As beloved to Yankee fans as Brett Gardner is, at 35, he isn’t quite what he used to be. With a team option for 2019, the rumors are beginning to circulate that Gardner is playing his final season in pinstripes. That hardly means he has no value to the team or won’t land somewhere else, but it does mean he may not be the best fit going forward anymore as was reported at Elite Sport NY. It appears as if the cons to Gardner have finally surpassed the pros, and with talent stacked up in the minors and big free agents on the market, it may be time to say goodbye.
The fan reaction to talk of letting Gardner go has not been positive for the most part. As a homegrown player that fans have rooted for as if he was a real to life Rudy, the emotional connection to him is strong. As is the case with players who built their game on speed, age is not their friend, aside from once in a generation athletes such as Rickey Henderson. Gardner’s legs are nearing dead, at least by speedster standards, and his stolen base totals are subpar as compiled at Baseball Reference. He’s not even a sure thing to take an extra base anymore.
He still hits enough to be somewhere, but not in a Yankee lineup that demands more than almost average. As Elite Sport NY reported, his numbers at the plate are in a rapid decline.
“What has abandoned Gardner, however, is his bat speed. His line drive rate has dropped to 16.6% from 22.3% last season. His groundball rate has risen to 50.7% from 44.5% in 2017. His soft, medium, and hard contact percentages, however, have not dramatically changed. This isn’t just bad luck on Gardner’s end, folks. Though he still has his pesky streak, his speed is starting to abandon him on all ends.”
Under different circumstances, Gardner would have his contract picked up next year and maybe even get another, but approaching the winter meetings, the Yankees have some big decisions to make regarding the direction of the team for the next several years. Both Bryce Harper and Manny Machado are free agents, and both seem like ideal fits in New York. Machado makes the most sense on paper, and as was reported at Inquisitr wants to be a Yankee, but they could wind up chasing Harper instead.
Either player will likely cost about $300 million to sign. If it is Harper, Gardner is gone, end of discussion. If it is Machado, Gardner is likely gone so Brian Cashman can free up some extra money. Even though Machado will not be in the outfield, his signing would have the same effect on cap-space as Harper. With Gardner’s option being $12.5 to play or $2 million to be bought out, there is little doubt the Yankees will opt for the buyout. It’s purely economics.
It’s not just the potential free agents that squeeze Gardner out, it’s the talent in the farm system. According to the MLB website, Estevan Florial is setting the minors on fire and getting great reviews on his scouting sheet. Then there is Clint Frazier who most scouts think is fully MLB ready right now, and who would still be getting playing time if it wasn’t for being sidelined from a concussion. They are both significantly cheaper and younger options to Gardner and all indications are that at least one of them should be in the 2019 opening day lineup.
What none of them can replace is the history Gardner has with the team and his impact in the clubhouse, it is likely Gardner will land with another team. While he has many supporters including, fans, beat writers that love him, and even other players rooting or him to stay, not all marriages last forever, even when both parties are getting along. Sometimes it really is all about “what have you done for me lately?”