If it was surprising that Brett Gardner was re-signed to join the 2021 New York Yankees, it was because there seemed to be an obvious dearth in playing time for the old veteran. Clint Frazier, Aaron Hicks, and Aaron Judge were expected to be the starting outfielders virtually every day. Yet Frazier and Hicks were ineffective and lost for the season early on, essentially making Gardner a starter.
Though he had his moments in 2021, it’s a role that he’s not really fit for anymore, considering his age and the availability of other, more talented outfielders. Yet would it be that shocking to see Gardner yet again for 2022? The front office has always seemed enamored with his presence in the Yankee clubhouse, and Gardner gave no indication at the end of the season that he intends to retire. Give his player option for 2022, the ball is in his court. If Gardner does come back, fans should prepare to see more at-bats from a player with some skills, but who doesn’t hit nearly enough at this point to get the playing time he always does.
2021 Statistics (MLB): 94 games, 378 PA, .222/.327/.362, 10 HR, 39 RBI, 4 SB, 13.0 BB%, 21.7 K%, 90 OPS+, 93 wRC+, 0 OAA, 1.4 fWAR, 1.0 bWAR
2022 Contract Status: Free agent ($2.3 million player option for 2022 if $7.15 million club option is not picked up; $1.15 million buyout)
The reason, in my view, that Gardner gets an average grade is because this is essentially the player he was expected to be this season, just given way too many plate appearances. Although he could yank a home run every now and again, his slugging percentage is really low and he doesn’t make it for it with his defense or speed anymore either like he once did. According to Baseball Savant, his average exit velocity and hard-hit ball rate are were in the 11th and 16th percentiles in baseball, respectively. That simply doesn’t play in today’s game.
Despite his age, Gardner is obviously still a fast runner — his sprint speed was in the 87th percentile of MLB. But while he can still cover ground in center field, his defense is quite limited by his throwing arm, which is weak at this point of his career. Beyond the bad ratings, his three outfield assists also paled in comparison to Judge’s 10 and Joey Gallo’s 14 (though to be fair, those two are among the best defensive outfielders in all of baseball). And for all his speed, Gardner only stole four bases throughout the season, making him not much of a late-inning pinch-running threat.
Gardner had good stretches throughout the season, but at age 38, he’s simply a limited player. As the only remaining active player from the 2009 championship team, he has a special place in the hearts of fans, but it would not be terribly difficult for Cashman to find a better backup outfielder this offseason, just based on numbers alone.
If the Yankees don’t want to bring him back, Gardner could retire and say he was a career Yankee, or perhaps latch on with another team. The leaking to the press of his fight with Gerrit Cole, who is providing New York with a lot more value on the field than Gardner these days, might suggest the team is moving on (or it could mean nothing at all). Brett the Jet has given a lot the Yankees, but at this point he looks like he might not have much left.