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Trading Brett Gardner now makes perfect sense, unless it doesn’t

After years of speculation, it’s never made more sense for the Yankees to trade Brett Gardner...except they may not want to trade him now.

Divisional Round - New York Yankees v Cleveland Indians - Game Five
How Greg Kirkland looked when I talked about trading Gardner
Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

I have a checklist that I use every year to determine that the baseball offseason is truly underway. It’s a fun little game that I play by myself, but it amuses me to see that some things never change. One of the items on that list is Brett Gardner trade speculation. Every year is the year the Yankees will finally trade Brett Gardner, and every year passes by and he still remains a Yankee.

In a strange turn of events, I actually haven’t been able to check that box this year. Gardner’s coming off a solid season where he truly established himself as one of the clubhouse leaders, so it’s not exactly crazy, but if there were any time for Gardner trade speculation, this would be the perfect time for that. Why? Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge, Aaron Hicks, Clint Frazier, and Jacoby Ellsbury.

The Yankees would’ve been able to get away with a Gardner trade in years prior, but this year the Yankees truly have a logjam in the outfield and we’re hearing the least about Gardner being traded. Is that simply because there’s more going on in Yankeeland this year so people don’t have to speculate? Or is it because even though there’s a logjam, this might be the time the Yankees are least likely to actually trade Gardner, even if it makes sense.

Trading Gardner almost makes too much sense, especially now. Aaron Hicks has basically been handed the center field job, while Stanton and Judge can cover the corner outfield spots. If they traded Gardner, the Yankees could easily find more playing time for Clint Frazier and clear up money if they wanted to pursue someone like Yu Darvish. They’d still have Ellsbury as a backup plan...or is that the problem?

In an ideal world, the Yankees would clear up more money by trading Ellsbury, but Ellsbury has that precious no-trade clause which he seems hellbent on using to stay in New York. As frustrating as it is as a fan, it is his right. Since Ellsbury supposedly won’t waive his no-trade clause, it makes sense for the Yankees to look elsewhere to free up money so they can continue their offseason strategy of getting better and getting under the luxury tax threshold simultaneously.

While Hicks has been handed the keys to center field, it’s not like he’s Judge or Stanton and he can’t lose his job. Hicks was awful in 2016, August notwithstanding, and had basically been a bust for the Twins before that. His turned things around to start 2017 before he got injured, then kind of struggled after returning. Even so, the Yankees are buying what Hicks is selling, they’re probably going to be smart about it though.

Hicks has yet to show sustained success and while they may believe in his abilities, they’d be fools to not have a backup plan in place. Sure, if Gardner was in fact traded and Hicks failed, Ellsbury would be waiting there to reclaim the job. That’s just the problem.

At this point in his career, it’s obvious that the team doesn’t really prefer Ellsbury to anyone. They may not even view Gardner, who’ll mainly be handling left field, as a center fielder anymore and they’d still probably prefer him in center over Ellsbury. It’d likely just be for a year anyway since Gardner’s a free agent after the season.

The Yankees are going to be a very interesting team this year. They have the talent to win the World Series but they’re depending on so much to go right, it could end up blowing up in their faces. While trading Gardner makes a lot of sense in theory, keeping him also makes a lot of sense. If the ship starts sinking, he’s the perfect choice to help keep everything afloat.