The contract extension that Brett Gardner signed in the off-season raised a lot of eyebrows. Gardner has long been known as a nice or even good player. However, he has never been an All-Star or won a Gold Glove. Yet, the Yankees inked him to a 4-year $52 million dollar deal a year before he became a free agent. It didn’t make sense. Yet, it may have been one of the smartest moves GM Brian Cashman made in an off-season in which he signed several high priced free agents like Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran and Masahiro Tanaka.
So far, all calculations of WAR say that Brett Gardner is having an excellent season. FanGraphs has said that he has accumulated 1.8 WAR and ZiPS and Steamer say that number could finish up to 3.7-4.4. PECOTA has said he is worth 1.6 WARP and will likely finish the season near 3.8; Baseball-Reference claims that he has accumulated 2.0 WAR already. (h/t Matt Provenzano, Pinsripe Alley)
Gardner started the season hitting lower in the lineup but moved up to the lead-off position with the injury to Beltran. Ellsbury, who was hitting lead-off, was shifted down to third. Gardner has responded by hitting over .300 with some pop. He has three home runs, six doubles and nineteen RBI.
However, the biggest improvement may be in his base running. He has long been considered an elite base-stealer who didn’t attempt enough steals. Gardner himself admitted that he was hesitant to take off with the likes of Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, and Alfonso Soriano hitting behind him. Encouraged by fellow thief Ellsbury and buoyed by hitting lower in the order to begin the season, Gardner has seemed to have had renewed confidence on the base paths this season. He is attempting to run earlier in the count and is a perfect 11-for-11 in the stolen base department.
Gardner has long been underrated in the field, but this season he may finally get his first Gold Glove. In previous years, he has not quite hit enough to get the name recognition to win the embattled award. However, he had long been the darling of the sabermetric crowd. His move to left from center has only served to highlight his defensive prowess.
There is still a lot of baseball to be played this season, and much more over the life of the contract, but the early indications suggest that Cashman made a very shrewd move signing Gardmer to an extension early, rather than risk free agency. Signing the player the year before he breaks out, is less costly then signing him the year after. 2014 is poised to be Brett Gardner’s breakout season.