Since 2009, Brett Gardner has by far been the Yankees’ best baserunner. FanGraphs’ base running stat (BsR) has him accumulating a total of 49.5 BsR while a distant second place goes to Curtis Granderson with a 20.4 BsR. Since 2014, when Jacoby Ellsbury joined the team, Gardner has remained the team leader with an 18.5 BsR and Ellsbury comes in second with a 14.1. Despite a drop in his stolen base total in recent years, Gardner continues to be a speedy weapon on the base paths. His base running ranked fifth best in MLB last season among qualified batters. All that is to say that Gardner is still the best leadoff hitter that the Yankees currently have on their roster for 2017.
Time can be cruel, though, and before you know it, Gardner won’t have the same speed that has been such a major part of his value. Even if he keeps up his production, Gardner only has two years left on his contract, and he’s been the subject of many trade rumors over the years. At some point in the not-so-distant future, the Yankees will need a new leadoff hitter. Below, I’ll share some possible replacements for him.
I’ll start with the most boring option immediately. Ellsbury is under contract for a ton of money and for many more seasons. He would become the Yankees leadoff hitter right now if Gardner were out of the picture. He finished 2016 slightly behind Didi Gregorius in BsR, but Ellsbury is more of a base stealer and a more natural leadoff hitter than Gregorius.
Mateo is one of the top prospects on the Yankees. At age 20, he stole 71 bases at Charleston, and last season he stole 36 bases at Tampa. He is still somewhat far from the majors, but the Yankees won’t hesitate to promote him up if they think he’s turned the corner. By the time Gardner’s contract is up, Mateo would be a real possibility to make the 2019 roster. He saw time at second baseman last season, which would match him up perfectly to replace Starlin Castro, since 2019 will be the last season of his contract. The timing could be perfect for Mateo to take over the starting position and the leadoff spot.
Torres is the reason that Mateo switched to second last season, which shows you just how good of a prospect he really is. He hasn’t swiped as many bags as Mateo but he still shows a lot of promise to hit for average, get on base, and steal some bases. Considered by many to be the Yankees’ top prospect, Torres will have ample opportunities to be the guy.
Fowler could be the most realistic option to take over the leadoff spot from Gardner. At Charleston, Tampa, and Trenton, he had batting averages of .307, .289, and .281 respectively. Last season, he stole 25 bases at Trenton, the best mark of his minor league career so far. Fowler makes even more sense because he is an outfielder. If Gardner leaves town and Ellsbury continues to slow down, Fowler could step in as a speedy outfielder in between Aaron Judge and Clint Frazier.