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Should the Yankees and Brett Gardner push for one final Gardy Party?

Provided he’s willing to take a pay cut, bringing Brett Gardner back as the fourth outfielder makes all the sense in the world.

Division Series - Tampa Bay Rays v New York Yankees - Game Four Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

When the Yankees declined their $10 million club option on Brett Gardner for the 2021 season, it caused many to question whether 2020 was the last we would see of the veteran outfielder in pinstripes. Given the COVID-19-induced loss of revenue and corresponding financial constraints under which the organization may be operating this winter, it was understandable why the Yankees would opt for the $2.5 million buyout over retaining the 37-year-old at $10 million for what would likely be a backup role.

However, this does not rule out a reunion with the plucky lefty at a discounted price. Indeed, various outlets have reported that there is a strong chance that Gardner returns to the Yankees for the upcoming season. At the right price, running it back with Gardy makes all the sense in the world.

Gardner stumbled out of the starting gate this season, leading many to question whether his career year at the plate in 2019 was a fluke. To be blunt, he looked washed, posting an unsightly 69 wRC+ though his first 32 games, eventually leading to Clint Frazier taking his spot as a starting outfielder. The end of Gardner’s Yankees career appeared imminent.

Miraculously, Gardner’s season numbers were saved by a torrid final few weeks, good enough to bump his overall 2020 stats above league average (110 wRC+). He also finally came alive in the playoffs, posting a 1.079 OPS and 201 wRC+ in 24 plate appearances, becoming the team’s second-most productive hitter behind Giancarlo Stanton.

I’d argue that Gardner showed he still has enough left in the tank to contribute in a meaningful way next season. He has always been disciplined at the plate, grinding out at-bats and making the pitcher work. He took that to another level in 2020, posting a truly elite 16.5% walk rate, placing him in MLB’s fifth percentile.

Given the perennial injury question marks surrounding fellow outfielders Aaron Judge and Aaron Hicks, as well as the relative dearth of viable center field depth on the major league roster, it is hard not to see the Yankees bringing Gardner back. His primary competition for the role of fourth outfielder is Mike Tauchman, and Gardner is an upgrade over Tauchman in practically every facet of the game.

Tauchman surprised everyone when he seemingly unlocked his power stroke after coming over to the Bronx, much in the same vein as Luke Voit and Gio Urshela. It appeared that the Yankees’ analytics department had unearthed another inexpensive hidden gem that would bolster their lineup for years to come. That is, until he came crashing back to mediocrity in 2020.

Even at 37, Gardner is a far more capable hitter than Tauchman. Gardner actually posted his highest average exit velocity in 2020 at 89.2 mph, while Tauchman saw his exit velocity plummet from 88.7 mph in 2019 to 84.9 mph in 2020. Gardner held an almost 40-point advantage in expected slugging, while posting a barrel rate four times higher than Tauchman. All of this is to suggest that Gardner’s production at the plate is far more sustainable that Tauchman’s.

Tauchman’s only advantages as the potential fourth outfielder are his cheap contract and overall superior defensive statistics (one Out Above Average vs. zero Outs Above Average for Gardner). However I contend that they are not enough to justify placing Tauchman above Gardner on the 2021 depth chart.

Perhaps even more important are the immeasurable qualities that Gardner brings to the franchise. He is the longest tenured Yankee, and the last remaining link to the World Series winning team of 2009. As such, he is the only player in the clubhouse with Yankees-winning experience, and the only one who knows what it takes to reach the summit of baseball in the Bronx. He is a respected leader in the clubhouse and brings a grittiness that at times is missing from a lot of the roster. There’s a reason that CC Sabathia has always been a big Gardner advocate.

Finally, there are the sentimental reasons for bringing Gardy back. It would be nice for Gardner to be given a proper Yankee Stadium sendoff, should fans be allowed back in ballparks next season. And it just doesn’t feel right that his Yankee career should end on the sour note of being eliminated in the ALDS. What better way to repay a lifetime Yankee who has given his all for the organization than to go out on the highest note of all: with a World Series victory?

Brett Gardner is obviously on the downslope of his career, but that does not mean he has nothing to offer the Yankees. He is still a productive hitter who can serviceably man all three outfield positions. And more importantly, his veteran presence in the clubhouse is an invaluable asset to the team. So let’s keep this Gardy Party rolling for one more year.


Should the Yankees bring Brett Gardner back for 2021?

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