It’s going to be an odd day when Brett Gardner is no longer in pinstripes, because it seems like Gardner trade rumors are a near-daily occurrence. There was never an inkling as to where he could go, or what teams would potentially offer, other than the famed Brandon Phillips deal that wasn't, so it exists in a plane of the pure theoretical. And yet, here we are again.
Nikhil talked yesterday that Brian Cashman was candid that the front office was still fielding offers on Gardner as of now, which I find pretty remarkable. That’s because, given the roster construction as is and the alternatives for left field right now, it makes absolutely no sense.
If this was November, or December, or even a week before Jose Bautista signed a contract with the Blue Jays, then I get it. In the case where there are free agent options available, the route is simple: trade Gardner for a position of weakness (namely, the rotation), and then sign one of the available options on the market to replace Gardner.
The options weren't terrible, to be honest. Yoenis Cespedes, Bautista, Josh Reddick, Carlos Gomez, and Dexter Fowler all have higher projected 2017 WAR by Steamer, albeit some with heavy contracts.
Let's say you're of the opinion that those options aren't acceptable, either for reasons of cost or age. Fine. Then what's the rationale for trading Gardner now, exactly?
If Cashman were to trade Gardner as of today, then what's the road forward? That makes Aaron Hicks the starting left fielder on opening day, and he is projected for a measly 94 wRC+ and 1.6 WAR by Steamer600. Could prospects help? Maybe, but is it worth it to push them into the equation when they’re not exactly ready? Clint Frazier may or may not be at the big league level, but it’s no guarantee. Rob Refsnyder is by no ways proven in the outfield; Mason Williams is a walking cast; and Matt Holliday is largely incapable of the task at this point in his career. No matter how hard you squint, there just aren’t the internal resources capable of replacing Gardner.
If we’re being realistic, Gardner is about a two-win player. Unless the trade return is greater than that, or greater than his projected win total for 2017 and 2018, then what’s the point? You strengthen an area of weakness by a trivial amount at best—the fact that the Yankees have not accepted an offer likely means the offers are pretty lowly—and then you’re forced to scramble to find an internal replacement that doesn’t exist.
At this point, the Yankees should be done trading. If they find themselves completely out of the race at the trade deadline and they want to offload salary—by all means, send Gardner and Chase Headley to the moon for all I care. But at this time, when the roster is essentially teetering on a true talent .500 team, and with a little luck they could be decent, sending Gardner packing almost officially punts this season because of how small the margins of error are.
When you only have three position players projected to produce more WAR than Gardner in 2017, he is one of the best players on the team, as disappointing as that really is. I love Gardner, and I hope he sticks around. Given the current roster situation and what an alternate reality would be like without him, I think it’s safe to say that he should, and likely will, stay in pinstripes for at least another half-season.