Bringing back Brett Gardner was hardly the Yankees’ biggest offseason move this winter, considering they signed arguably the best pitcher on the planet to a record deal. Yet signing Gardner to a one-year, $12.5 million deal was almost as much of a no-brainer as it was to go all-in on the pursuit of Gerrit Cole, for a number of reasons.
With Aaron Hicks on the IL to start the season as he recovers from Tommy John surgery and other lingering health concerns surrounding Giancarlo Stanton given his injury-riddled 2019 campaign, the Yankees needed outfield depth. Bringing back the longest-tenured Yankee after a career year in his age-36 season made absolute sense, and given how Gardner finished the season, Brian Cashman likely had every reason to let Brett bang for another year.
In recent seasons, Gardner had been annually crippled by a slow second half. In 2015, when seemingly the entire Yankee roster lagged through the end of summer and down the stretch, Gardner posted just a 67 wRC+ after raking with a 137 wRC+ in the first half of the season. In 2016, his numbers were dead even at a 96 wRC+ in the first and second half, but in 2017, there was another drop, from 114 to 104. In 2018, the drop rivaled the drastic decline as 2015, when Gardner posted a 107 wRC+ in the first half, but a mark of 67 in the second half.
Gardner’s apparent inability to hold up as the season progressed only raised concerns as he aged, but last season, we saw the trend flip. Despite coming into spring training looking like a clear backup option, which seemed like the best way to keep his legs fresh and his production as consistent as possible, Gardner played in 141 games in 2019, serving in a regular role with the injuries to Hicks, Stanton and Aaron Judge.
Despite the workload, Gardner put up a 124 wRC+ in the second half of the season, compared to 109 in the first half. In terms of monthly production, his final month of the year was his best, logging a 144 wRC+ in September and October while smacking 10 home runs. His next highest monthly mark was five dingers during the first month of the season.
This was a huge step from the norm for Gardner, who has a career wRC+ of 88 during the month of September. It is also an encouraging sign that the 36-year-old can still produce in the latter weeks of the season, even when called upon for a regular role, which he likely will be this season until Hicks (hopefully) returns sometime around the All-Star break. By raising his pull rate a full 10 percent from his 2018 mark, and his fly ball rate five percent, Gardner had a career year in the power department. For that, he more than earned another year in New York. If the back end of last season was any hint, he’ll be well worth the commitment in 2020.