After a long offseason of mostly silence from both the Yankees and Brett Gardner, there finally appeared to be some movement in the past week or so. The two sides reuniting always seemed to be the most likely outcome, given their respective situations. The Yankeed needed better outfield depth than what they had (or were willing to pay), and there was probably not going to be huge incentives for Gardner to leave the only team he’s ever played for across his 13-year career.
Per Ken Davidoff of the New York Post, Gardner and the Yankees came to terms on a new contract for 2021. Mark Feinsand reported that the veteran outfielder will return on a one-year deal guaranteeing him $4 million. There are also player and team options for 2022 that could earn Gardner $11 million according to Jon Heyman. The contract was organized to give the Yankees an advantage in their months-long quest to remain under the $210 million luxury tax threshold; Joel Sherman noted that after the dust settles, the payroll should currently sit around $204 million. (Hooray for Hal Steinbrenner, I suppose.)
Gardner had a career-high 28 homers during the juiced-ball year of 2019, when he hit .251/.325/.503 with a 116 OPS+ and 4.1 WAR in 141 games. Re-signed to a new deal for 2020, his production slipped a bit, but his always-present plate discipline still helped him to a .223/.354/.392 triple slash and 108 OPS+ in 49 games during the shortened season. Roughly stretched across a standard campaign (i.e. his 2019 game total), his 0.7 WAR would’ve been worth about 2.0 WAR in a normal year. Gardner is not the Gold Glove outfielder that he once was, but the 37-year-old is still better than most players on defense.
There will be many more pieces determining how Gardner will be deployed in 2021 and if Clint Frazier should be concerned at all about his playing time, but the best news is that the Yankees at least have a better fourth outfielder option in case Aaron Hicks or Aaron Judge misses time with injury — a distinct possibility given their histories. The Yankees’ clubhouse is sure to be happy about this as well, as Gardner has been a team leader for years and those dudes really do love him.
We’ll have more to come on Gardner soon. In the meantime, welcome back to the Gardy Party.