On Thursday evening, we got our first bit of real New York Yankees free agency news that actually carried some magnitude. Corey Kluber and Anthony Rizzo officially hit the open market on Wednesday, but everybody knew that was happening.
There were three contract options the Bombers had to address this offseason, and two were determined. Joely Rodriguez’s $3 million team option (with a $500K buyout) is still floating around.
But outfielder Brett Gardner and reliever Darren O’Day are now free agents after the Yankees rejected their team options and both veterans rejected their player options.
For 2022, Gardner had a $7.15 million team option or a $2.3 million player option. For O’Day, he had a $3.15 million team option or a $1.5 million player option. In the end, Gardy took home $1.15 million and O’Day pocketed $700K after the decisions were made.
Fun stuff, right? This was all the result of the Yankees insisting they remain under the luxury tax threshold in 2021. It forced general manager Brian Cashman to swing these (what felt like) unnecessarily complicated deals.
He did the same thing with Justin Wilson, too! When’s the last time you saw ONE team option-player option contract? The Yankees had three in the same offseason.
What does Brett Gardner and Darren O’Day hitting free agency for the Yankees mean?
But more importantly, what does this all mean? The easiest takeaway here is that O’Day will not be returning, and his baseball career might be over. He missed time in 2021 due to a shoulder strain before a season-ending hamstring injury, which sounded awfully concerning, officially did him in. We’re just no so sure those two ailments will allow him to return in full capacity for his age-39 campaign.
Gardner, though? Is there any doubt he’ll be back? Maybe! But his second-half resurgence might be enough for the Yankees to keep him around, especially given their uncertainty in center field. They probably don’t want to play Aaron Judge there a whole lot in 2022 and there’s no telling how long Aaron Hicks will be able to stay on the field.
Then again, esteemed Yankees insider Bryan Hoch is speculating that Gardy may not return for his 15th season based on the veteran’s behavior following the team’s AL Wild Card loss to the Boston Red Sox. Perhaps the Yankees are ready to part for a more formidable upgrade? If they do go after a center field in free agency or via trade, we can assume they won’t be able to unload Hicks’ contract, which may turn him into a fourth outfielder by default. That would certainly leave Gardy on the outside looking in.
Or was the rumored locker room spat with Gerrit Cole enough for the Yankees to be done with Gardner’s playful hazing/shenanigans?
To be honest, this feels like a 50/50 scenario given the Yankees’ need to make a few overarching changes this offseason. Nonetheless, expect Gardy to be lingering in February/March and the speculation of a reunion to continue for the next 4-5 months. Nothing we’re not used to at this point, right?