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Who would be more valuable: Gardner or Andrus?

Brett Gardner or Elvis Andrus?

Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

Mike Petriello over at Fangraphs has an extended article up examining the declining value of Elvis Andrus relative to the extension that's about to kick in. It's a great meditation on the dangers of long term deals, particularly to mid-market franchises. It's a good article and well worth the click.

There's an aspect of Andrus' value that Petriello only glosses over: position scarcity. Andrus was worth 1.3 WAR in 2014, the lowest overall value of his career, marked by a three-year decline in both offense and defense. To the Rangers, Andrus is worth less than that. They have some of the best shortstops in baseball pencilled in to play second base or backup roles: Rougned Odor, Luis Sardinas, Jurickson Profar.

To the Yankees, without a shortstop, Andrus is worth more than his WAR. The Rangers barely need Andrus, but the Yankees need him badly. So should they give up a player with more context neutral value for the less valuable player who fits a position scarcity need? How much of a difference does position need justify?

Brett Gardner is coming off a good season, making Yankee fans at least initially hopeful that Gardner will justify the four-year extension he inked this spring. By WAR, he was worth 3.2 WAR in 2014; ostensibly twice as valuable as Andrus, but Gardner is a left fielder whose best asset - his defense - is undervalued in his position. Gardner has learned to take advantage of the aggressive way pitchers pitch to him; his walks have fallen over the last several years, but this year he replaced those walks with slugging. Over the last two seasons, he's still seeing more than 4.3 pitches per plate appearance, only slightly less than the 4.6 he saw in his best season (2010). Gardner's going to make less than Andrus in every year of that new deal, and Andrus is potentially signed for five more seasons after Gardner's deal is finished.

They say that most fans miss on trade proposals because any deal they'd agree to doesn't actually hurt enough to get done. So let's make the opposite mistake. One of the bullet points from that Petriello article is that the Rangers are looking for a catcher and a left fielder. Brett Gardner and John Ryan Murphy for Elvis Andrus and enough cash to bring the AAV down to $12M. It's the opposite of the kind of trade the Yankees usually make, but the more cash conscious Yankees of Hal Steinbrenner might see the value of that deal, and they might figure that a hole in left field is easier to fill midseason than a hole at shortstop.

The Yankees could head into the season with Austin Romine set to back up Brian McCann and the clock ticking before Gary Sanchez makes the leap to the big leagues. The Yankees would be a weaker team on paper, but with a better balance to their defensive alignment.