If there’s one player I’d like to keep above the rest, it’d be Brett Gardner. However, with the possibility of not even re-signing Robinson Cano and the fact that Gardner will be arbitration eligible after the 2013, doesn’t bode well for the team. The New York Yankees are currently paying Gardner $2.85 million for 2013 and an estimated guess says that he’ll probably ask for $4-5 million in arbitration next year. However, Gardner is still someone this team needs to hold onto for at least the next few years.
The one obvious thing that Gardner possesses is speed. His 49 steals in 2011 made him the shared AL stolen bases leader with Coco Crisp. He’s a speedster around the bases, plays solid defense and a pretty good eye at the plate. So really, what isn’t to like about Gardner?
For his career, Gardner is a .266/.355/.368 hitter with 137 stolen bases, 125 RBIs and has scored 257 runs. He hardly has any pop in his bat, only 15 home runs and an ISO rating of .103, but so what? Gardner doesn’t need power to be the effective player that he is. Not to mention, his patience at the plate seemed to improve from 2010 into 2011, as he struck out 17.8% of the time but lowered it to 15.8%.
Now obviously we cannot factor in his 2012 in which he only played 16 games, so let’s take a look at his past two full seasons. His 2010 season was easily his best year in which not only did he have a .277/.383/.379 slash line, but also a career-high WAR of 6.2. Gardner can be a pretty commanding contact hitter as he smacked 132 hits, 32 of which were extra base hits. He also stole 47 bases, had 47 RBIs and scored 97 runs inside the season.
In 2011, Gardner had a somewhat similar season to the prior year. While his WAR saw a 1.0 drop to 5.2, he would end up playing in 159 games in 2011 which has been the most so far in one year for him. He was able to get 132 hits once again and this time stole 49 bases. He also saw a drop in his BABIP (.340 in 2010, .303 in 2011) but he was still very productive with the lumber.
Defensively, Gardner is one of the most underrated left fielders in the game. In 2010, he played 906 innings in left and only committed one error while retaining a .995 fielding percentage. He had an UZR (ultimate zone rating) of 25.7 and a DRS (total defensive runs saved) of 26. In 2011, Gardner had even more time in left with 1158.2 innings under his belt with four errors and a .987 fielding percentage. Yet again, Gardner impressed with an UZR of 25.2 and a DRS of 23.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that this guy is good. So what if he lacks the power to knock the ball out of the park all time, it’s not like contact is undesirable. Having Gardner back for 2013 is going to help the Yankees in a lot of ways. As it’s been shown before, Gardner scores a lot of runs and the fact that he’s able to put himself into scoring position is a treat for this line-up. With the way the Yankees hit (or didn’t hit) the ball last season, a lot of sacrifice flies will be able to score Gardner.
So, if I’m Brian Cashman and the Steinbrenners, I look at what we have in Gardner. This guy is a speedster with a deadly contact bat and he doesn’t cost all that much. The Yankees may not be jumping the gun on re-signing guys like Cano because of the monetary issues, but Gardner should be a no-brainer. If there’s anyone the Yankees need to keep for the next few years, it’s Gardner, because it’s rare to find a guy like him who isn’t a one-and-done type player.
Stats courtesy of FanGraphs.