Brett Gardner, coming off the first All-Star season of his career for the New York Yankees, is on the block. The 32-year-old outfielder, who has spent his entire eight-year career in New York, is owed $37.5 million over the next three years, with a team option for $12.5 million in 2019. Gardner slashed .259/.343/.399 in 151 games with 16 home runs, 66 knocked in, and 20 steals. He slumped massively in the second half of the year, however. After batting .302 before the All-Star Game, Gardner batted just .206 after the break.
Gardner should be a very attractive piece on the trade market. Already, the Chicago Cubs have been linked to Gardner and the Yankees, with Starlin Castro rumored to be the player going to New York. The Yankees need an upgrade at second base, and the deal would fill a need for both sides. Castro is owed roughly the same amount of money as Gardner, but over four years. While this deal is reportedly on the table, the Yankees may rather trade Gardner for a starting pitcher. The Seattle Mariners could prove to be an ideal trade partner thanks to their surplus of young, MLB-ready pitching and a need for an upgrade in center field.
The overall feeling is that it’s not if, but when, regarding a Brett Gardner trade for the Yankees. Gardner is still young enough and relatively underpaid to make him extremely valuable to a trade partner. With those facts established, shouldn’t he be plenty valuable to the Yankees? On the surface, a trade of Gardner would appear to be a move made to address a weakness in the starting rotation or the middle infield, but there is likely something else going on for the Yankees.
This year’s outfield free-agent class is one of the best in years. Justin Upton, Yoenis Cespedes, Alex Gordon, Jason Heyward, and Chris Davis (an outfield option for a team like the Yankees) hit the market. With Gardner still on the roster, the Yankees would seem to be out of the running to land any of the big names. Jacoby Ellsbury cannot be moved due to a checkered medical past. Carlos Beltran has only one more year left on his contract, but would not be very attractive in a trade. In order to open up a spot for an Upton or a Heyward, the Yankees need to move Gardner, their most tradeable outfield asset.
If Brett Gardner is moved, the Yankees should be considered a favorite to land any one of the big outfield names. There will be considerable payroll flexibility coming in the immediate future, as contracts for Beltran, Alex Rodriguez, CC Sabathia, and Mark Teixeira come off the books. By the time all those contracts come off the books, however, this year’s historic outfield free-agent class will have already signed elsewhere.
The Yankees are not moving Gardner to open up a spot for Aaron Hicks or to save money. The front office is shopping him to open up a spot for a marquee outfielder who will hit for more power and drive in more runs than Gardner (just imagine how many home runs Chris Davis could drive into the Yankee Stadium jet stream). It’s only a matter of time before Gardner is traded and the Yankees introduce their next outfield superstar.