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What are the Yankees going to do about Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury?

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It may have seemed far-fetched a year ago, but they may be unnecessary very soon.

Milwaukee Brewers v New York Yankees Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

Before I get into the meat and potatoes, let’s stop and appreciate Clint Frazier. Red Thunder, the centerpiece of the Andrew Miller deal who was expected to be ready for the big leagues sometime this year, is indeed ready. With incredible leg speed and “legendary” bat speed, he proved his worth in the past two games with a couple of triples and a thrilling walk-off three-run home run.

Frazier could create a bit of a logjam, though, and I think the front office expected this. Let’s say that Frazier is here to stay. My guess is that he is. In that case, you now have five qualified outfielders: Frazier, Aaron Judge, Aaron Hicks (when healthy), Brett Gardner, and Jacoby Ellsbury. If we’re doing a purely mathematical ranking, here’s how ZiPS sees them as players moving forward:

Yankees Outfield Rankings by ZiPS

Player wRC+ Defensive Runs/150 WAR/150
Player wRC+ Defensive Runs/150 WAR/150
Aaron Judge 133 -2.57 4.68
Brett Gardner 101 -0.44 2.43
Aaron Hicks 97 1.27 1.78
Jacoby Ellsbury 87 0.26 1.3
Clint Frazier 91 -0.98 1.3

I don’t know how accurate these will really be, but it’s a nice guide moving forward. I would probably say that Frazier is better than his projections, as are Hicks and Judge. Gardner is probably spot-on because of his consistency, and Ellsbury is probably at that level or lower.

This leaves the Yankees with a pretty big question: what do you do with Gardner and Ellsbury? Even if you think Gardner is the second-best outfielder moving forward, which might be specious, he could be valuable to a team that needs a solid player for decent value. Considering the Yankees’ glaring holes in the bullpen, corner infield, and rotation, it makes sense to offload Gardner for something of need. If I have to live with an outfield of Frazier, Judge, and Hicks, I would be fine with that.

The question of Ellsbury is more difficult. It’s pretty obvious that his contract is abysmal, one of the worst the Yankees have signed in recent memory. He has had about a year and half of performance that we actually expected, and then overnight turned into a player who is slightly below average. His defense is fine, but his bat has taken a total dive:

This is what those in the business call a “decline”. Kidding aside, deciding what to do with Ellsbury is essentially rearranging chairs on the Titanic. You know what this end-game is, and you have to pay the money anyway, so you have to find some resolution that’s going to be beneficial for the team in the long run.

The Yankees can decide to turn him into a defensive specialist and fourth outfielder, but that’s claiming defeat. In any case, trading him would require eating most of the contract in exchange for scraps in return. You could also cut him entirely and eat the contract, which the Yankees have done with Alex Rodriguez.

Whatever they do with Gardner and Ellsbury, the Yankees need to make a decision soon. Dustin Fowler returns next year, and Jorge Mateo is a converted outfielder who could be of use down the road. The Yankees are in the great scenario where they have too many outfielders, where one “extra” player is a consistent stalwart with good trade value, and the other is a sinking anchor in every respect.

How they wiggle out of this outfield glut, while also squeezing some value — whether it be playing time or trades — will be interesting to watch over the next month, or year. Those players may have been of use when no one else was around, but the outfield is full, and the erstwhile table-setters of the lineup may find themselves on the outside very soon.