Our next Pinch Hitter is Delia Enriquez, whose name might be familiar because she’s a managing editor for the Yankees blog Bronx Baseball Daily. You can find Delia on Twitter @dfiregirl4. Back in 2012, she wrote a Pinch Hitter post about A.J. Burnett.
This time around, Delia is tackling another Yankees player who might not be around much longer. The topic of the day — until the topic is back to Masahiro Tanaka, anyway — is Brett Gardner, specifically, the logic of locking him up to some sort of long-term contract before he’s able to hit the open market.
When the Yankees dramatically signed Jacoby Ellsbury to a seven-year, $153-million contract, it looked as if Brett Gardner was forcibly one foot out the door with the Yankees planning a possible trade.
Teams began calling Brian Cashman about Gardner, and a trade proposal came from the Cincinnati Reds involving second basemen Brandon Phillips. Many fans were stunned when the Yankees front office said no, especially considering the Yankees had just lost Robinson Cano to the Seattle Mariners. Fans questioned, “Why didn’t Cashman pull the trigger?” or “What in the world was Cashman thinking? He received an offer to swap a slap-hitting outfielder for a power-hitting second basemen, and he didn’t do it? That was a no brainer!”
There was a logical explanation behind it: Power isn’t everything, and the Yankees love what Gardner brings to the ball club. It was because they love his work ethic and his clubhouse presence. It was because Cashman and the Yankees set a high value on Gardner, and they weren’t going to give him up for just anybody.
The Yankees love what Gardner brings to a game. He’s a catalyst. He’s a base stealer. He’s a defender. He can be a game changer. If you think about it, Gardner still has a place on the Yankees for years to come, even with Ellsbury operating center field.
However, after this season, Gardner is a free agent and re-signing him from free agency would be extremely costly since he would be one of the most valuable players on the outfield market. With the Yankees facing holes in the outfield and Gardner slowly getting away from them, what should the Yankees do if they don’t use him as a trade piece?
The answer is simple: They should sign him to an extension.
I understand it’s not in typical Yankee fashion to extend a player’s deal while he’s under contract, but the Yankees did make the exception with Robinson Cano last season before the negotiations fell through. The Yankees also made an extension offer to Hiroki Kuroda in August before eventually signing him to a one-year deal.
It’s uncertain if Slade Heathcott (who has been projected to be Gardner’s successor) will be ready for a starting job in 2015. What if Heathcott isn’t ready and the Yankees let Gardner go into the free agent market? What if Gardner signs with another team and the Yankees are faced with uncertainty?
In our scenario, Gardner signs with another team (it can be any team of your choosing) and the Yankees need to find someone to replace him since they don’t have belief Heathcott will be ready in 2015. The Yankees can’t use Alfonso Soriano or Ichiro Suzuki since they are both free agents, and of course would both be in their 40’s by then. What would be the Yankees options in left field?
The left fielders aside from Gardner on the market in 2014 are Melky Cabrera, Jonny Gomes, Darnell McDonald, Tony Gwinn Jr., Mike Morse, Seth Smith, Chris Denorfia, Josh Willingham and Vernon Wells. Just by looking at the names, the Yankees would be placed in a tough spot in replacing Gardner. There aren’t many Gold Glove caliber defenders on the market, if any, and the left fielders on the market won’t save you as many runs as Gardner can.
Ever since Gardner was in the minor league system, the Yankees have placed a high value on him. His defense is remarkable, and he has the ability to irritate the opposing pitcher once he gets on the base paths. A single for anyone else turns into a double for Gardner, a double turns into a triple, and a triple has the potential to be an inside-the-park home run if the ball is misplayed. In 2013, the Yankees didn’t win many games in September without Gardner, and the Yankees sorely missed him 2012 when he missed most of the season due to an elbow injury.
The Yankees need their catalyst, and if the Yankees sign Gardner to an extension to avoid free agency, they could have that catalyst in their lineup for years to come.
Associated Press photos