A name that keeps coming up in the trade talks surrounding Brett Gardner is that of Cincinnati Reds pitcher Homer Bailey. The Yankees still need to add one more starter, and the Reds have already tried to trade for Gardner once (albeit by offering Brandon Phillips and his bloated whale of a contract, as if the Yankees need any more of those). Bailey, however, would be a much more attractive piece, and while it might cost more than Gardner to get him, he would give the Yankees (especially if they manage to sign Masahiro Tanaka) one of the best rotations in the big leagues.
Bailey has been with the Reds his whole career, making his debut in the majors in 2007 before becoming a regular in the rotation in 2009. Since then, while he's had some issues with injuries, he's been quite good, and he only keeps getting better. His ERA and FIP have steadily dropped over the past three years (he posted a 3.49 ERA and 3.31 FIP in 2013, both top-25 in the National League), his ground ball (from 39.5% to 46.1%) and strikeout rates (from 7.23/9 to 8.57/9) have climbed during the same span, and his home run rates have fallen (just .86 HR/9 last year).
He's pitched over 200 innings in the past two seasons, which would help Brian Cashman get half of the 400 innings he's purportedly looking to add. Oh, and lest I forget, Bailey's pitched a no-hitter in each of the past two years. He's trending in the right direction, and at 27, Bailey should still have plenty of productive years left in his career.
However, the Reds may not be willing to give him up. Recently, Reds GM Walt Jocketty said they had no intention of trading him and are instead working to sign him to an extension (a practice the Yankees should undoubtedly look into, because maybe our favorite second baseman would still be in pinstripes. That's a topic for another post, and for a time when the pain isn't so overwhelming). But, these are the usual things clubs say; Cashman said he has no intention of moving Gardner, and yet he's clearly exploring any and all trade avenues for him. Still, Bailey's young and has shown quite a bit of promise, and would give the Reds a formidable young rotation of their own behind with Mat Latos and Johnny Cueto.
Now, to the man the Yankees would have to give up: Brett Gardner. Simply put, Gardner's good. He's a good table-setter at the top of the lineup, he's good on the base paths, and he's a really good defensive outfielder. The Yankees certainly should look into keeping him if only to see what a year of the best defensive outfield in baseball would look like (and to see if that defense is worth sacrificing some of the power normally associated with corner outfielders). But, for the right price, Gardner should be dealt.
While one year of Homer Bailey probably isn't everything the Yankees want and need (and the market for second basemen is growing even more thin now that Omar Infante has signed with the Royals), there's no doubt adding an infusion of youth to the team would be a welcome change. If they could re-sign Bailey after the offseason - which would probably be more likely than re-signing Gardner, since they've already signed up for seven overpaid years of Jacoby Ellsbury, and Gardner will inevitably be getting a raise - they'd have some great young arms in Bailey and Nova to pick up the slack if CC Sabathia continues to decline.
Partner those two with perhaps Michael Pineda, if he can live up to his potential, and the Yankees would be looking at a terrific young pitching core. If they manage to land Tanaka, the Yankees will have an abundance of young arms, which will no doubt let them go out next offseason and spend on a couple new (hopefully not overpaid and over-the-hill) sluggers to maintain a strong lineup.
A Gardner for Bailey trade makes a lot of sense for both sides. Jay Bruce is the only sure thing in the Reds outfield now that Shin-Soo Choo is a free agent, and the Yankees are certainly looking to add pitching, especially now that they have so many outfielders. Still, the Reds might see Bailey as a bit too good and promising to just get back one guaranteed year of Gardner. If that's the case, giving up a non-Gary Sanchez prospect might be worth it. While moving Gardner would limit the Yankees defensively in the outfield (or would mean Ichiro Suzuki will get far too many plate appearances this season if either Alfonso Soriano or Carlos Beltran becomes the regular DH), the upside on Bailey is almost too good to miss.
Besides, after shelling out $153 million for Ellsbury this offseason, the Yankees will not be handing Gardner the hefty pay raise he will no doubt be looking for (and probably getting) once this season is up. While it would be tough to say goodbye, Gardner's the odd man out in the outfield now, and will probably not be re-signed next year. It's best to get something in return for him now and hope Bailey can be convinced to stay in the Bronx after 2014.
Or, you know, the Yankees could be smart and negotiate an extension with Bailey if they get him, thereby turning the Gardner trade into a major win. The chances of that happening? Next to nothing. Because extending young players before they hit free agency just doesn't make sense, of course.
I mean, just look what happened with Robinson Cano.
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