The Yankees declined Brett Gardner’s $12.5 million option for the 2019 season, which triggered a $2.5 million dollar buyout. The Yankees then signed Gardner to a 1 year $7.5 million dollar contract, saving the Yankees $3 million in the process.
This came as a surprising move considering just how badly Gardner struggled down the stretch. It got so bad towards the end, that Gardner was more or less relegated to the bench after the acquisition of Andrew McCutchen. Gardner in total batted a poor .236, but still managed to have an OBP (On Base Percentage) of .322- Gardner still works the count seeing on average about 4.5 pitches per at bat, and is able to draw walks consistently. But much of Gardner’s value comes not from his bat, but with his glove. Gardner played an excellent left field all year, and is a candidate for the gold glove award. Gardner is also a lifelong Yankee who has been with the team since the 2008 season. The 35 year old outfielder in a statement shortly after the signing was announced shared the sentiment of wanting to finish his career a Yankee.
There is no doubt that Gardner is a leader in the Yankees clubhouse, and there is inherent value in that. Especially to the group of young players the Yankees possess. But Brett Gardner aside, what does this move tell us about the state of the 2019 Yankees outfield? Well for starters, this signing appears to rule out a reunion with trade acquisition Andrew McCutchen who is a Free Agent. In addition, this appears to indicate the Yankees WILL NOT be pursuing the highly touted star Bryce Harper in Free Agency. To complicate matters, the Yankees still have Jacoby Ellsbury under contract for 2 years at $47 million dollars. Unfortunately for Ellsbury, it appears he has no spot on the team. The Yankees as of now have 4 outfielders who are essentially guaranteed to be on the MLB roster come April, those are Aaron Judge, Aaron Hicks, Giancarlo Stanton, and Brett Gardner. Ellsbury slots in at the 5th spot on the depth chart, and it is extremely unlikely that the Yankees choose to carry a 5th outfielder at the MLB level. There simply aren’t enough at bats to justify carrying a 5th.
This more than likely means that Ellsbury has already played his final game as a Yankee.The Yankees have 2 options, either they can outright cut him and pay $47 million for him to go away. Or they can attempt to trade him, bad contract for bad contract, assuming Ellsbury is willing to waive his full no trade clause and that a team is interested to begin with.Either way, the Yankees are on the hook for a lot of money for a player that figures to play no role on the MLB team. This means that the Yankees 5th outfielder on the depth chart would be Clint Frazier. Frazier is a young, controllable, highly touted outfield prospect who the Yankees have seen at the MLB level in abbreviated stints. Last year he was plagued by concussion issues, but the Yankees are hopeful he will be ready for spring training. Frazier stands to act as a solid outfielder waiting in the wings at AAA should the Yankees have an injury to one of the other 4 outfielders.
The Yankees still have one of the most dynamic outfields in all of the MLB. They have two sluggers in Judge and Stanton, The switch hitting Hicks who plays a superb defense, and finally the clubhouse leader Gardner. Gardner figures to see less playing time this year in an attempt to keep him fresh, and you should see Stanton more often in left field. It isn’t until next offseason that the Yankees have some serious decisions to make regarding the future of the outfield, as Gardner and Hicks are due to be Free Agents. But lets not get too far ahead of ourselves, we still have the whole 2019 season to see these outfielders have their fun. And just like last year, this group of outfielders will continue to torment opposing teams both defensively and offensively going into next season, and quite possibly for many years to come.
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