The Yankees apparently did not waste much time settling arbitration cases after agreeing to terms with Shawn Kelley. Defensive expert Brett Gardner was the next to finish up his case:
#Yankees avoided arbitration with Brett Gardner. He gets $5.6M for 2014— Joel Sherman (@Joelsherman1) January 17, 2014
This time, MLB Trade Rumors underestimated the player by $1.6 million. It's a bigger drop in the bucket than Kelley's extra $275,000, but it's what it took to get the case done. The extra mileage on this contract pushes the Yankees even closer to $189 million. If they do indeed pass it, as they seem quite likely to, Yankees fans should have a party.
Healthy again in 2013 after an injury-ravaged 2012, Gardner had a season quite similar to his 2011, though not as good as his defensively magnificent 2010. He showed a little more power than in years past, setting career-highs in doubles (33), triples (a league-leading 10), homers (8), and slugging percentage (.416). However, this surge came with a decrease in plate discipline, which was Gardner's calling card in years past. His walk rate has dipped from 13.9% in 2010 to 10.2% in 2011, and 8.5% in 2013. Meanwhile, his strikeout rate jumped to 20.9%. His .344 OBP was roughly equal to his 2011, but it paled in comparison to his .383 OBP in 2010. His stolen base total was also a bit of a disappointment in 2013, as after reaching swiping 47 in 2010 and a league-leading 49 in 2011, he fell to 24 stolen bases in 2013. Gardner was also thrown out eight time, a 75% stealing percentage quite below the superb 82% career success rate he had entering the season. He'll have to recapture some of that previous patience and speed to be more valuable in 2014. Nonetheless, Gardner ended the year with a .273/.344/.416 triple slash, a 108 wRC+, 3.2 fWAR, and 4.2 rWAR thanks to his annually-excellent defense, this time in center field.
Hopefully, Gardner can also avoid another season that ends in injury. A sudden left oblique strain in an early-September game against the Orioles cut his season short at 145 games and was arguably the death knell to the Yankees' dwindling playoff hopes, as they were forced to play the presently far-inferior Ichiro Suzuki as a starter for the rest of the season. Gross. Assuming they don't trade him, Gardner will be the Opening Day left fielder, acquiescing to Jacoby Ellsbury, who is an even better center fielder than Gardner. Perhaps this move will be for the best for Gardner anyway, since defensive stats rated him a far superior left fielder than center fielder. He was no slouch at all in center, but nothing like the two-time Fielding Bible winner in left.
Gardner's contract brings the Yankees' payroll by AAV to $172,454.547.23. As previously mentioned in the Kelley post, they still need to settle cases for Ivan Nova (update: done), David Robertson (update: done), and other pre-arbitration players. As also mentioned in the previous post, ideally they will have a Tanaka on their roster by next Friday, too.