Meanwhile, the demand for Gardner's skills may never be higher. He's at the top of the leaderboards, the bottom of the payroll, and the Yankees aren't even utilizing his greatest skill- GGBG can play center field.
Look at that free agent list again: there's nobody on there you want playing CF on a regular basis. Rick Ankiel could do it, if you're ok with a .300 OBP, no power and steroid allegations. Melky Cabrera could do it, if you're interested in a 25 year old who looks like he ate the 22 year old version of himself and lost playing time to Rick Ankiel.
The Mets would love to move Carlos Beltran and his bum knee, and I bet the Indians will listen to offers on the surgically repair player who used to be Grady Sizemore. BJ Upton is certainly on the block after hitting .239/.317/.398 the last 2 seasons. While any of these 3 could be better than GGBG, none offer a fanbase or a manager much certainty.
I think Gardner is going to have a fine major league career, but I think he's most valuable to the Yankees on the block, especially if Cliff Lee decides he likes pennant chasing in the Texas heat (and no income tax). Maybe Gardner will bring back a couple decent prospects to make a trade for a starter less painful. And maybe the worst case scenario (no one makes an acceptable offer and Gardner returns to the Yankees in LF for 2011) isn't so bad after all.