Now that the Yankees’ season has ended, we can start thinking ahead, and that means the 2022 campaign. No, there won’t be any roster decisions for at least a few weeks, but it’s worth discussing which players are going to be with the Bombers for the immediate future.
One of those players with an uncertain future is outfielder Brett Gardner. The 38-year-old speedster is naturally declining as an offensive player, but he showed in 2021 that he can still be relatively close to average offensively (93 wRC+) and remains a plus baserunner. His fielding has declined (39th percentile in Outs Above Average), though.
Overall, it wasn’t a particularly impressive season with the bat for the veteran, who slashed .222/.327/.362 with 10 home runs in 140 games and 461 plate appearances. Because of injuries, perhaps he played more than the Yankees would have liked, but he at least kept his walk rate at a very strong 13 percent, and was slightly better since MLB decided to inspect pitchers for the use of foreign substances on the ball. From June 21 to the last day of the campaign, when the crackdown started, Gardy was average offensively: he slashed .229/.335/.386 with a 101 wRC+.
He could make for a decent fifth outfielder, generally speaking, but the Yankees may not have a spot for him in 2022. They clearly like having him as insurance policy, but the reality, at least at the moment, may indicate that he won’t play much if everybody is healthy, and even after one or two injuries.
The Yankees have several outfielders under contract for next season: Aaron Judge, Joey Gallo, Giancarlo Stanton, and Aaron Hicks will surely plan to play a lot. There is also a chance that Clint Frazier, Miguel Andújar, Estevan Florial, and others are part of the team’s plans. It’s still way too early to say, but Gardner may have a lot of competition for at-bats if he stays. Besides, the front office could opt to bring even another option to start at center, if they want to upgrade on Hicks’ defense or durability.
Of course, there is always the chance he renders all speculation moot. He re-signed with the Yankees in February, on a one-year contract with a split option for 2022. The deal carries a $2.3 million player option for next season, which would turn into a $7.15 million club option (with a $1.15 million buyout) if Gardy turns it down.
There is absolutely no chance the Yankees pick up the club option if Gardner declines the player one. The ball is in the outfielder’s court, as he has the ability to “opt in” into the Bombers’ 2022 plans under a $2.3 million salary.
Here is what Gardner himself said about his future this week:
“I hope that I’m back next season, but obviously, that’s really not on my radar right now.”
He then explained:
“I understand you have to ask me about next year, but if I had to answer, I hope I’m back in that room and I hope that I’m in Tampa come February. But there’s obviously a long time between now and then, a lot of things that need to get figured out, and we’ll see what happens.”
Translation: his desire right now appears to be playing at least one more year, but it’s not clear what the Yankees want. It’s also not clear what his market would be, if he would have a clearer path towards playing time elsewhere, or if he’d even have any interest in playing anywhere other than only team he’s known. It’s not hard to envision him ultimately wanting to stay in New York, but after a 14-year run, one has to wonder if there’s any room left for the veteran.