It’s hard to believe, but Brett Gardner will enter the 2014 season as a 30-year old. While five years ago many thought that Gardner would become a top leadoff hitter for years to come, the prophecy hasn’t quite come true. Gardner has played well in his four full seasons from 2009-2011 and 2013. His 2008 was 42 games long, and his 2012 campaign was injury-shortened to 16 contests. His career numbers as a basestealer are strong, as he has 161 thefts, including his league leading total of 49 in 2011. He also torched his way to ten triples in 2013. But he wasn’t as good as a Juan Pierre or a Willie Wilson in their primes.
But it appears the Yankees don’t have faith in Gardner anymore, or at least in the number one spot of the lineup. After signing Jacoby Ellsbury (who is also 30) to a long term deal this winter, it seems reasonable to assume that Joe Girardi would start Ellsbury over Gardner, especially considering the hefty investment in the former Red Sox.
Ellsbury has had a similar career to his former AL East rival. Ellsbury arrived in the bigs in 2007, and became a basestealing machine, pacing his way to two consecutive titles with 50 and 70 swipes in 2008 and 2009, respectively. After a rib fracture cost him all but 18 games in 2010, Ellsbury stormed his way into MVP contention, going absolutely insane with 119 runs, 212 hits, 32 home runs, 105 RBI, and 39 stolen bases, while also winning Gold Glove and All-Star honors. His power numbers were a fluke (he has hit 65 career longballs), but his speed and hitting remained in top shape. Ellsbury once again led the league in steals last season, and won a World Series trophy.
However, when comparing Gardner and Ellsbury, and while taking out Ellsbury’s 2011, two similar players emerge. Ellsbury is a little faster and a slightly better hitter, but that’s it. Their power numbers are similar, their fielding stats aren’t significantly different, and the two outfielders combined have played in a total of one All-Star game. Ellsbury arrives with the name and the two World Series trophies (2007 and 2013), which will probably give him priority over Gardner, despite Gardner’s tenure in the Big Apple.
So what numbers should we expect from Gardner? Most likely, barring no injuries, Ellsbury will lead off, Derek Jeter will bat second, Mark Teixeira or Brian McCann in the cleanup spot, with the newcomers filling in the other spots. Gardner will probably be around seventh or eighth in the lineup. His steal numbers will suffer to around the high teens, low twenties. His run totals will decrease, as Robinson Cano will now be driving in Nick Franklin and Dustin Ackley in Seattle. Basically, Gardner’s stats will suffer offensively. A 150-hit, .270 season seems like a possibility, but the main baserunning duties will be left to Ellsbury. Hopefully the two outfielders can coexist, and help the Yankees regain their place at the top of the AL East.