Brett Gardner is a player who, to a lot of people, has always seemed to fly under the radar. Maybe thats why it's a bit surprising when you realize that Gardner has been in the major leagues since 2008 and is only a year away from free agency. Doesn't seem like it's been that long, but it's true.
The Yankees outfield situation is currently set up to be very thin in 2014 with Curtis Granderson likely hitting free agency. For next season, Gardner, Vernon Wells, Alfonso Soriano and Ichiro Suzuki are the four major league outfielders under contract. None of them are guaranteed after 2014, however, and the best outfielder under team control for the 2015 season is currently Zoilo Almonte.
The Yankees can hope guys like Mason Williams and Tyler Austin make big strides and can maybe take a starting outfield spot by then, but the fact of the matter is that they have no outfielders and eventually a move is going to have to be made if they don't want their outfield to mirror Mets-levels of incompetence. Either a trade for an outfielder, a free agent signing, or, in this case, a re-signing.
I'm sure there will be debates about whether or not Curtis Granderson should be brought back after this season, especially if money is freed up by a potential Alex Rodriguez suspension, but it's interesting to think about what will happen with Brett Gardner following 2014.
Here is the career line for Brett Gardner as of right now:
.267/.351/.378, 100 wRC+, 73.7 UZR, 17.1 cumulative WAR
About what you'd expect. Gardner is a guy who can work the count and get on base (and then proceed to steal them), is a league-average offensive player, and an elite defensive outfielder. Much of Gardner's value comes from his defense, which, again, can make him difficult to quantify as a player, so here are four recent free agent outfielders with their respective lines and contracts. The stats are as they were prior to signing their respective contracts (courtesy of fangraphs.com).
Player A: .281/.333/.424, 104 wRC+, 14.2 UZR, 13.9 cumulative WAR - Four years, 40 million (10 million/year)
Player B: .255/.336/422, 107 wRC+, 4.3 UZR, 21.9 cumulative WAR - Five years, 75 million (15 million/year)
Player C: .271/.336/.351, 91 wRC+, 59.8 UZR, 21.5 cumulative WAR - Four years, 48 million (12 million/year)
Player D: .275/.341/.430, 105 wRC+, 38.0 UZR, 24.8 cumulative WAR - Three years, 39 million (13 million/year)
These four players all have a little bit in common with each other and with Brett Gardner. They were all at a similar age (31, 27, 30, 31 respectively) at the time they signed their respective deals. They are all center fielders. All are around league-average hitters with above average value defensively. They all got, to some extent, relatively similar contracts. At the very least, each of these contracts were at least three years long and in the 10-15 million/year range, but can Brett Gardner expect more of the same?
I would say yes. Looking at the list, three of the four players have a bit more power than Gardner does, but are not at his defensive level in the outfield either. The best comparison to Gardner is probably Player C. Both players have minimal power and get a good chunk of their value through their defense. The difference is that Gardner has actually been a slightly better player than Player C has been, and the latter managed to get himself a four year, $48 million contract.
The market has been set for this kind of player, and unless things drastically change, Brett Gardner is going to get paid. I'm sure many Yankees fans realize that Brett Gardner is a steal at the 2.85 million they're paying him in 2013, but that isn't going to last much longer. It's gonna be either pay him or watch him leave, because some team is going to pay him.
To put an end to the mystery:
A: Angel Pagan
B: B.J. Upton
C: Michael Bourn
D: Shane Victorino
There are other things that could factor in. The market could change. Gardner could just love it in New York and he'll take a lesser deal. Gardner could have a ridiculous break out season in 2014 or he could regress and/or get hurt. But in the market the way it is right now, Brett Gardner could be looking at a four to five year deal worth at least $12 million. Keeping in mind the current situation of the Yankees outfield, is it better to resign Brett Gardner at that kind of price, or let him walk?
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