Yankees: Brett Gardner getting lost in NYY’s free agent shuffle


The Yankees and Brett Gardner once felt like an easy reunion. But as the budget tightens, how can he be a part of their future?

It’s been a wild two weeks of adjusting expectations for Yankees fans, who likely left the ALDS excited for reinforcements to arrive in 2021, but have now once again resigned themselves to a pre-Gerrit Cole contract offseason.

The budgetary restrictions are back, according to Hal Steinbrenner and Brian Cashman, and even with a large amount of wiggle room under the first luxury tax threshold, deals that were once thought to be a certainty are up in the air.

So if Masahiro Tanaka and (gulp) DJ LeMahieu are no longer shoo-ins to return, what about Zack Britton, whose option must be picked up in the days that immediately follow the World Series?

And what about Brett Gardner? His Yankees future seemed like a one-year-at-a-time inevitability. Nobody believed he’d ever bat in another uniform. But if there are significant restrictions, how can the team justify paying a 37-year-old Gardner while failing to upgrade around him.

Gardner, who looked over the hill for much of 2020, heated up towards the end of the shortened campaign and somehow became an indispensable contact bat in the playoffs, starting nearly every day (though you can easily argue that Clint Frazier was still the correct option). In August? There was no path for Gardner to pick up playing time in 2021.

But now? As always, he has risen from the ashes like a bald phoenix. It’s just what he does.

There is a team option attached to Gardner’s contract for $10 million; that seems like an unlikely maneuver, at this point, and the Yankees would theoretically have to pay $2.5 million to void it.

So, is there room for a middle ground here? If the Yankees commit, say, $5 million to Gardner, does that preclude them from filling out the rotation and bringing DJ LeMahieu back? At the very least, it would seem to limit the team’s possible moves to just these three things, with the rotation option existing in the low-budget sphere.

It doesn’t seem like there’s a path for Gardner’s return, but the Yankees never seem to let him out of their sight. So what gives? Would they really pay $2.5 million out of a small budget simply to part ways with their de facto captain?

Odds are high Gardner returns. And odds are very high the team will have to justify his return on a PR tour if the purse strings are as tight as they claim.