Thoughts on Brett Gardner’s Return
By Andy Singer
Photo Credit: Jay Biggerstaff, USA TODAY Sports
After an offseason of waiting, Brett Gardner has returned to the Yankees on a 1-year, $4 million deal with a mutual option for 2022. I have a lot of thoughts on the signing itself and some ancillary topics surrounding Brett Gardner’s return. Here they are, in no particular order:
I feel like I’m in the minority, but I was never concerned that that the Yankees and Brett Gardner wouldn’t come to an agreement eventually. There has been some justified hand-wringing over the Yankees’ budget this offseason, but I’ve always thought that the Yankees and Gardner would eventually circle back to figure out numbers for a contract once the team was mostly done making roster maneuvers. It was an open secret that Gardner only wanted to sign with the Yankees, much as it was in St. Louis between the Cardinals and Yadier Molina. For a lot of reasons, Gardner’s return has always felt like a foregone conclusion. While it may seem cold, I think the Yankees leveraged the fact that they knew Gardner would hang around waiting for them all offseason, which allowed them to focus on other priorities in the Free Agent and trade market prior to re-signing Gardy.
I know much has been made about Gardner’s status as a lifelong Yankee, so I won’t drag the point out, but I’m really happy that this contract is set up such that Gardy will hopefully retire having only played for the Yankees. From a prospect that flew under the radar to a valuable bench piece on the 2009 Yankees, Brett Gardner grew into an excellent ballplayer who could be counted on to provide near-All-Star level performance on a yearly basis. Gardy has often been overshadowed by more famous stars in the outfield, but he’s truly been a great Yankee. 43 bWAR/37.5 fWAR may not quite be Hall of Fame worthy, but so few players ever accumulate the kind of value that Gardy has throughout his career that I think Gardy has earned the right to be a lifelong Yankee. He’s a guy that has done it all through hard work and perseverance despite little acclaim coming up through the minors. I’m glad he gets to follow in Jeter, Posada, and Rivera’s footsteps.
Every Yankee fan should have realized that Gardy’s return was imminent following Aaron Boone’s opening press conference when pitchers and catchers reported to Tampa on Thursday. As Boone was asked about Gardy, he gave a brief knowing smile prior to giving a politically correct answer regarding Gardy’s potential return. As the smile crossed Boone’s lips, I half expected Gardner to show up in the frame of the Zoom call while Boone answered questions.
Given the fact that the Yankees waited until they were mostly done this offseason to re-sign Gardner, I really wonder if the Yankees were holding out for one more move this week. It feels like the Gardner contract was closer to done than any of us realized for a few days, so the Yankees may have been on the prowl for one last deal. The Mets signed Taijuan Walker hours before the Gardy contract terms were announced…I wonder if the Yanks were in on Walker for a year. I’m not sure Walker was an upgrade over anyone currently on the pitching staff, but depth never hurts. I’m not sure either way, and we’ll probably never know, but I couldn’t help but think about the possibility that the Yankees were talking to Walker prior to Friday’s signings.
Now that Gardy is back, the Yankees now have 2 40-man roster moves to make in order to clear space (one for Gardy, one for Justin Wilson). Once Spring Training officially starts, I expect that the Yankees will add Luis Severino to the 60-Day IL, which opens up one spot. For the other, I think the following Yankees are in some trouble: Greg Allen, Mike Ford, Brooks Kriske, and Albert Abreu. I think one of these guys will likely get moved either as a DFA or in a minor trade to make room for Gardy/Wilson.
The more I think about it, the more I think that the 4th outfielder will get at least 375 ABs for the Yankees in 2021, more if someone goes down for any length of time. While Brett Gardner won’t start anymore, I still think he’ll get plenty of playing time in 2021 as both Hicks and Judge will need some rest in order to stay healthy. In conjunction with getting Stanton occasional rest at DH, I think Gardy will get just the right amount of playing time at his age to ensure that the law of diminishing returns doesn’t hit him too hard. Last season was a short season, and guys will likely need more rest than usual in 2021 as they ramp back up. Additionally, sharing playing time more equally should keep the outfield fresher come playoff time, which is really all that matters.
To conclude, I’m looking forward to one more season of Gardy’s antics. I love watching guys who play with their hair on fire, and Gardy embodies that to a T. I look forward to Gardy saying goodbye to the NY faithful in style, hopefully with another World Series ring.