Once upon a time, the Yankees had a young outfield prospect named Brett Gardner. Selected in the third round of the 2005 amateur draft out of the College of Charleston, his elite tool was his immense speed and ability to draw walks. For the most part, he profiled as a speedy, defense-first outfielder who likely was destined for a reserve role at the major league level. And while the early portion of his career played out pretty much exactly like that, by 2021, that narrative had changed: Gardner rode the launch angle revolution to reinvent himself, adding gap-to-gap power and taking advantage of the short porch in right field to swat some homers.
Combining this mid-career power boost with an elite glove in left field (and an above-average one in center), a player once believed to be a fourth outfielder at best became a key member of the New York Yankees, accumulating 44.3 bWAR (39.0 fWAR) across 14 seasons. Now, however, his time in pinstripes appears to be over, and while the Yankees locker room keeps Gardner’s old locker spot empty in anticipation of a possible reunion, there are reports of other teams interested in the veteran’s services — such as the Toronto Blue Jays, as was reported yesterday. A split seems a very real possibility, and there may be a simple explanation for it: there’s a new kid in town, and his name is Tim Locastro.
The Yankees have liked Locastro for a while — when they announced his signing last week, it was the third time they had acquired him. At first glance, it might seem a strange infatuation, as the 29-year-old outfielder has slashed just .231/.333/.329 across 209 games in his career, and the defensive metrics are decidedly mixed about his glove (he’s accumulated 5 Outs Above Average and -4 Defensive Runs Saved, and his UZR/150 is -1.9). But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that, in many ways, Locastro at least appears to profile like a young Gardner.
Don’t get me wrong, Gardner was a much superior player to Locastro going into his age-29 season. In 2013, Gardner had played in 475 games across five seasons, and had been worth 15.2 bWAR. Locastro to date has played less than half that, and has accumulated only 0.4 bWAR. At least to this point, their careers are not comparable in the slightest.
If there’s one thing that Locastro has over a young Gardner, it’s speed. No. 11 was one of the fastest players in baseball during his youth, and even last year, in his age-37 season, his 28.6 ft/second sprint speed was in the 87th percentile in all of baseball. Locastro, however, is on a completely different level, and is quite literally the fastest player in baseball — and he has been for three years running now. It’s no accident that he’s been so efficient on the basepath, having been caught stealing only three times in his career. If he could get on base at anything resembling a decent clip, he could weaponize his speed and add a new dimension to the Yankees lineup.
That outcome does, however, require a lot of ifs, and while it explains why the team would have wanted to bring Locastro back on a minor league deal, it doesn’t explain why they gave him a major league contract to replace Brett Gardner as the team’s fourth outfielder. To find that out, we need to take a look at the FanGraphs projections for this season. Here are Brett Gardner’s ...
and here are Tim Locastro’s ...
While Gardner’s baseline is slightly higher, the projections view them as more comparable than you might expect given their career histories, and they seem to think it’s more likely for Locastro to have a breakout year than for Gardner to bounce back after a rough 2021 campaign. At this point, if they’re a wash offensively, then Locastro’s speed, superior glove, and greater flexibility (he can play all three outfield positions) make him the more appealing bench piece. Add on the fact that Locastro doesn’t have the baggage of being a longtime, well-loved member of the organization — something which may have contributed, at least subconsciously, to Gardner’s regular at-bats even when struggling last season — and it becomes easy to see why the Yankees might have decided to move on from Gardner.