The Yankees signed Brett Gardner at a discount last offseason. He put pen to paper on a one-year, $7.5 million deal that just expired. What now? What’s next for the 36-year old?
He had a career-best season at the plate, at least in the power department. He put up his best marks so far in home runs (28), RBI (74), ISO (.253), launch angle (13.6 degrees), and fly ball percentage (38.2 %).
He accrued 3.6 fWAR and was one of the best outfielders in the American League. His power surge may not be all that sustainable given that he only had a 31.4 hard-hit rate and there was a sizable difference between his .344 wOBA and .301 xwOBA. However, thanks to his defense (2.5 fielding runs and the ability to play a good center field) and prowess in the basepaths (4.6 baserunning runs), he is still a desirable asset.
If Aaron Hicks wasn’t injured, maybe the Yankees would feel comfortable going into the season with him and Mike Tauchman as their two primary options in center field, letting Gardner walk to seek greener pastures. But Hicks is slated to miss a few months of 2020 due to Tommy John surgery. Can the Yankees really afford to lose Gardner given the circumstances?
If the Yankees want to bring back Gardner, which they should, they might need to move fast. This year’s market seems to be moving pretty quickly in comparison to last year’s, at least, and there may be several teams with outfield needs and some money to spend.
For example, the Arizona D-Backs have too many health-related red flags in the outfield. David Peralta would be coming back from shoulder surgery, Ketel Marte (who can play there or at second base) finished the season with a stress reaction in his lower back, and while Steven Souza is already running at 100 percent after a gruesome knee injury, it’s not clear how effective he will be. They could use Gardner to make a run at a Wild Card spot and bridge the gap between the club’s top outfield prospects.
The Cardinals’ Marcell Ozuna is currently a free agent, and St. Louis’ outfield corps aren’t that strong to begin with. Yes, top prospect Dylan Carlson should be ready in 2020, but Gardner could be a short-term upgrade for a team that reached the League Championship Series.
Another possible destination would be the New York Mets. They may not need Gardner, but depending on how they view Brandon Nimmo, they could sign him to a one or two-year deal to alternate between center and left field.
The Chicago Cubs, a perennial contender, need a center fielder and Gardner fared very well out there with the Yankees. The club may not have the financial flexibility of other seasons, but Gardner shouldn’t cost a fortune and he could help them in their quest to hold off the Brewers and Cardinals (and maybe even the Reds) in the NL Central.
Even the Atlanta Braves, a clear-cut contending ballclub, may be an enticing option for Gardner if they decide they have had enough of Nick Markakis soaking up regular at-bats.
The San Francisco Giants, on the other hand, should focus on getting young talent, but if they decide to give it another shot at contention, they may consider Gardner. Their outfielders are just not good enough, except for maybe Mike Yastrzemski and Alex Dickerson, but they surely aren’t first-division regulars.
As for the Indians, they can’t want Jordan Luplow, Tyler Naquin, or Jake Bauers getting regular at-bats. They do want Bradley Zimmer to come back strong, but there is still a place for Gardner if they want to keep going for it. Now, rumors about Cleveland considering dealing Francisco Lindor and Corey Kluber are still swirling around. What will they do?
One of the Indians’ potential competitors in 2020, the Chicago White Sox, just signed All-Star catcher Yasmani Grandal to a four-year deal and are looking to accelerate their window of contention, which could lead them to pursue Gardy. Eloy Jiménez and Luis Robert should be stalwarts in the outfield for years to come, but Leury Garcia and Adam Engel shouldn’t stop them from hiring the longtime Yankee.
There are no shortage of potential suitors, so the Yankees shouldn’t wait too long if they want to bring back Gardner for another year. They may not be in a rush, though, if they decide that Tauchman is good enough to play out there for the duration of Hicks’ Tommy John surgery rehab.