Aside from Andrew Miller, nobody on the Yankee roster has emerged in trade talks like Brett Gardner. The 32-year-old outfielder slashed .259/.343/.399 last year with 16 homers and 20 steals. However, his final numbers don't tell the full story. Gardner drove the Yankees' offense for much of the first half, hitting .302/.377/.484 in the first 82 games. Combined with his terrific defense, it was enough to earn Gardner his first All-Star selection. He swatted 10 of his home runs and swiped 15 bases before the break. Afterward, his production plummeted. Gardner finished the year by "hitting" .206/.300/.292. Good gravy...
In early November, Gardner spoke to Wallace Matthews of ESPN and explained that he sustained a bone bruise on his wrist after an early-season hit by pitch that bothered him all year. The details, however, were fractious. Gardner has ground his career out of grit and resilience, but he's not helping the team by batting .206 over his final 69 games.
Injury or not, it was frankly embarrassing that Joe Girardi didn't feel comfortable starting both Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury in the Wild Card Game. Without the middle of the lineup producing enough to carry the load, the top of the order wilted.
It's fairly obvious that the Yankees aren't well served by having two lefties with identical offensive profiles batting back-to-back in front of the heavy hitters. The lineup needs better diversity. Since the Yankees probably won't be able to unload the final five years and $109 million left on Ellsbury's deal (plus the no-trade clause), Gardner is more likely to be dealt. The South Carolina native is due $38.5 million over the next three years with a team option for 2019.
Gardner's trade value, though, is debatable. Players like Gardner don't hit the trade block often. Last week, Leonys Martin fetched Tom Wilhelmsen, an above-average late inning reliever, when Texas dealt the center fielder to Seattle. Gardner, while a better player than Martin, is significantly more expensive. Another player of Gardner's ilk to be dealt recently was Denard Span, whom Washington acquired from Minnesota for top pitching prospect Alex Meyer before the 2013 season. At 28, Span was quite a bit younger than Gardner is now. It's safe to assume his trade value falls somewhere between those of Martin and Span.
Free agency this winter is also packed with quality outfielders. Both Span and Dexter Fowler will be on the market and both profile similarly to Gardner. However, Gardner could be viewed as a fallback for the big market teams that fail to sign Justin Upton, Jason Heyward, or Yoenis Cespedes. All of these factors make a return on a Gardner deal hard to predict, especially since it's difficult to assess true player value without knowledge of how each team evaluates trade targets. Suggesting trade possibilities from the outside can be very difficult.
But I'll try anyway! Piggybacking off of Matt's piece yesterday previewing an Andrew Miller trade, I present to you: Eleven potential destinations for number 11.
No. 1: Brett Gardner to the Orioles for C Caleb Joseph, RHP Tyler Wilson & LHP Tanner Scott
If the season started tomorrow, Baltimore would be starting the omnipresent Nolan Reimold in left and the rookie Dariel Alvarez in right. With Matt Wieters accepting the qualifying offer, doesn't it make sense for Baltimore to compete in 2016? The AL East will be fairly wide open again. If a couple more things break Baltimore's way they certainly have a chance to compete. Remember, they won 95 games just one year ago.
Joseph could slot behind Brian McCann and give the Yankees flexibility to address other needs by moving Gary Sanchez. He swatted 10 home runs last season in just 320 at bats. Wilson, 25, started five games for Baltimore last year and figures to compete for a rotation spot in 2016. He's the kind of pitcher you'd expect to see on the Twins, know what I mean? Fireballing lefty Tanner Scott, though, is the one who makes this deal interesting. He's still only in A ball, but the 21-year-old has been known to scratch triple digits. He punched out 60 batters over 42.1 innings during 2015.
This deal hinges on how confident the Yankees are they'll be able to develop Scott. Joseph and Wilson are both solid contributors, but neither is as dynamic—or as good—as Gardner is.
No. 2: Brett Gardner and Rob Refsnyder to the Royals for RHP Miguel Almonte & INF Christian Colon
The Royals might be losing two-thirds of their outfield. Both Alexes—Gordon and Rios—are free agents. Gordon, almost certainly, will be tempted to leave Kansas City with a better offer from elsewhere. That's where Gardner comes in. His grittiness makes him a Royals type of player, but his patience at the plate would be a change of pace in Kansas City's lineup.
Almonte is a bit of an up-and-down prospect. Splitting last year between the Double-A Texas League and the Triple-A Pacific Coast League, he posted an ERA of 4.51 in two of the toughest pitcher's leagues on the planet. Still, he effectively limited hits (98 in 103.2 innings) and struck out 96 batters. He might still be a year away, but in all likelihood, Almonte will help a big league rotation in the near future.
World Series hero Christian Colon probably won't ever become the player the Royals expected when they selected him fourth overall in the 2010 draft. Still, he's a high-contact hitter who can provide above-average defense all over the infield. He'd be a nice upgrade over Brendan Ryan and would probably compete for the second base job.
No. 3: Brett Gardner to the Twins for RHP Kohl Stewart & RHP J.T. Chargois
If the Yankees are dealing with the Twins, the ultimate prize would be All-Star second baseman Brian Dozier. However, I'll concede that Gardner probably damaged his value enough in the second half that the possibility of acquiring Dozier is completely off the table, particularly after Minnesota bought out his arbitration for a ridiculously affordable four years and $20 million.
Instead, I'll turn to a couple of pitching prospects, Kohl Stewart and J.T. Chargois. Stewart, a 21-year-old right-hander, has the stuff of a future frontline starter. He'll run his fastball up to 96 mph with good movement and possesses a wipeout slider. He's also got a curve and a change that profile as big league average. However, he's still in A-ball and struggles to miss as many bats as he should.
Chargois has a history of arm troubles, but otherwise profiles as sort of a right-handed Tanner Scott. He's a flamethrower, who reaches triple digits, with a nasty breaking ball. He leapfrogged from Rookie Ball in 2014 to Double-A last year. The 24-year-old doesn't appear to be far away from making an impact where it matters.
No. 4: Brett Gardner and Jacob Lindgren to the Indians for RHP Trevor Bauer
Bauer is finally becoming the pitcher we all thought he'd be when Arizona selected him third in the 2011 amateur draft. Still just 24, Bauer solidified himself last season. He made 30 starts for the Indians, and though his ERA was high (4.55), Bauer really limited hits, surrendering just 152 in 176.0 innings. Although he led the American League with 79 walks allowed, Bauer struck out 170.
Cleveland is, in all likelihood, searching for an outfielder. Right now, former Yankees castoff Abraham Almonte occupies center field for the tribe--not ideal. A Gardner-for-Bauer trade is a nifty need-for-need swap, where both teams deal from an area of strength. Plus, Bauer is exactly the type of young, projectable arm the Yankees are in the habit of acquiring. It might take a little extra to goad Cleveland into relinquishing one of their young pitchers (that's why I threw Lindgren in there), but the Yankees' lefty relief situation is set. Ultimately, this might be my favorite option.
No. 5: Brett Gardner, James Pazos & Gary Sanchez to the White Sox for OF Avisail Garcia & 2B Micah Johnson
Garcia is rumored to be on the trade block, and acquiring him would make the Yankees younger while maintaining corner outfield flexibility. Last year, Mini-Miggy slashed .257/.309/.365 and popped 13 homers. He's certainly worse in the field than Gardner is, but even though he's been around for years, Garcia is still just 24 years old.
Johnson, who made his major league debut in 2015, would give the Yankees a legitimate prospect at second base. The 24-year-old is a 75 grade runner who owns a career 153-for-205 stolen base mark in the minor leagues on top of a .301 batting average.
Chicago needs help both in the bullpen and in the back of the rotation. Garcia and Johnson are two valuable young assets, so a deal for them is going to hurt at least a little. However, I believe that such a deal, that gives the Yankees young, controllable players at the Major League level, is the direction the franchise both wants and needs to head in.
No. 6: Brett Gardner & Jorge Mateo to the Rangers for 2B Rougned Odor
Rougned Odor is going to be a fantastic player. He's not as speedy as Johnson, but the 21-year-old showed what he's capable of in this year's ALDS against Toronto, when he batted .278 and made a number of sweet defensive plays. In 120 games during the regular season, Odor hit .261/.316/.465 and bashed 16 homers. He's a terrific young infielder that any team would love to get their hands on. He's worth relinquishing Mateo.
For Texas, Odor's availability likely depends on the health of fellow second baseman Jurickson Profar, the former top prospect who has essentially missed the last two seasons due to injury. This would be a big ask of Texas given Odor's remarkably high talent, but it would be coup if the teams could agree.
No. 7: Brett Gardner, Adam Warren and Rob Refsnyder to the Angels for LHP Andrew Heaney
Heaney's name also surfaced in the Miller column, and with good reason. Like Bauer, he's exactly the type of pitcher the Yankees are hunting. He's 24, left-handed, and limits hits (99 in 105.2 IP last year). Similar to Nathan Eovaldi last year, he's young enough to still be malleable. Clearly, the Yankees have supreme confidence in Larry Rothschild's ability to work with young pitchers and the improvement of both Eovaldi and Michael Pineda speak to the skill of the pitching coach. Building a rotation of Tanaka, Heaney, Eovaldi, Pineda, and Severino—all of whom are young and all of whom have serious upside—would be a terrific way to set the tone for the team's future.
No. 8: Brett Gardner, Jorge Mateo, Jacob Lindgren & Eric Jagielo to the Mets for RHP Zack Wheeler & 2B Dilson Herrera
Gardner isn't exactly Carlos Gomez but a couple of pot-sweetners in Lindgren and Mateo might be enough to convince the Mets to part with Wheeler, who missed all of last season with Tommy John surgery. The Mets have said they don't want to move Wheeler, but they were willing to do so last year and moving one of their young pitchers is a way to strengthen the roster without having to spend much money.
Wheeler was fantastic in 2014. He made 32 starts, tossed 185.1 innings and struck out 187 batters while allowing just 167 hits and 79 walks. By any account, the fireballing righty is one of baseball's top young arms. However, after missing an entire season, his value is also a bit uncertain.
Herrera, a second baseman, would give the Yankees another option at that position. He's still only 21, and he's a career .304 hitter in the minor leagues. Basically, he's Micah Johnson without the speed, though he's been good for 10-15 steals per year in the minors. If the Mets manage to retain Daniel Murphy or ink Howie Kendrick, Ben Zobrist, or any of the other infield options, Herrera might be expendable.
This trade is a bit of a stretch, particularly because it's hard to imagine these crosstown rivals doing buisiness with each other. They haven't pulled off a major swap since the ol' David Justice-for-Robin Ventura deal back in 2002 (save for minor trades for the likes of Mike Stanton and Armando Benitez). Still, Wheeler and Herrera are two perfect fits for the Yankees' roster both now and in the future.
No. 9: Brett Gardner, Tyler Webb and Adam Warren to the Nationals for OF Michael Taylor, RHP Blake Treinen & INF Wilmer Difo
Washington, which is likely poised to lose both Denard Span and Ian Desmond in free agency, might look to Gardner to take over center field. Rookie Michael Taylor filled in admirably last year, providing both power and speed. The 24-year-old bopped 14 longballs and swiped 16 bases. However, he struggled to make contact or work walks, batting just .229/.282/.358. Still, the toolsy Taylor is young enough to develop into a more complete hitter.
Treinen would make a nice piece for the ‘pen. The righty gave up 62 hits while striking out 65 and walking 32 in 67.2 innings last year. That's too many walks but Treinen, who sits at 95-96 mph, has a nice arm.
Difo, 23, would be the real prize here. Washington's No. 4 prospect, he batted .286/.325/.412 in the minors last season and even made a brief cameo with the Nats. He's strikeout prone but he's got some serious wheels. The switch-hitter swiped 30 bags in the minors last year. If he were Bronxward bound, Difo would compete for the second base job during spring training. I have little doubt he'd be occupying the position full-time by season's end.
No. 10: Brett Gardner to the Cubs for 2B Starlin Castro
This rumor has already made the rounds, and though both sides deny talks, it makes sense on paper. Chicago, who stands to lose Dexter Fowler in free agency, needs a center fielder in a bad way. Castro was in-and-out of the lineup last year; his inconsistency was frustrating at times. Though he rebounded during September and October, Castro's midseason benching left concerns about his future with the Cubs.
Still, Castro is just 25 and owns a career .281/.321/.404 slash line. Like Gardner, Castro comes with a hefty contract. He's due nearly $40 million over the next four seasons. Another need-for-need trade, this one would be a change of scenery for two clearly talented players. Chicago saves money and years while the Yankees get younger. New York might have to kick in an extra piece or two, but on the surface, this trade seems fairly reasonable.
No. 11: Brett Gardner, Eric Jagielo and Adam Warren to the Dodgers for LHP Alex Wood & C Austin Barnes
The final scenario of this interminable column, the Dodgers deal depends heavily on what LA does with the rest of its offseason. Should they retain Zack Greinke or sign another free agent arm, Wood might become available, particularly if Hyun-Jin Ryu is fully healthy. The Dodgers have shown a willingness to relinquish players soon after acquiring them. This trade is also somewhat dependent on the Dodgers being able to shed one of their current outfielders. Both Andre Ethier and Carl Crawford will be tough to trade.
Despite the injuries, Jagielo is a piece that could interest the Dodgers, who don't exactly have a long-term plan at third base. I suppose Justin Turner's been good for long enough that we have to start taking him seriously. Plus, throwing Warren into the mix strengthens the Dodgers' pitching, whether they choose to use him in the rotation or out of the ‘pen.
Wood took half a step back last season, which saw him traded from the Braves to the Dodgers at midseason. The 24-year-old southpaw posted an even 12-12 record in 189.2 innings spread across 32 starts. He allowed 198 hits, 59 walks and 15 homers while striking out just 139—thirty-one batters fewer than his previous season. Regression aside, the 6'4" Wood is another terrific young arm and fits the Yankee mold of big, young, controllable pitchers.
I have no inside information, just way too much time on my hands. It would hurt to see Gardner depart. His development is something the Yankees organization should take great pride in. An undersized outfielder, Gardner went from walk-on at the College of Charleston to All-American to a third round draft pick. Since reaching the majors in 2008, Gardner's stock has subtly progressed from spare part to fourth outfielder, and finally, to All-Star starting outfielder for the New York Yankees.
I love watching Gardner play. I love his hustle, his grit and his tenacity. I love the way he works pitchers. I love how he grinds out at-bats. I love the headfirst slides. Still I'll dejectedly concede that his time in pinstripes might be over. The best thing for the franchise might be to move on from him. But I've gotta say, more than almost any player I can remember, it would really hurt to see Gardner in another uniform.