Only hours after it was reported that the Yankees would exercise their 2022 option on Zack Britton, the team announced they would decline Brett Gardner’s $10 million option for 2021. The Yankees will pay Gardner a $2.5 million payout, and it remains to be seen if they will retain the veteran outfielder at a reduced price.
Gardner was the elder statesman of the team and the lone remaining member of the Yankees’ 2009 World Series winning roster. He endured a rocky start to his 2020 season, eventually being supplanted by Clint Frazier in the starting lineup.
On the 2020 regular season, Gardner slashed .223/.354/.392 with five home runs. A strong finish to his campaign allowed him to post above-average production on the season (108 OPS+, wRC+), and along with a mini-slump from Clint Frazier in the final week of the regular season, Gardner was chosen as the starter in the postseason. He rewarded Boone’s faith in him, batting .368/.500/.579 with a home run and a 201 wRC+ in six playoff games.
This does not necessarily spell the end of Gardner’s 13-year career in pinstripes. A whole host of factors could tempt the Yankees to reunite with the lefty outfielder. Gardner’s productive closing chapter to 2020, the veteran presence he provides in the clubhouse, the tenuous depth (especially in center) of the Yankees’ outfield, and the yearly injury question marks looming over Aaron Judge and Aaron Hicks are all incentives to bring Gardy back.
Declining the option was likely payroll-motivated, as $10 million is rather steep for a fourth outfielder. It is not unreasonable to think they will engage in negotiations that would see Gardner return at a discounted rate.
We will keep you updated as we hear more on Gardner, in addition DJ LeMahieu, Masahiro Tanaka, and the rest of the pending free agents.