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Brett Gardner declines player option, becomes free agent

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The veteran might still come back for a 15th season in pinstripes, but the odds are just a bit longer now.

Tampa Bay Rays v New York Yankees Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

One of the earliest impactful decisions of the Yankees offseason was made earlier today. When Brett Gardner returned for the 2021 season, he did so on a one-year contract that had a $2.3 million player option for 2022, as well as a $7.5 million club option. The latter was always a long shot to be picked up given where the 38-year-old is at this point in his long career, but it seemed like there was an outside chance that Gardner could force the Yankees’ hand by picking up that player option.

However, the Yankees announced minutes ago that this would not be the case. Both the team and Gardner declined the 2022 option, and he is now a free agent. He’ll get $1.5 million through his buyout.

Obviously, if the circumstances line up and both sides are interested in a reunion, the Yankees and Gardner could come to terms on a new deal, though at the very least, it does inch the Gardy 2022 meter slightly closer to Retirement than Return. Maybe it’s nothing, but unlike his teammates, the man was wearing his Yankees jersey throughout his final press conference after the Wild Card Game loss. The team’s last active member of the 2009 champions has to at least be thinking about it.

The 2021 season was a tough one for Gardner. The Yankees had hoped that he would primarily be a fourth outfielder, but injuries to the likes of Aaron Hicks, Clint Frazier, and Miguel Andújar forced him into 140 games of action. Gardner can’t really be blamed; he played about as well as one could’ve expected for an aging vet. Alas, he’s simply not the player who belted 28 homers in 2019 anymore. He hit .222/.327/.362 with just 10 homers and a 90 OPS+, playing better down the stretch but still left plenty to be desired from his roster spot.

Reliever Darren O’Day also had a player option/team option situation for 2022, and the same outcome was reached for him. The Yankees had hoped that the sidearming righty would be a solid bullpen option in 2021, but the now-39-year-old only made it through April before hurting his rotator cuff. Although O’Day briefly returned at the end of June, it was short-lived; an ugly hamstring injury ended his season before the All-Star break. Like Gardner, he could be mulling retirement after quite a successful 14-year career.