Seeing No. 11 patrolling the outfield has been one of the most consistent things about the franchise over the last decade-plus. Now, in his age 37 season, we may have to start thinking about watching Yankees baseball without Brett Gardner. What could New York do to replace the legend?
If he goes...
No one is totally sure whether or not Gardner will retire or join another team if his time in New York is over, but the Yankees do have a club option to retain him for $10 million in 2021 if they choose to exercise that.
The Yankees do have replacements lined up to slide in and take Gardner’s spot. Clint Frazier has been a force at the plate this year with an OPS of .984 and 167 wRC+. Not to mention that he’s vastly improved his defense after an atrocious 2019 season in the outfield. Frazier has patiently waited for his opportunity to break into the Bombers’ lineup at a consistent rate for the last few years, and 2021 is his best chance yet.
New York also has 22-year-old outfielder Estevan Florial in the minor leagues as a potential replacement. He currently ranks as the team’s seventh-best prospect and second-best outfielder, behind only Jasson Dominguez. Florial was called-up to the big league team for just one game this year, where he went 1-for-3 with a single against the Mets. Besides that, he hasn’t played above A-ball in his career, so don’t expect Florial to make too much noise with the major league team until at least 2022.
There are other options as well, but they don’t fit as easily. They can turn to Mike Tauchman, but he’s been shaky this season. Giancarlo Stanton can play left field, but who knows if the Yankees are comfortable with that and if he can even stay healthy enough for that task. Another option could be exploring a replacement through trade or free agency. There are many different ways the Yanks could go, but what if they elect to bring Gardy back for his 16th season?
If he stays...
What if this isn’t Gardner’s final rodeo? What type of role would he have on the team? Whichever way this plays out, I believe left field could be (and should be) Clint Frazier’s job to lose. He’s proven that he has matured both on and off the field and can become a major contributor in the lineup. With that said, that would push Gardner to the fourth outfielder role where he can come in as a defensive replacement and get a couple starts every few days or even substitute as a pinch runner if needed. Even in his late 30s, Gardner can move with the best of them.
Looking at his numbers and where he stands in regards to the rest of the league, Gardy hovers around average in most categories. If he continues to produce at a similar pace next year, he would be a solid fourth outfielder or a subpar starter depending on where the Yankees decide to play him.
Brett Gardner has been a staple and the pulse of this team for awhile now. If it is his last season in pinstripes, he had an amazing career in New York and fans should be nothing less than thankful for all he’s done for the organization.
In a way, I want to relate this situation to what the New York Giants went through with Eli Manning. The franchise was so loyal to him and they kept running him out there even though he wasn’t the player he once was. However, Gardner can still play at a competitive level. Manning was pretty much done after his final playoff run in 2017.
The worst thing that could happen to Gardner is that he returns for 2021, doesn’t play well at all and is taking reps away from guys like Clint Frazier. With how demanding the Yankees fanbase is for success at all times — and rightfully so — it wouldn’t be surprising to see some fans turn on Gardner. As Harvey Dent once said, “You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”