Somehow, Yankees ended up needing Brett Gardner in 2022

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - OCTOBER 01: Brett Gardner #11 of the New York Yankees in action against the Tampa Bay Rays at Yankee Stadium on October 01, 2021 in New York City. Tampa Bay Rays defeated the New York Yankees 4-3. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - OCTOBER 01: Brett Gardner #11 of the New York Yankees in action against the Tampa Bay Rays at Yankee Stadium on October 01, 2021 in New York City. Tampa Bay Rays defeated the New York Yankees 4-3. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images) /
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After a full 2021 season of pre-writing a Brett Gardner goodbye note, and a full 2021 offseason spent justifying the Yankees moving on from their stalwart outfielder (going far enough to call a Gardner reunion a sign that the team was without a plan), you have to give the 2022 Yanks credit. They’ve spent 4.5 months working on their thesis, and midway through August, it’s clear they had a point all along: yes, Gardner probably would’ve helped this ball club.

At the very least, he’d be much better than some of the players they’re currently employing in their second line of defense, just below the annually-injured starters.

Through much of 2021, it felt like Gardner’s bat had finally given out during his second farewell tour (this one with fans in the stands). Whereas he hadn’t been a star since 2019’s rocket ball-filled season, he could still foul off pitches and bother hurlers during 2020, when he stole Clint Frazier’s job back from him as the postseason approached.

In 2021, though, there was a lot more swing-and-miss to Gardner’s game, at least anecdotally, in the first half. It seemed like more than enough had been done to honor a very good Yankee, who would surely slip more in ’22. A Gardner reunion as a fifth outfielder felt like a complacent move, never mind the unfortunate fact that no matter what the Yankees signed Gardner to do, he surely would’ve worked his way into 100 games anyway.

No, in order to be taken seriously, the Yankees needed to draw a line in the sand and upgrade. Plus, at the very least, couldn’t Tim Locastro do what a 38-year-old Gardner could? Well … in mid-August, with just a month and a half remaining, it pretty conclusively seems like the Yankees could’ve used Gardner over Locastro, Estevan Florial, Miguel Andújar, and even Aaron Hicks, as bleak as that sounds. Yes, a healthy Michael Brantley or Tommy Pham would’ve been superior. But, post-Stanton … Gardner would’ve been very valuable.

Yankees actually had room for Brett Gardner in 2022, which hurts to admit

But no, he’s not coming back now, for the stretch run. Hope that’s clear.

All in all, Gardner’s 2021 season — which we deemed unacceptable at the time — ended with a 90 OPS+ and an OBP 100 points above his sinking average (.222 and .327). Gardy’s .689 OPS was just a tick below his previous career-low of .690 (2018), and while by the end he was a powerless alternative, in spurts he could still likely outshine Locastro (69 OPS+ this season), Andújar (59), Marwin Gonzalez (82), and Hicks (an unsightly 88, and packed with so many un-clutch moments it’d make Gardner cringe).

At the very least, it’s unlikely Gardner would’ve tapped into quite so many double plays with the bases loaded.

The chemistry concerns still linger as a potential Gardner con. Reports that emerged at the end of 2021 indicated he and Gerrit Cole had friction, and centering an entire campaign as a farewell tour for a non-legend might’ve complicated certain attempts at player movement.

Our central premise from prior to the 2022 season remains intact, too. Leaning on Gardner instead of working hard to improve the reserve corps (and, hell, the starters) would’ve been a mistake.

Sadly, the Yankees did not improve the group Gardner would’ve belonged to. Joey Gallo wasn’t a fit. Relying on a Hicks comeback was also a mistake. Gardner shouldn’t have been Plan A, but at this point, he’d be a much better Plan C than whatever the Yankees have been forced to run out in the second half.

But again, no, he’s not coming back.