The Yankees raised eyebrows on Halloween 2018 when they brought back Brett Gardner on a one-year, $7.5 million, just after declining his $12.5 million club option. The veteran outfielder came off a weak campaign, one that saw him hit to a 91 wRC+. Fans questioned why the team would waste a portion of their budget on a 35-year-old fourth outfielder, but it proved a prescient move. Gardner responded with a career year at the plate, spending significant time as the team’s starting center fielder in the process. You would be hard pressed to find a better one-year deal than Gardner in 2019.
2019 Statistics: 141 games, 550 plate appearances, .251/.325/.503, 28 home runs, 74 RBI, 86 runs, 115 wRC+, 3.6 fWAR
2020 Contract Status: Free agent
Heading into spring training, the team envisioned Gardner as a bench player and clubhouse leader. An injury to Aaron Hicks in spring training, however, forced him into an everyday role. In fact, he led off and played center field on Opening Day!
Gardner went 0-for-4 with a walk in the season opener, kicking off a sluggish start to the season. He had a roughly league average April, but his bat cratered by May 17, when he bottomed out at a 75 wRC+. The outfielder rebounded slightly, but he slumped hard again in early June, going 0-for-19 from June 2-8.
That streak caused great frustration for the outfielder, and he took it out by throwing his helmet against the dugout wall. A sign of his bad luck, the helmet ricocheted off the wall and connected with his lip, requiring six stitches to repair.
It's all fun and games until the helmet bounces back and hits you in the face. pic.twitter.com/gy6Lpgrhlf— FOX Sports: MLB (@MLBONFOX) June 8, 2019
“I just got done telling DJ [LeMahieu] last week that he shouldn’t throw his helmet in the dugout,” Gardner told Anthony Castrovince. “Obviously, I was frustrated, came in and threw my helmet, and it came back and hit me in the face.”
From there on out, though, Gardner played terrific baseball. He hit .275/.349/.574 with 20 home runs (139 wRC+) the rest of the way. Did that helmet incident snap him out of a long slump? No, probably not. It does make for a convenient demarcation line, though.
Gardner had two especially memorable moments in the second half. The first came on July 18 against the Rays, when home-plate umpire Brennan Miller called the outfielder out on strikes in the second inning.
Gardner rightfully took umbrage with the call, and he let everyone know by launching one of the most meme-worthy moments of the season.
when the upstairs neighbors are having a party pic.twitter.com/VGnccyulD3— matt-shed potatoes (@MattF15) July 18, 2019
On two other occasions Gardner banged his bat on the dugout roof to express his displeasure with umpires, and both times he got ejected. This launched the “Let Brett Bang” rallying cry, and whenever Yankees reached base, they mimicked the gesture.
The other highlight came on September 1 against the A’s. Trailing 4-3 in the bottom of the ninth, Gardner led off the inning with a game-tying home run. That set up Mike Ford’s pinch-hit, walk-off home run, the team’s second walk-off dinger in as many games.
As for his defense, Gardner continued to grade out as above-average outfielder:
Left field - 348.1 innings
- UZR/150: 6.8
- DRS: 7
- Rtot: 1
Center field - 820 innings
- UZR/150: 3.1
- DRS: -2
- Rtot: 1
It’s hard to complain at all about his body of work in the regular season. When it came to the playoffs, though, he disappeared all together. He went 6-for-34 in the postseason with 15 strikeouts, 10 of which came against the Astros during the ALCS. Gardner was a black hole at the plate for most of the postseason, a disappointing end to an otherwise strong year.
What comes next for Gardner? A reunion with the Yankees makes the most sense, especially considering Aaron Hicks just had Tommy John surgery. While Brian Cashman didn’t commit to the outfielder during his end-of-season press conference, he raved about Gardner. “I don’t think there’s any question as to what his capabilities are,” Cashman explained. “He’s tremendous on both sides of the ball—offensively and defensively, including playing center field.”
How about a one-year deal for a team leader, a quality defensive outfielder who showed new life at the plate in 2019? I say let Brett bang.