Brett Gardner is undoubtedly a very good baseball player. He posted a 3.2 WAR in 2013, with a slash line of .273/.344/.416 and 24 stolen bases to boot. Additionally, Gardner provides above average defense with a 10.7 UZR/150 last season and RngR of 15.3. Knowing this, it’s not all too surprising that Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman has insisted the team keep Gardner.
Yet following the Yankees’ acquisitions of Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, I strongly believe it’s in the team’s best interest to trade the outfielder from the College of Charleston. The Yankees outfield as it stands now, on December 13th, consists of Alfonso Soriano, Ichiro Suzuki, the aforementioned Ellsbury and Beltran, and Gardner. Ellsbury is a better player than Gardner, and his 5.8 WAR and .298/.355/417 slash line from last season prove that. The two are very similar in terms of center field defense but Ellsbury’s 12.9 UZR/150 edges out Gardner’s, and even though Ellsbury is injury prone, by handing him a 7 year/$153 million contract the team has shown their commitment to him. Beltran, by WAR standards, is worse than Gardner, but he also just received a lucrative contract from the team and the Yankees will be relying on him to provide power to an offense that severely lacked it last season. Brett Gardner is likely a better player at this point in his career than Soriano or Suzuki. However, because of this he’s also worth more on the trade market. What allows the Yankees to shop Gardner is that while Soriano and Suzuki are worse than Gardner, Soriano is still a viable starting left fielder and Suzuki is a more than qualified fourth outfielder.
If the Yankees stand to keep Gardner, he’ll split time in left field with Soriano and fill in at center and right occasionally when Beltran and Ellsbury need a day off. And while Gardner playing that role will help the Yankees, his marginal value to the Yankees is much lower than it would be to another team who would start Gardner everyday in center field. In terms of WAR, Brett Gardner was the 9th best center fielder in the league last season. By that standard alone there should be 21 teams that value his services, and being that he’s a third year arbitration eligible player he doesn’t cost much.
On the market, a top 10 center fielder in the league at such a low-cost will undoubtedly net the Yankees a nice return. The Reds have already offered the Yankees Brandon Phillips, and while New York declined, I believe the Phillips offer to be the first of several others to come. Phillips would have been a nice addition to the team, but at his cost I understand why Cashman is holding out for a better return.
In my opinion it’s largely a matter of time. The Yankees will hold out and continue to field offers regarding Gardner until they find the right one. The team has too many holes in its infield and pitching staff to keep a stacked outfield and not receive the highest marginal value from its players. The purpose of trading players to begin with is to sort out inefficiencies of marginal value, and a trade involving Gardner would sort out such an inefficiency.
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