Yankees: Brett Gardner really struggling in the final year of his contract

HOUSTON, TX - APRIL 30: Brett Gardner #11 of the New York Yankees called out on strikes in the fourth inning against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park on April 30, 2018 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TX - APRIL 30: Brett Gardner #11 of the New York Yankees called out on strikes in the fourth inning against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park on April 30, 2018 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images) /

After posting a career year in 2017, Brett Gardner is really slumping this season at the top of the Yankees lineup. This is the final year of his contract with a club option for 2019 which makes you wonder if the Yankees will opt to bring him back next season.

During his 11-year career with the Yankees, Gardy has been the consummate professional. The former walk-on at the College of Charleston has transformed himself from a light-hitting fourth outfielder into a consistent everyday player at the top of the Yankees lineup. In the process, he has endeared himself to the fanbase and the organization as the longest-tenured player on the current roster.

Gardner is the unsung leader in the Yankees clubhouse and last year he was a big reason why the team came within a win from making it to the World Series for the first time since 2009 when they won it all.

This year’s team obviously hopes to reach that level, but right now Gardner isn’t doing his part to help them get there. He’s still playing his normal gold glove caliber defense, but in 28 games Gardner is batting .194 with only one home run ( hit on Opening Day) and 7 RBI. It’s still early but coming into the season he was expected to be the catalyst for the Yankees high powered offense. He’s still third on the team in runs scored with 24 thanks to his 18 BBs, but he’s slugging a putrid .250.

Last season Gardner set a career high with 21 home runs while being the pest he’s always been during his at-bats, fouling off pitches and getting into deep counts. This year he’s still making pitchers work, but his strikeouts are already up with 31. Last season he only struck out 122 times and this year he’s on pace for 162.

Lately, we’ve seen Aaron Boone use a platoon more in left field by giving Gardner days off when a left-handed pitcher is on the mound. That’s smart and that should continue because it allows Giancarlo Stanton to play left field while giving DH at-bats to someone like Gary Sanchez or Miguel Andujar.

It also gives Aaron Hicks an opportunity in the leadoff spot where he has proven to be more than capable of filling that role. Hicks is off to a slow start himself batting .242, but if Gardner continues to really falter we could see more of the younger Hicks at the top of the lineup.

Could Gardner see a decrease in playing time moving forward?

Gardner isn’t in danger of losing his roster spot like the veteran Neil Walker might be, but he could certainly lose some playing time. Because of the career he’s had with the Yanks up to this point, he deserves more time to figure things out. However, with Clint Frazier back to full health down at Triple-A, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Frazier on the big league roster in the coming weeks.

Frazier is someone with a ton of talent and many view him as next year’s starting left-fielder if management decides to hold on to him past this year’s trade deadline. If that’s the case we might not have to wait too long to see Frazier in the starting lineup and Gardner on the bench.

One positive for Gardner is that last year he also had a terrible April and May was his best month of the season. Once the weather warmed up he hit .327 in the month and slugged .637 with an incredible 9 home runs and 21 RBI. If the Yankees could get just half of that kind of production they’d be ecstatic and any thoughts of benching Gardner would disappear.

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That’s the best case scenario because the last thing the Yankees want to do is bench their longest-tenured player and veteran leader. Gardner’s meant a lot to the Yankees over the last decade plus and he’s been a favorite of Brian Cashman’s for years.

Let’s hope this isn’t the beginning of the end for Gardner in pinstripes and the slow start is just a roadblock on his way to another productive season.