The Yankees broke a standard on Monday, inking outfielder Brett Gardner to a four-year extension for $52 million. The contract includes a fifth-year option, possibly making him a Yankee until 2019.
The deal is very good for the Yankees. For the first time in a long time, they lock up one of their own homegrown players, something they’ve missed for such a time. Gardner probably could have gotten a lot more than $13 million if he decided to become a free agent, as next offseason’s class of outfielders is very weak. According to FanGraphs.com, he should have been worth over an average of $20.7 million in his last three full seasons, so the Yankees may have gotten him on a total bargain.
Gardner has been one of the more undervalued and underrated players in the game and one of the most important players on the Yankees. Since 2010, he has been worth 15.8 WAR (according to Baseball-Reference.com), and that includes his brief, injury-plagued 2012 season. He has stolen at least 24 bases since 2009, leading the AL in the category with 49 in 2011. He’s one of the best defensive players in the game, winning two Fielding Bible awards.
The deal is surprising because the Yankees have had an unofficial policy of not extending their players before free agency, the two notable exceptions were Derek Jeter’s 10-year deal in 2001 and the buyout of Robinson Cano’s arbitration years in 2008. Hopefully, the Yankees decide to extend David Robertson as well before his value shoots up as the team’s closer this season.
When the Yankees signed Jacoby Ellsbury, it looked like Gardner was on the way out. Not anymore. Both are locked up for the next five years and will form a great 1-2 punch. The two will be absolutely devastating in the outfield, at the top of the order, and on the base paths for years to come. If both are healthy this year, you could see them combine for over 80 stolen bases.
With their outfield locked up for three years and 2/3 of it locked up for at least the next five, the Yankees can now turn their attention to upgrading elsewhere. The departure of Robinson Cano, the suspension of Alex Rodriguez, and the retirement of Derek Jeter after 2014 leaves some huge holes at second, third, and shortstop.
Luckily, there’s a rich crop of free agents in the infield after the 2014 season: Hanley Ramirez, Asdrubal Cabrera, J.J. Hardy, Jed Lowrie, Chase Headley, and Pablo Sandoval. All of them would be an instant, big-time upgrade at their respective positions. The Yankees will have plenty of money coming off their payroll after next year, so it’s very possible they could bring in at least one of these players while trying to go back to the $189 million budget.