Yankees re-signing Brett Gardner affects McCutchen and Frazier

(Photo by David Maxwell/Getty Images)
(Photo by David Maxwell/Getty Images) /

The re-signing of Brett Gardner to a one-year $7.5 million deal (plus a $2 million buyout) by the Yankees reveals what the club intends to do with Andrew McCutchen and Clint Frazier.

Brett Gardner is near the end of his career, yet was recently signed by the Yankees as insurance. He will be an able backup in the outfield if one of the outstanding regulars is placed on the DL next year.

Unlike in 2018, manager Aaron Boone will sleep more comfortably at night knowing that a reliable substitute like Gardy is on the bench. Furthermore, his new salary is modest and won’t prevent the Yanks from making critical, strategic and likely expensive acquisitions.

During this past season, Aaron Judge and Aaron Hicks, in addition to other Yanks, were injured and placed on the DL for a substantial amount of time. After doing some shuffling in the outfield, the Yankees found that backups who were positioned to play left field performed disappointingly.

Also, Gardner was not hitting, and the Bombers began looking for additional help in the outfield.

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On August 31, general manager Brian Cashman wisely acquired Andrew McCutchen from the Giants for cash considerations ($1.2 million) and a pair of minor league prospects — infielder Abiatal Avelino and right-hander Juan De Paula. Avelino was rated as the Yankees No. 23 prospect by MLB Pipeline, while De Paula was listed as the team’s No. 26 prospect.

McCutchen helped the Yanks gain home-field advantage in the American League Wild Card Game, and despite losing to the Red Sox in the ALDS, his acquisition was indeed worth the cost. Cutch still has good power, runs the bases well and is a reliable outfielder.

However, McCutchen earned $14.75 million in 2018. He is likely to want the same annual salary (or somewhat less, at best) and a multi-year contract. That would be too much to pay for someone that hit a combined .255 during 2018 (and just .253 with the Yanks). His bat speed has declined, and he is unlikely to improve next year and beyond (Cutch is 32 now).

Considering the bigger picture

In addition to Judge, Hicks (an extension candidate) and Giancarlo Stanton, the Bronx Bombers will also have Jacoby Ellsbury and Clint Frazier (assuming they are both healthy enough to play) returning.

Add in Gardner, and that makes a full boat of outfielders, thus leaving McCutchen as the odd man out. Clearly, the team has decided that Gardy, and not McCutchen, will be the backup if someone in the outfield is injured and goes on the DL next season.

Due to his lack of playing time over a long period, Ellsbury, in particular, is a big question mark. The Yanks will want to continue to slot Stanton in the lineup as the designated hitter most of the time.

With Judge continuing to play right field and Hicks in center field, the team will be looking for a reliable, everyday left fielder that can consistently contribute at the plate, thereby correcting a major deficiency the team had last year. Who might that be?

What about Frazier? And how much potential does he have?

Frazier went to Loganville High School in Georgia, where as a junior he batted .424 with 24 home runs. In his senior year, he hit .485/.561/1.134 and had 17 home runs and 45 RBIs.

In addition to other accolades, he received the Jackie Robinson Award as the Perfect Game National Player of the Year. Also, Gatorade named him their National Baseball Player of the Year. Quite impressive.

Not surprisingly, the Cleveland Indians chose Frazier with the fifth overall selection in the 2013 draft. Although he had committed to attend the University of Georgia on a full baseball scholarship, he decided to sign with the Indians instead.

Frazier played exceptionally well in the Indians minor league system, improving each year.

On July 31, 2016, the Indians traded Frazier (along with Justus Sheffield, Ben Heller and J.P. Feyereisen) to the Yankees for Andrew Miller. Only 21-years-old at the time, Frazier finished the 2016 season with a combined .263 batting average, 16 home runs and 55 RBIs in 119 games while playing for three different minor league clubs in the Indians and Yankees organizations.

During 2017 and 2018, he went back and forth between New York, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and Tampa. In 39 games for the Yanks in ’17, Frazier hit .231/.268/.448 — and in 15 games in 2018, he hit .265/.390/.353. Across 48 games Triple-A contests in 2018, he batted .311/.389/.574.

Not bad numbers for a young player who was frequently being sent up and down between the major and minor leagues. The quality of Frazier’s fielding has been good overall as well.

Good news, Yankees fans!

As most Yankee fans are aware, Frazier crashed into the outfield wall during 2018 Spring Training. He experienced severe concussion and post-concussion migraines throughout the remainder of the season, which significantly limited his playing time (and decreased his trade value).

But there is good news to report. According to Randy Miller, in answering a question about Frazier’s recovery, Brian Cashman recently said:

"“He’s home (in Georgia) recovering. He’s still under the care of (neurologist) Dr. Mickey Collins…from Pittsburgh. But onward and upward. Doing better. According to Dr. Collins, he’ll be fully recovered well before Spring Training.”"

Frazier is a terrific prospect, especially if he completely recovers from his concussion ailments, remains healthy and continues to improve in the batter’s box and on the field.

Moving forward, Frazier has more potential and is a much better value than McCutchen — and even Gardner for that matter, at this point in their respective careers.

Right now, Frazier is the leading candidate to be the starting left fielder for the Bronx Bombers in 2019 (unless of course, the Yanks acquire an established star left fielder during the offseason).

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Given Frazier’s prolonged injury and uncertainty surrounding his future health, his value as potential trade bait has declined. However, if Frazier gets to play full-time and performs exceptionally well in left field during this coming season, the Yanks might decide to retain him rather than trade him. Let’s all root for Frazier this coming year.