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Revisiting the Brett Gardner/Brandon Phillips trade that wasn’t

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Did New York do the right thing in rejecting the deal a few years back?

MLB: New York Yankees at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

On December 11, 2013, word hit the Twittersphere that the Yankees rejected a deal that would have sent Brett Gardner to the Reds in return for Brandon Phillips. New York was trying to replace the loss of Robinson Cano at second base at the time, and Phillip was coming off a decent season.

This was, of course, before the Yankees extended Gardner and went through a number of ill-fated decisions at second base, such as Brian Roberts and Stephen Drew, before ultimately landing Starlin Castro from the Cubs.

Phillips’ contract at the time was a huge reason to avoid trading for him after he signed a $98 million, ten-year deal through the 2017 season. He had a strong 2012 season, but his triple slash numbers dipped across the board in 2013 before the Yankees got involved. Gardner has also been the better player in the time since the rumor.

Acquiring Phillips would have been a better move than the ones the team ultimately made at second base, as he out-performed the options the Yankees brought in, though it would have also come at a much higher price. From 2014 to 2016, Phillips had a 93 wRC+ and was worth 5.2 fWAR. In the same period, Yankees second basemen had an 82 wRC+ and were worth just 0.5 fWAR.

That isn’t factoring in Phillips’ somewhat difficult reputation, for however much one thinks that matters. Also, outfielders are quite a bit easier to acquire than good infielders. The Yankees could have replaced Gardner with better versions of himself multiple times over in the years since then, but second base has remained a work in progress. Even Castro doesn’t look to be the answer to any prayers there.

So did the Yankees make the right decision in turning down the deal? From an unbiased standpoint, they didn’t. Phillips was better than all of their failed experiments, despite whatever concerns they may have about his attitude. Trading Gardner could have opened up an outfield spot for any number of free agent or trade candidates that have come along since then.

Gardner is a fan favorite and a leader on the team. He has been the better player when comparing him directly to Phillips. Taking that into consideration, no one should lose any sleep over not bringing Phillips to town. If you’re talking pure numbers and player availability, though, it’s possible that the Yankees made a mistake.