Yankees fans. Remember 2008? The team called up a scrappy lefty named Brett Gardner to vie for playing time with the team’s other young centerfielder, Melky Cabrera.
Yankees fans may recall feeling like it was going to come down to one or the other moving forward, especially with veteran corner outfielders like Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui on the roster. Personally, I distinctly remember feeling strongly about Cabrera’s future in pinstripes.
Whether or not that was General Manager Brian Cashman’s intention, that’s what happened. Cabrera stayed another season and left. Gardner stayed. In the Yankees’ 2009 title season, Gardner’s at-bats shot up to 284 from 121 the previous season. From then on, his place was secure, and now, heading into his 10th season, he’s earned a literal seat of honor.
According to Pete Caldera, of NorthJersey.com, Gardner has taken over a corner locker at the team’s spring training complex. A long-time Yankees beat writer, Caldera noted Gardner’s locker once belonged to Bernie Williams, and for the last three seasons it was Carlos Beltran’s.
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The locker assignment is an official recognition of a leadership role we’ve known Gardner has already assumed. Caldera noted that Matt Holliday has taken over Alex Rodriguez’s corner locker while CC Sabathia returns to his.
With spring training underway and a host of Baby Bombers crowding the clubhouse, Gardner will have no shortage of potential pupils.
Consider Billy McKinney. He was added as a non-roster invitee later than other minor leaguers and he doesn’t rank highly on anyone’s prospect watch.
A decade ago, Gardner was on his way to the majors behind more exciting young prospects and veterans with lucrative contracts.
McKinney will likely start the season in Double-A Trenton, just two call-ups from the Bronx. He’ll be vying for Gardner’s tutelage with Clint Frazier, an outfielder who could be in the majors as soon as late spring.
No one is immune to trade talks, and Gardner’s name might just be floated to contenders if the Yankees aren’t in the playoff hunt later this summer. Cashman indicated that he didn’t trade Gardner over the offseason because he didn’t get the right offer. Of course, Gardner is getting older, and his production is steadily declining.
Despite a sharp drop in power numbers last season, Gardner improved his OBP, strikeout rate, and walk rate. But declining is decreasing nonetheless, and New York is a market where that is magnified. Gardner knows it. He also knows that playing well only increases the chances of another team putting together a package that Cashman likes.
Another factor is Gardner’s contract, which has two more years left with $25 million due. If there’s no one willing to take that on, fans would undoubtedly be just fine getting stuck with Gardy.