More than a year after his final game in pinstripes, Brett Gardner's underrated Yankees career is officially -- and ceremonially -- over.
Or, at least, if a 39-year-old Gardner walks through that door at Steinbrenner Field wearing a cape and preparing to save the Yankees from a left-field vacancy for the ages, he'll have to get a new locker, because the old one's taken.
Bizarrely, the Yankees left Gardy's spring training locker open last year as a show of solidarity with a player they'd kicked to the curb. The team made it clear Gardner wasn't going to receive one more one-year deal, and ended his career against his will following a season where he struggled and still posted a 90 OPS+ and OBP'd 100 points above his average. Somehow, during that entire process, they kept his locker untouched.
Very good player, solid 'til the end, kicked to the curb, would probably start 100 games in left if he were signed off the street tomorrow.
But, if that happens, he'll find Aaron Hicks in his place, both in the outfield and in the locker room, putting on his uniform next to Aaron Judge.
Yankees give Brett Gardner's prime locker to Aaron Hicks
Brutal NJ.com headline there, but Hicks certainly didn't seem like the most likely choice to get the "veteran wisdom" locker spot next to the newly-minted captain.
For years, the Yankees (probably) put Gardy next to Judge so the young outfielder could learn a little something about leadership before eventually taking over the team. What's the goal in putting Hicks there? Hoping Judge's leadership rubs off on the ... older Hicks? Just had to give it away to somebody?
In an ideal world, this particular torch pass would've involved a Judge-to-Anthony Volpe connection. If they wanted to hand the spot to someone who'd be around all year long and might have a thing or two to learn about playing the outfield in the Bronx, maybe Judge-to-Oswaldo Cabrera made sense?
Nope. Hicks. The outfielder whose Yankee career predates Judge's, and a player who most fans probably would've preferred to see in Minnesota or Miami in 2023. Instead, he'll be right here, given a leg up in the left field competition before it begins.
So long, Gardy. Weirdly, we want you back.