Yankees: Jay Bruce should put this NYY, not Brett Gardner, on notice

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 06: Jay Bruce #32 of the Cleveland Indians runs the bases after hitting a solo home run in the eighth inning against the New York Yankees during game two of the American League Division Series at Progressive Field on October 6, 2017 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 06: Jay Bruce #32 of the Cleveland Indians runs the bases after hitting a solo home run in the eighth inning against the New York Yankees during game two of the American League Division Series at Progressive Field on October 6, 2017 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) /
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The New York Yankees, in desperate need of lefty thump wherever they can get it and firmly entrenched in money-saving mode, paid Jay Bruce $1.35 million maximum on Saturday instead of signing Brett Gardner.

Done and dusted, right? Fifth outfielder acquired?

Sorry, Yankee Lifer Gardy, but have you thought about the St. Louis Cardinals?

Well, not so fast, perhaps.

According to Ken Rosenthal on Saturday morning in his announcement of the deal’s details, the Bruce addition means very little for Gardner, who can still consider the overtures he’s received from the Yankees — which include recent conversations.

Is Gardner close to a Yankees deal? Certainly we can’t say that; he’s still probably being offered well below the $3 million Marwin Gonzalez went for, and he’s still probably asking for more than that. After all, he signed a $12.5 million just one year ago, buyouts included.

Bruce is entering an entirely non-guaranteed situation, and he was willing to settle for this shot in the dark because the disappearance of a universal DH whittled his market away during this strange offseason.

But it’s very clear why the Yankees are willing to take a chance on the 33-year-old. He’s got 318 career home runs, which I guarantee is at least 100 more than you were thinking. As recently as 2019, he socked 26 home runs in 98 games. He bats lefty, and he’s a highly established power bat who’s struck consistent fear into the hearts of opposing pitchers for over a decade.

He’s got enough positional versatility to have played left, right, and first base as recently as 2020 (two games last year in the infield, 15 starts there in ’19).

In other words, he does exactly what Mike Ford was supposed to before an invisible ’20 with a much longer track record.

With Ben Heller officially off the 40-man roster, the most precarious spots in the pecking order now belong to recently-acquired speed demon Greg Allen and Ford, who looked not just a singular step slow in 2020, but rather two or three.

The patient Ford emerged on the scene in 2019 as one of the Yankees bench’s most reliable at-bats and lefty power threats. He socked 12 homers in 50 games, slashing .259/.350/.559. He was an above-average first base bat with patience and power, and his status as a hometown kid clouded our long-term vision of his abilities a bit.

In 2019, he could mash the baseball to Manalapan. In 2020, he swung and missed more than Chris Christie attempting to clog a bridge.

Entering Spring Training, DJ LeMahieu will likely be the team’s primary backup first baseman and third baseman in the instances where Luke Voit and Gio Urshela request some time off their feet. But if either requires a long-term absence, the Yankees need a lefty bench bat who can handle first base for long stretches.

If the team doesn’t believe Ford can handle the job, they now officially have a viable alternative.