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Has Brett Gardner played his last game with the Yankees?

Gardner is drawing interest from teams around the league. Did he price himself out of New York with a strong 2019 season?

MLB: ALCS-New York Yankees at Houston Astros Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports

Last season, Brett Gardner and CC Sabathia were the only holdovers from the 2009 World Series team, and the players consistently referenced those two veterans as the leaders in the clubhouse. With Sabathia now retired, it seems like a foregone conclusion that Gardner will come to terms on a new deal with the Yankees and return to pursue a second title in New York. However, nothing is guaranteed in free agency, and the Yankees paying record-breaking dollars to Gerrit Cole, potentially limiting the budget they have left over for Gardner.

According to recent reports, Gardner’s first choice is to return to New York. He’s always been a loyal Yankee who seems determined to spend as much of his career in pinstripes as possible. The Yankees have reportedly already made Gardner an offer to return, proving that they would also like him to stick around and help fill the void left by Aaron Hicks this season.

This is a great start for both sides, but there are 29 other teams who could get involved, and there’s certainly interest in a player who posted the eighth-best WAR among American League outfielders last season. Last offseason, the Yankees signed Gardner to a one-year deal worth $7.5 million, but he was coming off a season in which he slashed .236/.322/.368. He showed that he’s not on the decline by batting .251/.325/.503 over 141 games in 2019, posting career highs with 28 home runs and 74 RBI.

According to Jon Heyman, Gardner is drawing multi-year interest, which could spell trouble for the Yankees.

With Cole in the mix, a Gardner signing will likely happen shortly after. The Yankees could look for ways to cut payroll after shelling out $36 million per season for Cole, and they have some good options internally. Mike Tauchman acquainted himself well in his first season with the Yankees and could hold his own in center field, giving Clint Frazier more opportunities in left field. They could also bring back Cameron Maybin, who’s experienced in center field. If Gardner wants to finish his great career with the Yankees, he might need to take a bit of a discount.

There’s a reason Gardner’s in demand around the league, even at his advanced age of 36. There aren’t a ton of splashy outfielders on the market this offseason. Four outfielders rank ahead of Gardner on MLB Trade Rumors’ Top 50 Free Agents list: Nicholas Castellanos, Marcell Ozuna, Corey Dickerson, and Avisail Garcia.

Castellanos and Ozuna fall into the category of free agents likely to sign deals between three and five years, leaving Gardner as a very attractive option for a team in need of a proven outfielder on a shorter contract. Would a two-year $20 million offer from a team like the Phillies or the Diamondbacks force the longest tenured Yankee to continue his career elsewhere? Keep in mind, Gardner ranked first in MLB in differential between expected slugging and slugging percentage in 2019, so he might not be as valuable to other teams as he immediately looks on paper.

Will Gardner be back with the Yankees in 2020? Probably, but his great 2019 production and the Yankees’ signing of Cole have made his free agency a bit more complicated than last offseason.